Reuben Dhanawade had a lot riding on dessert — namely a job offer from chefs Maneet Chauhan, Scott Conant and Chris Santos, the discerning — and often acerbic — judges on the Food Network’s “Desperately Seeking Sous Chef.”
The five-part show is a special edition of “Chopped,” which asks chefs to make dishes from a mystery basket of ingredients. A chef is “chopped” after each of three courses, leaving one winner.
In this rendition, however, the judges evaluate more than the dish. They are also looking at the contestants’ leadership skills, demeanor and ability to overcome stumbling blocks, such as uncooked cheesecake or hard-to-cook meats.
In the first episode, which aired on May 31, Dhanawade avoided elimination in the appetizer and entrée rounds. But the Bear resident faced making a dessert using the mystery basket of ingredients: caponata, goat cheese, blood oranges and a gelatin-like galaxy cake.
Could he beat his lone competitor, Cat White? The sound of the clock ticking as host Ted Allen went to a commercial only underscored the anticipation.
Dhanawade’s path to network television started in India, where he and his brother were born. His father, a government contractor, came to the United States in 1996, and the family followed soon after.
Dhanawade’s culinary career was inspired by his mother and grandmother, who cooked on Sundays so there was food for the week. He didn’t wait long to jumpstart his career. At Paul M. Hodgson Vocational Technical High School, he met the culinary instructor and chef Gerald Allen. “He’s definitely a mentor,” his protegee said.
After graduating, Dhanawade earned associate degrees in the culinary arts and food-service management from Delaware Technical Community College.
The young chef has worked in Wilmington, Newark and New York — “kind of all over the place,” he said. “I’ve been pretty deeply rooted in the Delaware restaurant scene for a while now.”
In the spotlight
When an injury forced a friend to leave the show audition, a friend referred Dhanawade to the casting company. After three auditions, the Delawarean got a month’s notice. He needed to pack his knives and come to Knoxville for the taping.
Dhanawade used the month to study past “Chopped” episodes. He paused the screen when the chefs unpacked the baskets. What would he have made?
“I decided that I would have to go with my first instinct,” he said.
Filming started at 7 a.m., and it would be a long day under the lights. To start, the contestants received pink pineapple, plant-based chicken substitute, habanero peppers with oil and taikyaki, fish-shaped cakes with sweet red bean filling.
Dhanawde created a crostini dish with mascarpone, habanero barbecue and a pineapple-onion salad. The judges praised the “addictive spice” and his ability to push the envelope.
The entrée did not go as well. The lamb shank in the basket threw Dhanawade. The fibrous meat requires a long cooking time, and his competitors had already grabbed the meat grinders to make a tender option. The basket also contained chicken feet, broccoli rabe and bagel bombs.
Dhanawade presented an Asian lamb ragout with polenta, and Chauhan gave a sharp critique. The dish had conflicting flavors from all over the world, she said.
“That was a gut punch,” Dhanawade said to the camera. “I think I’m on the chopping block.”
However, one competitor had undercooked her lamb meatballs. As a result, she was chopped.
It was now down to Dhanawade and Cat White.
“I went back to my roots,” Dhanawade said of his choice to make kheer, an Indian dessert. He added condensed milk and cardamom, used the galaxy cake for sweetness and turned the caponata into a sauce.
White also rose to the challenge, but in the end, the judges voted for Dhanawade.
There are four more sets of chefs to battle it out before the winners meet in the finale, which has already been filmed. Dhanawade remains mum on the outcome. He can’t even tell his parents who won.
“That’s the hardest part,” he acknowledged.
Nor did he tell the friends and family who gathered at Piccolina Toscana on May 31 to view the first show.
Would he have organized the event if he’d been chopped first?
“I just think it’s fun to be on TV,” he said. “I think a lot of people think I got chopped in the second round. Honestly, my whole goal was to get past the first round.”
Dhanawade is in good company. Delaware chef Robbie Jester and former Delaware resident Julio Lazzarini have also been on the Food Network. Jester was on hand at Toscana to root for his friend.
“Representing Delaware was a pleasure,” Dhanawade said. “It was also very fulfilling to work with such talented chefs.”
Share this Post