In this all-new Chopped tournament, 16 stars from the web, sports, comedy and Hollywood have converged to prove their star power. In the fourth episode, actors Rick Fox, Alysia Reiner, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe and Alan Thicke brought a bit of Hollywood to the competition. They’ve had stellar performances on TV, but competing in the Chopped kitchen is a completely new role. After surviving three rounds of mystery baskets, one of these stars came out victorious. Find out who earned the right to return to compete in the finale on April 25.
Appetizer: striped bass fillets, squash puree, microgreens, passion fruit ice pops
Entree: chicken kabobs, pickled gooseberries, purple cauliflower, truffle popcorn
Dessert: financiers, blueberries, candied fruit slices, statuette lollipops
First round: Alan Thicke
Second round: Alysia Reiner
Final round: Rick Fox
Winner: Jodi Lyn O’Keefe
Judges: Scott Conant, Amanda Freitag, Marcus Samuelsson
Jodi came into the competition fired up to take the win, determined to win money for her charity. And, she did just that. In her appetizer dish, she created a vinaigrette from passion fruit ice pops that tied her entire dish together. In the entree round, she may not have prepared her pasta to Scott’s specifications, but she created flavors and textures that everyone praised. And in the dessert round, Jodi went for it, creating an ice cream trifle that had just one negative comment. Jodi earned the last spot in the finale, where she’ll compete against the three other champions for the chance to win $50,000 for her charity, SickKids. Read on to learn her strategy for putting her best foot forward in the last battle.
How are you feeling after having won?
Jodi Lyn O’Keefe: I’m walking on sunshine. I’m so tired, I’m so delirious and it was such a good day. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled this much in my entire life in one day. My face actually hurts from smiling. The combination of adrenaline and fear and all of those things, and now it’s the end of the day, and I feel really proud of myself, because I was so afraid of this, and I realized [the judges] were very kind today to all of us. They were very sweet and wonderful. But I still, I did the work and I made it through three rounds. I’m overwhelmed. I’m really overwhelmed.
What were you afraid of most? What were your nerves like?
JLO: My nerves were so crippling, because I didn’t know that I could be handed ingredients, take them and combine them and turn them into a meal, a dish. I’m a recipe girl. I’m self-taught. I have to check 1,000 times over and over again. As a matter of fact, if I’m watching a cooking show and I’m watching them prepare something, if I don’t write down the steps that they took and the measurements of the ingredients, I can’t remember it, and I didn’t think I had the capability to have things in front of me, see them, make them edible. And also, I have no knowledge of dessert whatsoever. I know that it’s delicious and I love to eat it and I have a sweet tooth, but I have never tried, beyond baking a cake from a box, which comes with the directions on it. That world to me is so foreign and so amazing and wonderful. My whole body was vibrating with tension, that’s all I can tell you. I mentioned it earlier, but my sister can look at four ingredients and turn it into magic. She has a feel for the coarseness of salt and what basil does and what fresh herbs add to a dish, and she can create like that and I’ve always been in awe of it. I think it’s magnificent. So, I’m afraid of that. I’m afraid of doing that. I’ve never actually tried it before. I cook for myself, I cook really boring things for myself, and tonight, I did it.
Did hearing all the positive feedback help boost your confidence? Did you have this realization, “Wow, I can actually cook without a recipe”?
JLO: I had the realization that, “Wow, I could get through,” which was my goal. My goal was just to keep my shoulders up and try to get through the preparation of however long I was here, just to be able to do it, and not only did I stay, but I lasted until the very end. I’m the last man standing which is so surreal. I can’t believe it.
I think you mentioned at one point that you wanted to knock Rick out of the competition, but you’re also friends with him.
JLO: Well, that’s the reason I wanted to, because we’re bros and we’re on set together — well, we were for a season on our TV show that we worked on together, and I had a little camaraderie with him already, because we get to go to work together and we see each other at a charity event that he and I do together. We both try and raise money for SickKids Foundation. He is incredible. I’ve never seen anyone with such stamina. He’s a gentleman, he’s kind, he’s wonderful, he’s all those things and he’s got a really strong work ethic, and it was so cool to have a familiar face here today. And then it’s like, “OK, well if there’s one person I have to take out, it’s Rick Fox.” He can’t win everything. But I honestly didn’t even mean that. My whole goal for the day was survival. They’re like, “You think you’re going to win?” And they’re like, “Tell us you’re going to win,” and it’s just like false bravado. “Yeah, yeah. I got this.” It’s funny, the power of positive thinking helped a lot.
Probably the biggest critique you got was from Scott explaining how to cook pasta correctly. How was it hearing that?
JLO: Well, the constructive criticism is awesome coming from them. When they tell you 14 good things about what you’ve cooked and then, like, but this is what you could have changed, it’s incredible. And I realized in that moment how much my nerves were affecting me, because when I’m at home, I would never put the pasta in a plate and then pour sauce on top of it, but I was so concerned about the pasta being overcooked — I mean it’s pasta for God’s sake. If you can’t pour water and put pasta in it and put it in front of chefs, what am I doing here? So, I was so concerned about pouring another hot liquid on top of there and having it sit and go past the point of turning it into kid glue that I was being overly cautious of everything and I was so nervous. So, when he said it, I’m like of course. That’s how I do it at home. I take a small amount of pasta and I put it back into the saute pan, and I put it back in with whatever tomatoes I’ve just cooked. I always combine it, and I just overthought everything, and that was pure nerves, pure fear and trying to have a really calculated plan and just make it edible. I’ve watched so many episodes of this show, and I have seen chefs and their food is undercooked or their food is overcooked. Not only getting it on a plate is my fear, but my fear of turning it into lava or making it raw so someone can’t actually eat it completely preoccupied my brain all day long to the point where at the appetizer round, I didn’t even make appetizer portions, I was just so excited that that fish was cooked and I just slapped the whole fish on a plate.
Preparing for this competition, did you practice, maybe set yourself up with a mystery basket or have a friend help you out?
JLO: I did. Actually, my manager did it for me. If I’m a big fan of the show, he’s a next level big fan of the show. He’s seen every single episode there is … and he prepared the craziest mystery baskets I’ve ever seen. He put some of the most horrible ingredients – Spam. There was a lot of Spam happening. There were things that I could not – at one point he did powdered sugar doughnuts, cream of chicken soup and Swiss chard. He made everything as difficult as he could. He came up with the wackiest things he could think of and timed me. I guess the joke is on him though, because he had to taste everything.
What was the most difficult basket for you today? One that just stumped you?
JLO: They all stumped me. I mean, they really did. At the beginning of the day, I was overwhelmed, because we were starting [the appetizer round]. I’m always concerned with the doneness of fish. I really am, and I didn’t even think, “Oh, you can serve this raw.” When the judges said that afterward, and they were saying ceviche or cooking with lime or a nice sashimi – the thought didn’t even cross my mind, because I’m so afraid of it, so the fish scared me. The candy slices tonight and the chocolate and the small cookies, I thought this is so overwhelmingly sweet and I also don’t bake. I don’t think there was one moment today that didn’t scare me.
Did you have a favorite dish?
JLO: For sure. I made ice cream tonight for the first time in my life. I memorized what goes into ice cream before I came here. I have no dessert knowledge, I have nothing, and I’ve seen them make ice cream on the show many, many times. I was like, “Wow, what in the world goes in there?” So, I made sure that I remembered milk and cream and sugar and egg yolks and vanilla, and when we got to the final round, I thought all or nothing I’m just going to do it. I have nothing left to lose. It’s either going to be ice cream or it’s going to be soup. See what happens. It saved me from baking, too, which I’m abysmal at at best.
Thinking of the finale, do you have any strategy or any idea of what you would try to achieve?
JLO: I’m going to stick to the same plan I had today which is just trying to get the doneness of proteins. … I really need to remember to breathe, let go of my anxiety and really utilize the ingredients that are in the pantry, because there’s so many fresh herbs that I didn’t even tap into tonight. As a matter of fact, that’s why I went in there at the last moment and grabbed all that mint, because I thought I’ve left this whole fridge basically alone besides the parmesan cheese and the eggs.
What would winning the whole competition mean to you personally, and what would it mean to win the money for your charity?
JLO: Personally, I don’t think I could be much happier than I am right in this moment. I came here and did something that I’m very afraid of, which is cook in a time limit for chefs, for actual chefs that I respect and admire. I did it. … Whenever I can, I give my time to a charity, but I’ve never been able to give my time and a big check. It’s like pulling double duty, and to actually go and do these rallies with SickKids Foundation in the past and to see … what a difference they make in these kids’ lives. When I’ve been there with Rick, you should see the way these kids’ eyes light up when they see Rick Fox. It’s like nothing I’ve seen in my life, and it really moved me. So, it would be tremendous to give back to them, give them time and give them money. It’s unreal.
Tune in for the finale of the Chopped Star Power tournament on Tuesday, April 25 at 10|9c, and come back to FN Dish for the interview with the grand champion.
by Joseph Erdos