Three chefs — Brandon Soverall of Triniti, Rocco Nankervis of The Oceanaire Seafood Room and Keisha Bocage of Bocage Catering — represented Houston on Food Network’s Chopped last night. Their competitor was Jamaican chef Andre Fowles of Miss Lily’s in New York. The theme was “Cooking Carribean,” so naturally using ingredients such as goat, sweet potatoes, shrimp and fresh coconut was part of the challenges.
It’s the third time in two months that the show has featured competitors from Houston. Unfortunately, the show was extremely reminiscent of the “Knife Strife” episode, in which three Houston chefs competed and all ultimately lost to the sole New York competitor, Fowles. In the “Chinese New Year” episode, Brennan’s of Houston chef Martin Weaver (who was chef de cuisine at KUU at the time) also made it to the final round and lost.
Bocage was cut in the first round, and Nankervis in the second, which left Soverall to do battle in the dessert round. Competitors are under strict contract not to reveal the outcome to anyone, so not even Soverall’s boss at Triniti, chef Ryan Hildebrand, knew exactly how it would turn out. When Soverall opted to make panna cotta for the dessert round, it sounded promising.
“Panna cotta? He’s got this. Nobody makes panna cotta like a Triniti chef!” exclaimed Hildebrand during a viewing party at Sanctuari Bar inside the restaurant. Unfortunately, the judges deemed Soverall’s grainy.
With it being the third time in two months that a Houston chef has fallen to one from New York, it’s enough to make a red-blooded Houstonian kick the ground and cry “Foul!” However, in an interview after the show, Soverall agreed with the judges' assessment. “It was, honestly,” he admitted. “When we do panna cottas [at Triniti], we blend it really smooth in a Vita-Prep [commercial food blender] and pass it through a chinois so no solids pass through. I couldn’t find a blender. All I saw was a stick blender. I thought it was smooth and I just needed to get it into a bowl to set.”
It was a tough call on Soverall’s part, because without sufficient time to set, the other possibility was that the panna cotta would be too soupy.
Soverall is from Trinidad, and there was a substantial contingent from his native land to support him at Triniti’s viewing party in addition to friends and coworkers.
It might not be Soverall’s last time on Chopped. He said he’s not allowed to talk about it, but the Houston Press has been previously informed that chefs who make it to the final round but don't win are eligible to be invited back for a "redemption" episode.
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After all of the effort, would Soverall return if he were invited back? “I would," he said immediately. "I know what to expect. It’s one thing to cook in a restaurant in your comfort zone, but when you’re on a stage, the camera is looking at you and you’re timed. The pressure of making your employees proud, your country proud — there’s a lot of stress, actually. But now that I’m used to that stress and anxiety, I think it will be a lot easier [next time]."
Either way, this isn’t the last Food Network show that will feature Houston chefs. On Sunday, March 6, chef Mary Eisenhour Bass, who was recently named Chef of the Year by Galveston.com, will appear on Cutthroat Kitchen, hosted by Alton Brown. Her competitors hail from Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. There’s a viewing party scheduled at S.I.N. Lounge at 1828 Strand in Galveston starting at 8:30 p.m.
Shannen Tune, the former executive chef of Hotel Derek, has struck out on his own with the Craft Burger food truck and will appear on Chopped on March 8.
Updated, 2/25/2016, 7:56 a.m.: Best of all, a Houston win is inevitable. Four Houston chefs will appear on the March
9 17 show: Justin Turner of Bernie’s Burger Bus, Sean Carroll of Melange Creperie, Angela Rowley of Blackbird Foods and Alberto Palmer of the Stick It truck.