Is There a Locally Sourced "Chopped" in Austin's Future?
Sat May 21, 2011 2:33 pm

Just as I was headed out the door on Saturday morning, Philip Speer (right) let drop the most interesting tidbit of the whole morning’s entertainment: “It would be fun to do this on a citywide scale,” said the executive pastry chef for Austin's Uchi and Uchiko.

We were at Uchiko at around 11 a.m., where a contest among four young Uchiko and Uchi employees had just wrapped up. It was modeled on the TV show “Chopped” (airs Tuesdays at 9 Central on the Food Network). These four were the finalists. They had won successive rounds in an internal contest that started with 36 employees from both restaurants. After each round, the low-scoring contestant was “chopped,” i.e., sent packing.  The judges were--gulp--the three bosses: chefs Paul Qui, Tyson Cole, and Philip Speer (pictured). This morning was the final elimination--no pressure there.

As the audience composed of media people and bloggers ate breakfast tacos and swilled coffee, we watched the earnest contestants mince and blend and sweat and obsess. Wow, we all thought, I’m glad all I have to do is write for a living.

Now Speer was saying that Uchi and Uchiko might see if they can take the contest to the next level. He was just speculating, of course, but if they could draw from a broad talent pool—get name chefs like David Bull of Congress and Second and Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine, who was recently named one of Food & Wine magazine’s top-ten best new chefs in the country—the contest could have broad public appeal.  I don’t know about you, but I’d go see it. And I’d pay, particularly if a charity was the beneficiary, as on the TV show. Well, we shall see.

In the meantime, the lucky winner of the Uchi/Uchiko contest was 24-year-old Kyle Bentley, who looks about 14 and was refreshingly un-impressed with himself. The kid’s good. He had been an intern at Alinea in Chicago—the highly regarded and very experimental restaurant—when Uchi chef-owner Tyson Cole stole him away to help open Uchiko nine months ago. The other day Alinea chef-partner Grant Achatz contacted Bentley and asked him to come back, this time for real wages. It’s nice to be wanted.     (Photo courtesy Jessica Dupuy)

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