Wednesday, June 20, 2012 | 12:15 p.m.
Don’t expect to see a salad of duck hearts and chocolate-covered cherries on the menu at Diego any time soon.
That was just one of the crazy cooking combinations Christina Olivarez overcame on her way to winning her episode of Food Network’s Chopped. The executive chef at MGM Grand’s Mexican restaurant made her television debut last night and came away with the win—and $10,000 in prize money.
“It was a whirlwind,” she said. “It was a total adrenaline rush the whole day, and it was a long day.” Olivarez filmed the appearance in February in New York. “Having never done TV before, being in a kitchen you don’t know, having all the cameras around and then opening these boxes of random stuff to cook with … it was intense.”
She made a mole-ish dish in round one with those duck hearts, cherries, and dates, impressed the judges with an entrée of chateaubriand and chocolate-tomato sauce, and won it all with a dessert of sorbet of membrillo (quince paste) with ladyfingers and chocolate crumble. “People say the hardest ingredients are the ones you’re familiar with, and it’s kind of true,” Olivarez said. “I was trying to do something interesting and different in each round, and I was happy with the way my dishes came out.”
One of her three competitors was another local. Taryn Mumpower, baker and co-owner of Pick Your Poison Bake Shop, was chopped in the first round—even though the judges seemed impressed with her duck heart dish—but she was still happy with her Chopped experience.
“I was a little surprised when I was (eliminated). But everyone made mistakes. I guess mine were worse,” she said. “I just wanted to show I don’t just bake, I cook, too.” She may be focused on building her cupcake business now, but Mumpower is a Le Cordon Bleu grad. She wasn’t very nervous about going on Chopped, especially since she’s been on TV before: Pick Your Poison was featured on Cupcake Wars in December.
Olivarez and Mumpower are the third and fourth Vegas cooks to compete on the current season of Chopped. Both Comme Ça executive chef Brian Howard and Fukuburger chef Robert “Mags” Magsalin advanced into the entrée round before getting the axe in separate episodes. Many more Vegas chefs are scheduled to appear on upcoming shows, which are broadcast Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on the Food Network.