The Food Network crowned its latest culinary star Tuesday when the "Chopped" judges named Bucks County native Lindsay McClain the episode's winner.
Twenty-six-year-old McClain, who is a trained chef specializing in Mediterranean cuisine, made the cut through the show’s first two rounds and faced Brooklyn-based chef and restaurateur Josh Cohen in the final “Dessert” stage. Like in the “Appetizer” and “Entrée” bouts, the competitors were forced to use four mystery ingredients sprung on them only moments before the clock starting ticking.
McClain used the skills she gained from her schooling at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Academy of Culinary Arts and her experience as chef de cuisine at Jamonera at 105 S. 13th St. in Philly’s Midtown Village to wow the judges and net the win.
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You first applied to the show in March 2013, found out you were cast August 2013 and taped the episode Oct. 30. What was it like keeping your win and the dishes you created a secret all this time?
It was so hard to not say anything. My husband and my parents definitely had an idea because they came to New York with me. The Jamonera staff have been trying to trick me into slipping. If I made a new dessert or a new dish here, they would say, "Is this something you made on 'Chopped?'"
Since you had a few months between casting and taping, did you do anything to prepare?
I practiced at Jamonera a lot. Our other cooks went to one of the corner markets and bought a bunch of crazy ingredients and they would make baskets for me twice a week. One of the baskets had pink lemonade powder, Brussels sprouts, chiles and tahini. I ended up making a roasted Brussels sprout with bacon and a pink lemonade vinaigrette with tahini. One of the chefs was like, "I’m going to make this at home tonight."
Aside from incorporating the mystery ingredients in your dishes, you must complete each course in less than 30 minutes. How did that compare with cooking in Jamonera?
The time goes by like that! You have to keep the timer in the back of your head the entire time. Just get this stuff done, go with the first idea that pops in your head. When it came down to the judging, it was the most nerve-wracking thing ever. But I’m naturally a really calm person. So it was fun and exciting too. And it was really fun to be around chefs from other cities and see how I stand up against them. I stood up against them pretty well.
If you could do the show over again, would you do anything differently?
The dessert that I made I was definitely not happy with. Now cookies are my arch nemesis. I didn’t like the cookie because I didn’t transform it. I would have rather made the cookie and raspberries into maybe a crumble instead. I can’t back cookies to begin with, but I can bake bread and I can make any other kind of dessert.
What dish from the show are you most proud of?
The first dish -- falafel with herb buttermilk dressing, lemon, scallions and basil. It was a falafel mix, date paste, habanero peppers and chicory. Dates are something we use a lot in Spanish cooking so I was really familiar with that. Obviously the falafel mix is the one that throws you for a loop because it is a dry mix, so I just added some fresh herbs and lemon to brighten it up. I love chiles. They actually said I didn’t use enough! I thought it was really bright, one of the dressings I made for that dish is actually a dressing we use here at Jamonera.
What menu item from Jamonera would you recommend to customers interested in trying your unique flavor style?
My favorite dish is probably our mushroom coca. It is a flat bread with roasted mushrooms that we buy local and an arugula pesto and truffle oil. Then it has urgelia cheese, which is a Spanish stinky cheese.
You are a head chef of an award-winning restaurant and scored $10,000 with the "Chopped" win. How have you accomplished so much at only 26-years-old?
The things I accomplished in my career are goals that I set for myself in culinary school. So for me, this is what I should be doing. I knew that I wanted to be running a restaurant by the time I was 25.