But over the past couple weeks, I've been surprised by two more Nashvillians that I hadn't heard a peep about. I don't feel too bad about not knowing about the first contestant since he's not actually a restaurant chef. Chopped likes to feature firefighters every now and then — first, because they are dedicated public servants, and second, because they have a reputation for often being pretty talented firehouse cooks.
(SPOILER ALERT!) Robert Corbin is a first responder firefighter from Nashville. Corbin lives on a farm and brought his Southern food sensibilities to the show as he had to deal with the incongruous ingredients offered to him in his basket before each round of appetizer, entree and dessert. For the opening round of the Jan. 12 episode, he was confronted with wildfire lettuce, 'nduja (a spreadable pork sausage from Italy), burrata and Indian roti bread. Corbin stuffed the sausage into some mushroom caps and jalapenos and then made roll-ups out of the roti. The judges were impressed and passed him on to the next round.
For the entree round, Corbin opened his basket to find a rack of wild boar ribs, ghost peppers, cucuzza squash and saganaki, which he used to fashion a dish of fried boar chops with roasted potatoes and pasta. While the judges said the extra starch of the undercooked pasta was superfluous, they still passed him on to the final dessert round. Desserts seemed to be Corbin's specialty since he claimed to come from a long line of meringue makers. He combined wafer cookie sheets, vanilla pudding cups, lemon soda and a blow torch to create a blueberry pudding with lemon meringue, which he bruleed with the torch. (They say most firemen have a touch of pyromaniac in them.) Unfortunately, his pudding did not set in the short time it spent in a water bath, and Corbin lost out to an L.A. firefighter who bravely made ice cream for the first time in his life. Still, it was a fine showing.
Last week, chef Laurie Potts of the Wildhorse Saloon competed in an episode titled "Hoofin' It." You'd think a Wildhorse chef would excel in that particular episode, and Chef Potts did acquit herself fairly well.
The titular hooves showed up immediately in the appetizer basket in the form of pickled pig's feet along with butter beans, cole slaw mix and sweet potato chips. Potts jumped on the down-home ingredients to create a meal of barbecue pig's feet, butter bean dip and Southern slaw. The judges liked her dishes for the most part, and Potts received a free pass into the next round by default since one of the other contestants suffered a bad cut. The judges were unable to safely taste that chef's meal, so it was on to the entrees for Potts.
The Wildhorse executive chef had a half-hour to prepare a main course from venison tenderloin, watercress, eggplant and pecan pie, or as Mr. Pink calls it, lunch. Potts made a puree of the watercress and eggplant and served it under the venison, which she had crusted with the pecans from the pie and then fried. Unfortunately, the flavors of the eggplant and watercress became indistinguishable from one another in the puree and the whole dish was a little soggy for the judges' tastes. After she was eliminated, I stopped watching, so I couldn't tell you which chef ended up winning the $10,000. I'm a total homer that way.
The Food Network reruns their Chopped episodes often, so you can check your television schedule or the show's website to watch these episodes in their entirely. Expect to see even more Nashville chefs featured on the show as the season goes on, and I've even heard rumors that a local football coach might have competed. Lights, camera, cook!