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Atlanta chef to appear on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’

Courtesy of Food Network

courtesy of Food Network

Jeffrey Gardner, sous chef at South City Kitchen Midtown, will compete on Food Network’s competitive cooking show “Chopped,” which airs tonight at 10 p.m.

Hosted by Ted Allen, the Food Network show begins with four contestants who compete against each other to cook a three-course meal. The meal must be made using unusual ingredient combinations presented in a mystery basket in timed rounds. At the end of each course, one contestant is “chopped,” resulting in only two contestants left to compete in the final round for the $10,000 prize.

Competing on such a show seems natural for Gardner, who professes an addiction to watching game shows. Having qualified for both “Jeopardy” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” before his 21st birthday, he is primed for televised competitions, especially ones that include his passion for cooking.

Twenty-six year old Gardner’s interest in cooking began at about age seven in his grandmother’s kitchen in Natchez, Mississippi, where he grew up. He fondly recalls dragging over a stool to watch her make pot roast, biscuits and red velvet cake. His first assignments were peeling carrots and stirring chocolate-chip cookie batter.

Despite these early positive experiences in the kitchen, Gardner did not immediately recognize his passion for cooking. He went to Millsaps College to work on a dual degree in Business and Spanish. Midway through his coursework, Gardner began to “realize that the world of accounting would lead me to jump off a building somewhere.” He confesses that he found himself writing menus during class and catering from his dorm room. After graduating with a degree in Spanish, he decided to pursue his passion for cooking, attending culinary school at Johnson & Wales.

courtesy of Food Network

courtesy of Food Network

Gardner has been in the industry for five years now, half of that time spent at South City Kitchen working with Executive Chef Chip Ulbrich, whom he considers his mentor. He defines his cooking style as being reflective of Southern traditions with a modern twist. Of himself, Chef Gardner says, “What separates me from other chefs in the industry is that I’m fearless and can incorporate a wide variety of influences for being such a young age. I appreciate old Southern traditions but can also incorporate… all the molecular gastronomy techniques [and] contemporary plating.”

Chef Gardner believes he has an advantage over other contestants because he was born and raised in the South. He says, “We cook with soul down here.” To prepare for the competition, he first studied a list of all previously used mystery basket items looking for patterns and for ingredients that might be used repeatedly. He then brainstormed with mentor Ulbrich how he might use unusual ingredients. He also practiced a mystery basket, finding to his surprise that the time passed much more quickly in his practice round than in the actual competition.

Though Gardner is unable to reveal many details about the episode before it airs, we know that two ingredients in the appetizer round include marshmallows and catfish, both of which must be used. The entree round incorporates pork ribs and the dessert basket contains Latin ingredients. The judges for the episode are Scott Conant, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Aaron Sanchez.

courtesy of Food Network

courtesy of Food Network

Gardner commented that the show is designed to keep competitors on edge. For example, contestants are not given a tour of the kitchen prior to filming — save an introduction to a first-aid kit.

And if Gardner wins the $10,000? He says winnings could be used for savings, a new car or travel to Italy or Spain. His real motivation for competing was to see how his “skills at this point in [his] career measure up against other chefs” and to see where he stands in the industry.

The episode airs tonight on Food Network at 10 p.m. (EST). Show your support with the Fifth Group Restaurants at the episode viewing party tonight at The Original El Taco, where it will be played on five flat-screen televisions. The festivities begin at 9 p.m. Call for reservations if your group has seven or more people.

Cheers to Atlanta’s own “Chopped” contestant, Jeffrey Gardner. And good luck!

The Original El Taco, 1186 North Highland Avenue Northeast, Atlanta. (404) 873-4656

Jenny-Turknett-Tagline–by Jenny Turknett, Food & More blog

– Jenny Turknett writes about Southern and Neighborhood Fare for the AJC Dining Team. She also publishes her own blog, Going Low Carb.

33 comments Add your comment

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kristen Phillips and angie tillman, John Kessler. John Kessler said: Atlanta chef to appear on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ http://bit.ly/gb5WKO [...]

Real food

February 1st, 2011
8:31 am

Southern Chefs cook with soul? Spare me having worked in some of the finest restaurants and hotels in the Country Atlanta by far is the bottom of the pile. In fact Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH blow this food black hole away. It is unfortunate that a “chef” from the South can’t find something better to say then to try to be a regional snob. And to have no real basis for it at that. What an absurd comment. I am sure he ends up like the “chef” from the high did on top chef. Home alone early….

Bosch

February 1st, 2011
8:55 am

I like that show — real intense. They come up with the damndest things — like violet mustard? Violet mustard? Really?

Anyway, good luck!

Jeanette

February 1st, 2011
8:56 am

This happens to be one of my favorite shows so I will definitely be rooting for Chef Gardner!

bobbyd

February 1st, 2011
8:58 am

Hey Real Food….like a famous southerner used to say, “Delta’s ready whenever you are.”

Moz Sas & SP

February 1st, 2011
9:05 am

I highly disagree “Real Food”. Not being from the South myself, I find the dining scene in Atlanta to be unique, flavorful, and, yes, soulful. Don’t be so judgmental of the chefs here and perhaps you should start to look at Richard Blaise and Hector Santiago (both who faired well on their shows) among other amazing Georgians. (And, if you’re going to trash talk, perhaps you should check your grammar.)

Frank

February 1st, 2011
9:20 am

Delta is ready and all the real chefs have left, along with all the companies, jobs and money. No wonder the industry is getting killed down here and no one wants to open anything of substance. Even JK is writing articles about restaurants in NYC. Keep it up with the Southern snobbery and all there will be left is your beloved Flying Biscuits and Chow Baby. Atlanta has been a joke in the industry for years, ask any chef from around the country. I’m sure Jeffrey is a nice guy but real cooks don’t do Mickey Mouse TV game shows looking for fame or some cheap PR for Fifth Group, they cook for a living, period. It’s almost as absurd as useless house wives getting a TV show doing nothing except complaining and acting like 5 yr olds. Good luck with that viewing party at El Toilet.

Get it Right

February 1st, 2011
9:23 am

Hey, Real Food. The best thing out of Atlanta for you is Delta Flight ABH (Anywhere But Here). Obviously you don’t love it here, so just leave.

Mike

February 1st, 2011
9:27 am

@Real Food – I am sure “Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH” would love to have you. Please go!

Becky

February 1st, 2011
9:28 am

I will be watching this show and rooting for him to win..

@real food..If you don’t like the south or our food, please take the advice of bobbyd..May Lewis rest in peace…

Mike

February 1st, 2011
9:29 am

@Frank – Yes, because you certainly don’t sound snobbish at all. Maybe you and Real Food can get together, sit on you arses together and complain-like true Yankees.

Wilbur

February 1st, 2011
9:30 am

Hey Real Food……Why not go to a real restaurant and quit dining at Golden Coral.

sansho1

February 1st, 2011
9:53 am

Things were better in my day and/or where I came from. What is quality and/or authentic is what I experienced prior to developing critical thinking facilities. What you experience is a doomed attempt to recapture the quality and/or authenticity of my early experiences in that other place.

ATLien

February 1st, 2011
10:15 am

Yeah because chili poured over spaghetti noodles is high end cuisine!

Sara

February 1st, 2011
10:22 am

OK, wait — this guy is 26? Judging by the photos, that’s gotta be a typo. Maybe he’s 36? Either way, all the best to him.

Jenny Turknett

February 1st, 2011
10:38 am

Sara – no typo, he is 26. I can’t wait to watch tonight!

[...] Atlanta chef to appear on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ [...]

Frank

February 1st, 2011
1:00 pm

@Mike I cooked in some of your best restaurants and what I saw was a waste of time with the lack of drive, talent and my ability to learn and grow from these TV chefs. One word best describes Atlanta: Content. Contentment has put Atlanta into a state of stagnation, even JK knows this. This is why so many cooks have left and the ones that remained, well, good luck to them and their TV career. Thankfully, Delta was there for me with the one way ticket to NYC for a better career and opportunities in the culinary industry that doesn’t have tunnel vision on “soulful” slop that is on every single menu. Until you have cooked in a professional kitchen with long hours and low pay, you really don’t have any ground to stand on. How many of you cook for a living? Real cooks don’t grand stand on some game show, they cook. Speaking of cooking, I got to catch the 6 train to my NYT 3 star restaurant.

Foodgeek

February 1st, 2011
1:02 pm

All of you Southerners who are defending his “cook with soul” comment clearly haven’t eaten at South City Kitchen. Unless, of course, by “with soul” you mean “not very well.”

Becky

February 1st, 2011
1:26 pm

Wow, based on some of these comments, what do we think Bobby Flay is, Paula Deen, Emeril and so on. Are they not really great chefs? Or as was posted “cooks”..I cooked at a restaurant when I was in high school, never made it to chef quality though..

Foodgeek

February 1st, 2011
3:07 pm

That is correct. Bobby Flay, Paula Deen and Emeril are not great chefs.

Get it Right

February 1st, 2011
3:21 pm

@Foodgeek – I’m defending South City Kitchen or their chefs. I’m commenting on the criticism of all southern chefs by @Real Food. He can’t have possibly eaten at all the restaurants in Atlanta, but he apparently judges them all by one definition of what constitutes “good food” and southern food is not what he likes. OK by me. It just leaves more for the rest of us.

James

February 1st, 2011
4:09 pm

@Frank – how’d you get to be so awesome?

Awesomely jealous, that is!

Best of luck, Jeffrey! Who knows, if all goes well maybe one day you can catch the 6 train too ;)

Foodgeek

February 1st, 2011
6:04 pm

Thank you for clarifying, Get It Right. Unlike Real Food, I find the food scene in Atlanta to be rather vibrant, with many good restaurants and plenty of good food to be found. However, I also think Jeffrey’s comment smacks of regional snobbery and in my 18 years here, I’ve seen no evidence that chefs born and raised in the South have any advantage over chefs from other parts of the country. One can’t choose where one is born, any more than one can choose what color one is going to be, so I don’t really identify with folks who decide that this is something they are more proud of than they are of things they’ve actually accomplished.

I wish Jeffrey luck on the show, but I hope he has something more in his back pocket than some nebulous claim to cooking “with soul.” I’ll be watching.

Hi Frank

February 1st, 2011
6:16 pm

Frank your little diatribe would have gone over much better if you hadn’t dropped that stupid “Ooops gotta go to my NYT 3 star establishment on the 6″ line…

I’ve had crap experiences at Gramercy, BLT, Convivio and others along the six that are or have been NYT 3. I’ve also had lots of crap here in Atlanta. Congratulations on your stellar career in NY. It doesn’t impress anyone in NY (and you know that) and i’m sorry to tell you that it doesn’t impress anyone here either. One last question: what did you serve tonight as your amuse douche? I mean bouche…

GingerBoy

February 1st, 2011
9:41 pm

@Frank
If you’re so puffed up about cheffing it in NYC, why are you still checking the AJC food blogs???? Bitter much??

SophyB

February 1st, 2011
9:45 pm

“We cook with soul down here” is a cliche comment thrown around by lots of Southern chefs. You folks who are put off enough by one stupid sentence that you feel the need to launch MULTIPLE snobby-a** diatribes about Atlanta and its food in general need to get a life!!

MICKEY

February 2nd, 2011
1:09 am

seems it won’t let me say much…so let’s try this: You’re a terrible cook. Having eaten at South City once, I’d rather save my money and have a GOOD meal at McDonalds. I’ve never had anything even resembling edible food in any southern eatery or home kitchen with exception of McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Outback Steakhouse….none of which I’d pride on their “cuisine” Of the FOUR, meaning the thre franchise restaurants and the southern city place, the latter was the absolute worst. The served pre-made grocery store left over cold-cut sandwiches wrapped in the same plastic wrap purchased from Kroger, and/or Publix the night before for three times as much as the fresh sandwich could be purchased at the participating grocery store on the same day.

The restaurant denied these claims, but refused to make a statement for fear of job retention. Four days later, an acquisition driver for a fast-food cold sandwich chain recently “absorbed” by one of its parent companies, arrived to purchase our post due-date (trash) sandwiches ….interesting huh? More interesting is that THESE particular food franchises are BANNED from operation in the Northeast because WE have FECKING STANDARDS!

Quinn

February 2nd, 2011
1:49 am

I watched Chopped every time it airs and I get a distinct feeling that the judges are hypocrites in there own way. Some people come on and tell a story and they get kudos and some come tell a story and they get CHOPPED I just do not understand the just cause because if you got a story to tell then tell it but why get penalized (CHOPPED) just because your story doesn’t match what food you bring to the panel to be judged. My feelings are up in the air on this one… You tell me

Becky

February 2nd, 2011
11:05 am

@Foodgeek..So if they aren’t great chefs, please tell us the names of people you consider great chefs?

@Quinn..I’m with you on that..Not so much on the stories that they tell, but the ingredients that are given to them..They are given something that they (judges) know takes more than 20 mins. to cook, then they make are consendening towrad the chefs for not getting it cooked just right..What’s up with that?I would love to see some of those judges on the other side sometimes..

nom nom nom

February 2nd, 2011
11:50 am

Jeff did fairly well. Not great but good. But the guy he was pitted against was a complete a-hole! It looked like Kevin Gillespe vs Gordon Ramsey. Not fun to watch.

James

February 2nd, 2011
12:38 pm

I thought he did a fantastic job. Came across as knowledgeable, authentic, and wiser than his years. Seems he has a bright future ahead. (and the dude who won provided a perfect example of why I have no desire to dine in NYC – I’d much rather support a guy like Jeffrey).

Foodgeek

February 2nd, 2011
1:41 pm

@Becky OK: Masaharu Morimoto is a great Chef. Thomas Keller, Wylie Dufresne, Grant Achatz, Bruno Menard, Joel Robuchon, Eric Ripert. Locally, we have Linton Hopkins who is terrific, and while Alton Brown doesn’t refer to himself as a “Chef,” I consider him to be someone who is very knowledgeable.

You’re going to get your wish as far as seeing the judges on the other side of the table. Chopped All-Stars is coming in March. http://www.foodnetwork.com/chopped/index.html Should be interesting.