This is Cole Dickinson, Chef de Cuisine at Los Angeles restaurant ink. and winner of Chopped’s Season 16 episode “Mochi Obliged.”
Dickinson, a northern California native, is no slouch when it comes to cooking. Not only was ink. named GQ’s 2012 Best New Restaurant in America, but he himself was voted one of Zagat’s 30 Under 30 of 2013. He’s also no stranger to competitive cooking since his boss, ink. executive chef/owner Michael Voltaggio, was also the Season 6 winner of Bravo TV’s Top Chef. So, what’s it really like when host Ted Allen says, “Your time starts now”? The answers might surprise you.
1. The mystery basket is just as tough as you think.
The best moments on Chopped are the ones when the mystery baskets are opened, revealing the items that will need to be utilized for each round of cooking. From frozen biscuits to ivy gourds, nobody has an easy time making a cohesive dish out of such disparate ingredients, not even Dickinson. He said using the basket’s ingredients was like “playing high school football in the rain. Even the best running back will have a hard time holding onto the ball.” However, with Dickinson, it seems every round of his Chopped experience ended in a touchdown.
2. Sometimes the judges eat cold food.
“When there’s four people, your dish may be the fourth, but they say in the rules the judges can’t judge you if it’s cold,” Dickinson explained.
3. It’s a loooong 16-hour day of filming.
But as Dickinson points out, “Could’ve been a six hour day if I had gone home first.”
4. The judges actually judge the food and don’t pull any punches.
Especially when you set yourself up like Dickinson did on the show by touting his “properly pickled gourds.”
5. The dishes look different on television.
Said Dickinson, “The [fish] I made was the most visually appealing dish, but when I saw it on TV, it looked like shit. It looked horrible. What looked best was the [sautéed lamb], but when I plated it, I thought, ‘this looks like shit.’”
6. Confidence goes a long way.
And Dickinson has confidence to spare. “I said this on the show, and it made me look like an asshole, but as soon as I saw the other peoples food I knew I may not win this round, but I’m not going home,” he disclosed.
7. If the judges eat all your food, it’s a winner.
“[Judge] Scott Conant wiped my dessert plate clean. That’s when I knew I won,” Dickinson said.
8. Not watching the show can be an advantage.
Dickinson explained that he wasn’t “psyched out,” adding, “I watch a ton of car shows. I love cars. It’s not that I don’t watch Chopped because I think I’m too cool; it’s just that I’d rather watch a car show.”