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Friday, November 16, 2012

Atlanta cheftestant Ria Pell talks 'Chopped'

Chef Ria Pell

Since 2011, 16 Atlanta chefs have competed on the Food Network's popular cooking competition show "Chopped." Of those 16, only five chefs have come away with the $10,000 grand prize. Chef Ria Pell of Sauced and Ria's Bluebird is the latest cheftestant to join the ranks of Atlanta's "Chopped" alums. CL recently caught up with Pell to talk about her experience on the show (which airs on Tues., Nov. 20, at 10 p.m. on the Food Network), but the question still remains: Will Ria get CHOPPED?

With respect to any confidentiality contracts, what can you tell me about your episode of "Chopped"?

Well, what I can tell you is that it airs on Tuesday.

I see ...

Haha. I can't really talk about the show in actuality, other than the fact that it was super difficult and very challenging and we shot it back in February and ... what else about it? I'm having this big-ass party about it involving eight other pretty awesome chefs here at Sauced.

Sounds pretty sweet. So how did all this "Chopped" business come about in the first place?

The Food Network had called me a couple of times to get on "Top Chef" and we were just opening up Sauced so I couldn't really break away for the time that they needed. But they just kept leaving messages like we really want to see you. We've heard about your new restaurant and the Bluebird, so can you just come try out. They hosted a big tryout at a Midtown hotel and it was just basically interviews and seeing who works well on camera.

Did you have any reservations or was it something you wanted to do straight away?

I mean, the reservation is looking like a complete buffoon on national television, you know? I don't really need any help in that department. You don't want to be that person. But it is reality TV, it's scripted. There's a lot of stuff that I feel like was written before I got there, and you show up and feel like you're the only person who didn't get the script.

That's awkward.

Yeah. But, in the end, I thought it would be a really wonderful way to showcase Sauced. We were still kinda new kids on the block, just two years in, and, of course, any promotion is good promotion, but you kind of start thinking, "Hey, maybe I am gonna win that $10,000 ... " In a one-day payoff situation, it's quite appealing.

Did you witness any diva moments on set?

No, I don't think so. Everybody was really nervous, rightfully so, and I think everybody just kind of leaned on each other. We were like, "Ok, let's just try to live through this."

Ted Allen was really sparkly. I really enjoyed talking to him. He's super clever and well-dressed and very witty and because he's the host he talks the most and gets to talk to you while you're cooking. He was super clever, I liked him a lot.

"Sparkly," I like it. So did you practice for the show at all?

I did. My partner, my wife, would randomly test me here at the restaurant and it was really difficult because the tests were hard. "Chopped" was hard! One thing I can say honestly is that those 20 minutes that they give you to get down and dirty in that first round are for real. It was 20 minutes to the 'T.' And it was like, the hardest 20 minutes of my life.

How did it feel to be straight up judged? It seems like they get pretty harsh sometimes ...

Yeah. That's real, too. You're just kind of like, "Well, I don't wanna be an asshole and be like, actually, I totally disagree with you!" or "Hey, I did my best." But there's a little bit of politickin' involved. And, you know, that's what they do. They build the suspense and the drama and the tension through the judges.

Was the competition between you and your fellow contestants fierce? Did you have to make yourself play nice?

Playing nice is not hard because that's what you do in a kitchen. That's your normal. There's a constant flux of different people and personalities and in kitchens it can be kind of crazy but it's mostly like a team effort in a kitchen because the goal is to make your customers happy and get the food out and do everything correctly so that you wow somebody out there.

It was very hard to turn that off. If somebody dropped something, I'd be like, "Oh, let me get that for you. Oh, uh, wait, you're my mortal enemy." On the show, you're supposed to just be lookin' out for yourself.

So not as cutthroat as a casual viewer might think.

The competition, it's pretty ... you really are in a mindset that it's you against these three people and after that first round you could be out of there and like, back home in Atlanta doin' nothing, so that was really intense. I probably almost threw up twice looking around the studio and when we were about to start. It was really nerve-racking because you don't have ANY idea what's in the basket.

After going through it, how do you feel about the whole "Chopped" experience?

I think they are really good at what they do. They create suspenseful, awesome TV that kind of leaves you at the edge of your seat. It challenges you and your quick thinking. You don't have a week to write a menu or anything, or time to think what ingredients would go really well with this, or to try it out. You just don't know. Those are genuine reactions you see when they open those baskets.

Will any of your "Chopped" dishes make it over to Sauced or the Bluebird?

I think I was planning on showcasing one or two, or at least my attempt. I really think I nailed one of them, but I guess we'll find out on Tuesday whether or not I really did.


Chef Ria's "Chopped" viewing party will be held on Tue., Nov. 20, 8 p.m. at Sauced. The event is free to attend with cash bar. $20 gets you a VIP Foodie Pass, which includes food from The Spotted Trotter, Palookaville, Rathbun's, Fox Bros. BBQ, Proof & Provision, VILLAINS, Taria Camerino (The Optimist), Tiffanie Barriere (One Flew South), and The Albert. Music courtesy of DJs Osmose and Ree de la Vega. Pell's episode of "Chopped" screens at 10 p.m. Details

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