SPOILER ALERT!!

Nuts. There’s the whole nuts thing to begin with… I know you’re glad those are pecans featured in the photo above and not the other!

Ok, before I get started with all that – thanks for reading, thanks for watching, and thanks for your support. Since I announced that I would be appearing on Chopped, I have had so many notes and emails of encouragement. It’s been incredible humbling. It has touched me more than I could ever express. I’ve read the posts on Facebook about being carried into the winner’s circle and how folks just knew I’d won.

I knew the results.

I knew I didn’t win, I knew I had been chopped, but I was still proud. Of course I was disappointed; I wanted to win. But, you know what? I may not have won, but I didn’t fail.

There’s a lot to be said for that. Originally, I wasn’t entirely convinced I wanted to even participate. On one hand, I like watching the show and appreciate the entertainment factor. On the other? I am weary of fighting food. How weird can the ingredients be? How fast can food be prepared? How many can be served at once? How much can be eaten at once? Those concepts are pretty far from my food and cooking philosophies, which primarily involve refined Southern cuisine, using sustainable food, and classic French technique.

The deal is: I love to cook! Chopped was a challenge. I’m not a restaurateur and yet I know I can cook! I wanted to see if I could do it. I also recognize it takes a lot of nerve to go on national television in front of millions of people and possibly fail. I had a 75% chance of failure – and a 25% chance of success.

There’s an expression I use with myself quite a bit, “If you try, you might fail, but you are guaranteed to fail if you don’t try.”

It was an honor to make it through the try-outs and tests just to even have a chance at being a Chopped champion. I made errors, things I know better than to do. I second -guessed myself on a few things and of course knew not to do others, as well. Hindsight is 20/20. I’ve replayed those thoughts and choices again and again. My competitors were very well-qualified opponents but, no one is prepared for the strange ingredients offered up in those baskets on Chopped.

Lamb balls? Seriously? Lamb balls and coffee? Chickpea flour and raspberries? Whoa. I’ll just tell you one thing, an armchair quarterback is an easier place to be! It was hot as blue blazes in that kitchen. There’s no space to put anything. The dishes are on one side of the enormous set and the ingredients are on the other. I just remember muttering repeatedly, “I can do this, I can do this.”

That ding dang ice cream fiasco was nearly the death of me.

I’m not used to industrial restaurant equipment. The whole idea that I even pulled off using the anti-griddle is flat out hilarious to me. Me, of all cooks, successfully using a high-tech piece of equipment from kitchens which often feature molecular gastronomy, seemed ludicrous. In my kitchen, I focus on teaching people how to make chef-inspired food at home with equipment and ingredients available at your local cookware store.

Did you see that fork get sucked up into the ice cream machine like a tornado? Oh Lordy Mercy. I wanted to die, but I never, ever, ever thought about quitting.

I almost made it. “Almost” is rarely good enough for me. “Almost” doesn’t cut it – yet, somehow I am satisfied. Well, almost…. The main thing is that I didn’t give up. I know I am a damn good cook.

And, you know what? I’d do it again in an absolute heartbeat.

Special, special thanks to The Lisa Ekus Group, my trainers Sally Ekus and Debi Loftis, and the amazing folks at The Cook’s Warehouse, especially Matthew Hott, for their amazing support.

I am given much and feel incredibly blessed and thankful. I volunteer with Georgia Cooking Matters, the Atlanta Community Food Bank, and NoKidHungry.com. Tonight we’ve promoted #LetsChopHunger. As we consider what it means to have food for entertainment, please also consider donating or volunteering for an organization that helps folks with hunger issues. To those that much is given, much is expected. Let’s share the love.

Lastly, many, many congratulations to Tabb Singleton for his amazing victory. I am so happy and proud for his very well-deserved win. Bravo, chef.

In honor of my ice cream fiasco I am sharing a recipe for CHOPPED NUT ICE CREAM!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

Chopped Nuts Ice Cream
Makes 1 quart

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups light cream
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 cup 2% or whole milk
1/4 cup strong brewed coffee
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts such as pecans, almonds, pistachios, or walnuts

To prepare an ice bath, fill a large bowl halfway with ice cubes; toss kosher salt generously among the cubes, and add a bit of water. Set aside.

Place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring 1/2 cup of the cream to a simmer. Pour the cream over the chocolate.

Let it sit for several minutes, then slowly stir the cream into the chocolate. Once it’s smooth, add the cocoa powder to the chocolate cream. Set aside.

Heat the milk and remaining 1/2 cup of cream to a simmer in a saucepan. In a bowl, blend together the egg yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt with a wooden spoon until thick and light, being careful not to make the mixture foamy.

Whisk in half the hot milk, then whisk the mixture back into the remaining milk. Heat gently, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add the coffee.

Continue stirring the custard until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and it reaches 180°F on an instant-read thermometer.

Remove from the heat and immediately strain into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve. Add the reserved chocolate mixture to the strained custard and stir to combine.

Place the mixture over the ice bath and chill until completely chilled.

Add the NUTS and the chilled custard into the bowl of an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Enjoy, ’cause y’all this stuff is good!!

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Productions, LLC.

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