Spoiler Alert. If you haven’t viewed Chopped Season 40 Episode 10, (Deadly Catch) you might want wait on reading this article. It gives away the ingredients and the winner.
Volare Ristorante Executive Chef Josh Moore is no stranger to the camera. He has done many local news segments and shows during his 25-year career, and he thinks that may have helped make his experience and recent win on Food Network’s Chopped less stressful. But if there’s one word he used over and over again when explaining the overall experience to F&D, that word would be “insane.” The experience was full of insane time constraints, ingredients and pressure.
If you follow Volare on Instagram, you might recognize him as the “fish guy.” Volare features “Fish Fridays,” and Moore posts photos of himself lifting huge and exotic fish as he flaunts an infectious smile. So, maybe it was fortuitous that the episode of Chopped he is featured on is titled “Deadly Catch” with a focus on seafood ingredients – many of which Moore had never heard of and one of which has seen been banned in the US since the show was recorded (marlin). The other three chefs were from areas closer to the oceans and more known for seafood, so he said it was a lot of fun taking home the $10,000 prize and “being the Kentucky boy and pulling out a win with seafood.”
Over the last year, Moore did a fantastic job of keeping his participation and his win a secret. The show is very serious about disclosure and even had his 8-year-old son sign a non-disclosure agreement.
“He was very worried about it,” Moore said. “He told his step-mom, ‘ I already told mommy they would be here filming today’ and had to be reassured.”
Moore said it wasn’t too hard to keep it a secret until his name was announced and everyone started asking him how he had done. As the air date approached, he was excited but also nervous. Even though he knew the outcome, he didn’t know what parts of the day would be shown on television to the nation.
Moore said that the day in New York was very long and tiring but fun and that he enjoyed the camaraderie he built with other chefs. He also mentioned he was the only chef there without a culinary degree.
“The other chefs were great! We were there quite a while before we started filming, and we were all talking about our restaurants and backgrounds,” he said. “It’s great how chefs – no matter what you do or how you’re competing – are all in this business because we love it, and it was great to see that.”
While competing, the production asked Moore what his Kryptonite would be. Would it be the stress or pressure? He was sure he would be fine with that. He thrives off the dinner rush at the restaurant and said the busier it is, the happier he is – to a certain point. His worry was the ingredients and not knowing what some of them were.He has focused on doing Italian well for 25 years – what if he put out something awful?
The appetizer round allows just 20 minutes to discover and use the mystery ingredients.
“Finger limes, I knew what they were, but I hadn’t really worked with them before, he said. “King crabs was an awesome ingredient. Kelp jerkey – I hadn’t ever had that, but I just tasted it. Sea water was easy.”
The next two baskets allow 30 minutes to use the mystery ingredients, and the entree basket included ingredients Moore had never worked with: Marlin, cracked rica, sea beans and jellyfish salad. He had never heard of cracked freekah or sea beans or of jellyfish even being eaten before. Cracked freekah is like a green rice, and Moore added some pancetta, gold raisins and pine nuts to it for a Sicilian dish, which was a big hit. The sea beans were like salty crunchy cucumbers, so he made a relish to top the fish; the jellyfish salad was acidic and sweet, so he made an agrodolce sauce from it with Maker’s Mark bourbon.
“They all got excited saying, “Oh my god, he’s putting bourbon in it,” he remembered. “I had to represent Kentucky a little, and Maker’s Mark is a great partner. “
Like the other chefs, he thought the marlin would be cooked like swordfish, but the judges corrected all of them saying it was more like tuna. Moore’s was the first to be tasted, and he was worried when they went on and on about it being overcooked. When it turned out the other chefs made the same mistake, it leveled the playing field.
“I really thought that might be it for me,” he said.
Luckily, it wasn’t. The dessert basket had the seemingly toughest ingredients of all: a bright blue tidal wave cake with icing, water caltrop (a seed pod from a type of sea lily), and sea urchin. The production actually did say something to the chefs about the caltrop before the time started, because they are toxic. They made a big deal about making sure the chefs understood the judges would not eat their dish if they had not baked or boiled the pods to rid them of toxicity. Off camera, Moore baked some and boiled some, so he could taste them before deciding to make a crumble from them that he placed on top of the cake pudding he made from the cake. However, it was the sea urchin ice cream he made that he thinks won him the show.
“It was a big hit. I think sea urchin is one of Amanda Freitag’s least favorite ingredients,” he said. “And she loved it.”
Moore said Chopped is one of the toughest things he’s done in his culinary career, but that he loved representing Kentucky, his hometown of Louisville, and the city of Taylorsville where he lives now. And after the win, it seems his anxiety about not being able to work with unknown ingredients was unwarranted.
“I thought going into the experience ‘as long as I don’t completely mess up my food and I’m proud of the plates I put out –whatever the outcome — I’ll be happy. And I’m really proud of my dishes.”