Oakland-based Chef Charleen Caabay, co-owner of Kainbigan restaurant, has won the “New Year’s Bash” episode of Chopped on the Food Network. Chef Charleen is the first Filipino-American female chef to win the reality-based cooking television game show.
It was the first time that Chopped hosted a New Year’s party, and the four chef competitors got to prepare a festive three-course meal with traditional and extravagant holiday ingredients. The show is divided into three rounds, in which each chef is given a basket of several unrelated ingredients and the prepared dish must contain all of them. At the end of each round the panel of rotating culinary judges decides which chef gets “chopped” based upon presentation, taste and creativity. The featured judges for this episode were Alex Guarnaschelli, Aarón Sánchez and Scott Conant. The comforting flavors of Filipino cuisine and Chef Charleen’s heritage served as an inspiration throughout the competition.
Chef Charleen proclaimed, “We’re gonna celebrate, we’re gonna cook good food and we’re gonna party!” She got the celebration started with an appetizer dish of Crab Torta with Collard Green Laing and Champagne Butter Sauce. Alex Guarnaschelli commented, “Your sensibility really comes through and I respect that.” Chef Charleen added her own twist on laing made with collard greens, which is typically stewed taro leaves in -coconut milk. Scott Conant really loved the richness from the coconut milk. She also used the blinis as a binder mixed with the king crab legs made into torta, a Spanish inspired Filipino omelet dish that she loved to eat while growing up. Aarón Sánchez appreciated the big chunks of crab that were welcoming and brought a sense of comfort when he ate the torta.
Moving into the second round, Chef Charleen shined through with her special entrée dish of Martini Steamed Lobster Tail with Barbecue Strip Loin and Curried Black-Eyed Peas. She wanted to create a party on the plate for the New Year’s theme, and that she did! Chef Charleen always finds a way to bring people together through the food that she makes. She said, “In my culture- barbecue stick is popular, so my first instinct is to marinate it with all the yummy seasonings.” Growing up in a Filipino household, she was always surrounded by amazing food shared with family and friends. It’s no wonder she ended up opening her own Filipino comfort food restaurant, it’s like a family party everyday! Aarón Sánchez commented to the other judges, “Charleen’s going to show us a window into Filipino cuisine, she’s doing it her way, I really appreciate that!” Then Alex Guarnaschelli chimed in by complimenting Chef Charleen, “There’s some really great cooking here!” I love the meat, it’s deee-licious, when I pull the lobster out of the shell and I get the marinade on it, it’s delicious!” Then Scott Conant said it simply, “It’s good eating!”
Chef Charleen topped the party off with a Funnel Cake withPomegranate Grape Compote. The dessert round can be a challenge at times, and kept us at the edge of our seat, but she made it! Chef Charleen commented, “I looked at Matt’s plate and see this fluffy white stuff… Oh-Oh! He used some kind of technique that I don’t even know…” She transformed the featured ingredients into a playful twist of a festive holiday funnel cake with a last minute sprinkle of toasted coconut, but it was a tad too sweet and needed more balance. Scott Conant said, “Your instincts are great, but those are the nuances that you learn as time goes on.” Chef Charleen’s own recipe of true passion for food, pride in her Filipino heritage, determination and creativity won the judges over!