It was an inevitable Houston win on last night’s episode of Food Network’s competitive cooking series Chopped. All four chefs traveled from the Bayou City to New York to do their best with three courses each featuring four unexpected — and required — ingredients. The competing chefs were Angela Rowley of Blackbird Foods (she was listed under “Metis Foods” for the episode), Sean Carroll of Melange Creperie, Justin Turner of Bernie’s Burger Bus and Martin Horsey of the Stab It food truck.
Ultimately, Justin Turner of the rapidly expanding Bernie’s Burger Bus restaurant and food truck empire won the game, although Horsey certainly gave him a run for the money in the final round.
Judges for the episode were star chef Marcus Samuelsson, regular judge and chef Chris Santos and chef Nick Anderer of Maialino and Marta in New York City.
Crepe-maker Sean Carroll was the first to be eliminated after an appetizer round that featured especially challenging ingredients: bacon-wrapped grilled cheese sandwiches, truffle carpaccio, baby eggplant and clotted cream. The eggplant was the most problematic item for all the chefs, as it was hard to get it properly prepared in the time allotted. Turner was the only one to get his cooked properly for his bruschetta.
While Carroll was complimented by the judges for deep-frying the bacon-wrapped sandwiches, his dish, which also featured an overly sweet apricot jam sauce and baba ghanoush, was deemed a disjointed combination.
Rowley went home after the entrée round, which featured pork shoulder, tea noodles, agua fresca and kohlrabi. Because she's used to cooking large quantities at a time for her pie business, she loaded down her grill pan with too much pork shoulder. That steamed the meat more than it seared it. During judging, Rowley heard the words no chef wants to hear — “raw pork” — and she was eliminated despite the otherwise great flavors and execution.
The dessert round featured spicy, crunchy cheese puffs (a.k.a. hot Cheetos), parboiled rice, Honeycrisp apples and French butter.
If Horsey had completely nailed the dessert round, he might have walked away with the win. Turner’s apple-rice pudding with spicy brittle was deemed very good but not flawless, since the rice wasn’t thoroughly cooked.
Unfortunately, Horsey’s chocolate sauce gave him a lot of problems. The first version seized, and the second one, which ended up being served to the judges on top of his caramel apple, was broken. The judges decided that Turner was the chef who had shown consistently good execution throughout the show. He won $10,000, and he plans to take his son to Disneyland and to travel to Spain with his winnings.
Turner’s secret weapon for winning Chopped was his confidence. “I have utmost respect for all three [competitors], but I knew I was going to go in there with a game plan and if I could execute it, I knew I was going to win,” said Turner. The only nerve-racking part was being judged by Samuelsson, a chef whom Turner has long admired. "I've known about him forever. My heart skipped a beat when I walked around the corner and saw him as a judge. Out of all the judges, he was the one I was most scared to get," said Turner.
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Turner has garnered a lot of experience during his career, first in Memphis and then in Houston. He started Bernie’s Burger Bus with one school bus, which he parlayed into a second bus, then a storefront in the Bellaire Triangle. Last year, he added a second Bernie’s Burger Bus storefront in Katy, and there’s another to come in The Heights.
During the show, Turner expressed a desire to someday have a restaurant that’s not focused on burgers. That’s not quite on the horizon yet, though. “One hurdle at a time,” said Turner.
This isn’t going to be Turner’s last time on television, but he’s not allowed to talk about details until April. He also hopes he’ll be invited back for Food Network’s “Chopped Champions,” a show on which prior winners compete against each other. “Knock on wood — I hope they invite me back,” said Turner.
People who want to see the episode, called “The Bold and the Baconful,” can watch it immediately on Food Network’s app for tablets and smartphones. It will also re-air on Food Network on Tuesday, March 22 at 9 p.m., Wednesday, March 23 at midnight, Thursday, March 31 at 6 p.m. and Saturday, April 2 at 3 p.m. All times listed are Central.