Maine Chef Christian Hayes Is A Chopped Champion
It's a surreal night. It's 10:07p.m., and I'm watching one of my best friends in the world compete on the Food Network super-show, Chopped. I decided I'd give kind of a play-by-play as the episode goes, And I gotta say, I'm totally on the edge of my seat. The basket is crazy as always. It's a pork themed battle, and this round has some pig face roulade, which is basically a scooped out pig face cured into a little gelatinous gob of succulence.
All the chefs immediately jumped into battle, but my immediate attention is focused on Christian Hayes, Chef/Owner of Dandelion Catering in Yarmouth, Maine. I've known Christian for about 12 years, so I've known for a long time that he was cut out for just such a culinary showdown.
Christian and I played for about ten years in a band called Sidecar Radio. It was the funnest time of my life. We played rock shows big and small, all over New England and beyond, opening for bands such as Bush, 311, Sick Puppies, and Seether at venues like Higher Ground in Burlington, VT, Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, and the iconic State Theater. For a bunch of kids from Maine, we were incredibly lucky to get a chance to live the dream. So seeing Chef Hayes on Chopped is just absolutely crazy.
As the first round drew to a close, Hayes forgot to char up his tortillas and was worried about Celebrity Chef Chris Santos ripping him a new one over this. I emailed Christian right after the show, and he was talking about how that first round gave him his first sort of, “oh crap” kind of moment about the pork taco he gave the judges...
After the first round, and not really knowing what the heck happened to the last 20 minutes, I realized I hadn't toasted my tortillas. I just completely spaced it in the moment, and I was pretty sure I was headed home.
Hayes was not sent home, and in the second round the chefs were challenged with pork brains. Seriously. Canned pork brains. Feel free to insert pork-brain-pukey sounds here. Christian shook off his brain freeze, and turned it into kind of like, creamed pork brains. I mean, I'll try anything once, and I'd love to have put my spoon through the TV and given it a quick taste. Why not, right? The judges were wildly skeptical about his brain cream when presented with the dish, but much to their surprise, they actually liked it a lot!
I'm definitely going to walk around saying "brain cream" for a while.
As I'm watching the round end, all the chefs are kind of laughing and reeling from the whole pork brain experience. I'm watching Hayes reaction and had quite the chuckle with my wife about their well-edited “WTF?!” uttered from Hayes. I know exactly which 4-letter F-word he muttered, and it wasn't “food”.
During one of the commercials, I was just kind of sitting on my couch thinking about what was going on. It's so weird to see someone you know, on a national TV show you've watched a million times. I'm a big fan of Chopped anyway, so you actually kind of feel the real stress. I find myself sitting in really weird positions, on the edge of my couch...kind of like the way a 7 year-old looks when they're playing video games.
Anyhow, the brain cream didn't stop the judges from putting my boy through to the dessert round, which was featuring pork blood pudding as an ingredient. Talk about just getting slapped in the jaw by Murphy's Law and left for dead. Hayes chose to cut it down a bit with some dark chocolate, and my heart sank to the floor when he started to burn his pudding.
As it cut to commercial, I pretty much started freaking out. As I was typing this, I had no idea what is about to happen. I've watched the show enough times to know when they come back from commercials, it's straight to the end.
I kind of stopped typing at that point, and just watched the whirlwind of activity though to the end. Both chefs wailed through their dishes in a mad dash to the finish, and the judges had their things to say.
I just watched the whole thing in absolute awe. I've cooked for years and could never put myself out there in that way. I'd be playing all my mistakes over and over again in my mind, and wouldn't even be able to think about whether I could win or I could lose.
Christian Hayes muscled through the dessert round and ultimately pulled off and an absolutely amazing victory. Our own Maine boy is a $10,000 Chopped champion!!
In our quick email exchange, I asked Christian if he was surprised to see that he'd won when Ted Allen uncovered his competitor's plate.
I was super surprised I won. After watching Chef Ryan Andre pull together a couple stunning plates the first two rounds, going into the dessert round, I thought he had it in the bag. But in the end, I just kept fighting through dessert and pulled it off. To be honest, it could have been any of the four of us. It's a guarantee you're gonna make mistakes. You're only hope is that someone makes one slightly bigger than you. The other chefs were amazing people and super talented, so it was anyone's game, for sure.
Honestly, it's still all sinking in for me right now. It wasn't about me in any way. But when you see someone you know so well, putting their talent on the line, and their heart on their sleeve, it changes your day in a small way. In a day and age where there's a lot of sadness, and pointless negativity, I'm going to do something a lot of people don't get to do as much as they should. I'm going to shut off the TV with a smile on my face, feeling good about today. And that maybe, anything is possible.