‘Chopped All-Stars’ recap: There was only one outcome for chef Nate Appleman

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Chef Nate Appleman decided that he simply had to win ‘Chopped All-Stars.’ And he had a simple strategy: to ‘not do what is expected.’

Nicely played, Nate.

This week’s showdown pitted Appleman against chefs Anita Lo and Beau MacMillan and chocolatier Jacques Torres. You could pretty much call the first round, in which the chefs had to make an appetizer out of pasta sheets, dried papaya, bluefoot mushrooms and chorizo: Torres burned his chorizo and violated the rules when -- and I do believe this is a ‘Chopped’ first -- he whipped a bag of cocoa nibs out of his pants pocket. (Guess when you’re a chocolatier you always need to be at the ready.) That was enough to get him eliminated -- ‘We can’t really honor that,’ judge Marcus Samuelsson said -- although Torres gets extra points in my book for the brazen move.


Appleman pulled away from the pack immediately with his decision to do the unexpected: He pureed the pasta sheets into a soup accented with some rendered chorizo oil. Granted, it was a overly starchy soup, but it was clearly the most creative dish in the bunch, and the ‘Chopped’ judges love that kind of thinking. (Everyone else went with some variation on a traditional pasta dish.)

In Round 2,

the cheftestants were given fresh fillets of cobia, smoked salmon jerky, animal crackers(!) and Chinese spinach. Appleman again went with the unexpected, poaching his fish in milk infused with salmon jerky. I had to hold back a gag just typing that. But the judges loved it, and that’s all that matters. MacMillan overdid the soy sauce on his roasted cobia with citrus salad. Lo used the ingredients to plate her fish over spinach with a sauce whose sparkling acidity won the judges over. And that was enough to send MacMillan packing. In the finale, the ingredients included piloncillo, Chinese five spice, heirloom tomatoes and granola bars. Lo made the strategic error of using the granola bars as is, making a kind of napoleon accented with candied tomatoes. It sure looked good, sandwiched with all that peanut butter cream she whipped up.

But Appleman went all out, turning to the ice cream machine to make a five-spice frozen yogurt with candied tomatoes and pulverizing the granola for crunch. The crowning touch? He heated up the piloncillo -- at first the judges feared he had forgotten about it on the stove and burned it -- but he was intentionally scorching it into a bittersweet molasses. ‘Total All-Star behavior,’ according to the judges.

Even Lo couldn’t begrudge Appleman the victory. All the chefs were competing for a shot at $50,000 for their favorite charity, and Appleman was playing on behalf of the Kawasaki Disease Foundation serving those with Kawasaki disease, which attacks and inflames the blood vessels. Appleman’s young son suffers from the syndrome but thankfully is now doing better with steady treatment. Appleman walked into the competition with the biggest ‘why’ -- he had to win on behalf of his son -- and he did just that.

Some random thoughts:

--Was it just me, or was Appleman (now doing R&D with Chipotle Mexican Grill) infinitely more likable on ‘Chopped All-Stars’ than during his run on ‘Next Iron Chef,’ when he seemingly went out of his way to portray himself as a jerk? Will the real Nate Appleman please stand up?

--Quote of the night goes to MacMillan, who said that competing on ‘Iron Chef America’ can be easier than ‘Chopped.’ There’s time in ‘Iron Chef,’ he said, to recognize when a dish is going south and fix it. But ‘in ‘Chopped,’ if you make a mistake, it’s over.’

--Can’t. Hardly. Wait. Till next week, when the judges get theirs.

And I don’t care who gets the fourth spot in the following week’s finale. This looks like it will be Appleman versus Burrell, right?


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--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch