Devising a dessert involving cotton candy, dried mango, and salted papaya might seem like a tall order for most, but for Chef Christian Petroni concocting his caramelized green papaya with cotton candy spread was the obvious solution, winning him $10,000 and the title of champion in Season 4 of Food Network’s Chopped.
This Tuesday, Petroni, chef and co-owner of Fortina, made a return to the Chopped test kitchen, this time taking a seat at the judges’ table.
“One of the best experiences I’ve ever had was competing on Chopped,” Petroni says. “But, judging was way better than competing.”
Petroni took a seat beside Alex Guarnaschelli, of New York City’s Butter Restaurant, and Chris Santos, of The Stanton Social, to judge the four competitors on Chopped’s Season 27 premiere. In a race against the clock, competitors were challenged to make a three-course meal from various mystery ingredients—most notably blood sausage, popcorn on the cob, and okra.
However, Petroni is no stranger to peculiar ingredients. While competing on the show back in 2010, he was baffled when cotton candy popped up as a mystery ingredient, citing that dessert round as “the hardest part of [his] day.”
“It’s hard to put together a dish from ingredients in the box,” Petroni says. “If you’re a chef, and if you’re creative, you’ll come up with something.”
Without a doubt, it is this capacity for quick thinking, and a solid understanding of what it’s like to be under heat in the Chopped kitchen, that earned Petroni a spot next to Guarnaschelli and Santos. According to Petroni, while judging a dish, you pull from everywhere, technical knowledge and intuition, to formulate a concise critique.
“There are no scripts. The competition is very serious, so you speak from the heart,” Petroni says. “I’m lucky that the producers had faith in me. They told me ‘All we want you to do is be yourself.’”
Evidently the faith was not misplaced, as Petroni will make appearances on three more episodes of Chopped and is currently in the works with Food Network on another project to come.