If you dig the drama and spectacle of television cooking shows, consider the Chopped Challenge, organized by Cooking Matters Maine and hosted by Grace in Portland on Sunday. Now in its third year, the competition features baskets of secret ingredients selected by judge Rob Evans (chef/co-owner of Duckfat and a Chopped champion himself) and four competitors who have to get creative in a small window of time. This is one of the rare occasions Mainers get to feel like they're in a real live studio audience.
Not even the other judges (Joe Ricchio of Maine Magazine and Susan Axelrod of MaineToday) know what's in the baskets ahead of time (no gummy worms, though, a source reveals). While the chefs sweat it out, guests get to sample from a laundry list of local restaurants, including Slab, Eventide, Artemisia Cafe, and more.
Peter Sueltenfuss (then of Grace, now owner of Otherside Delicatessen) and Karl Deuben (then of Small Axe Truck, now co-owner of East Ender) won in 2013 and 2014, respectively. This year Justin Walker (Earth at Hidden Pond), David Levi (Vinland), Adam Flood (Grace), and Emil Rivera (Sur Lie) face off to support a good cause. Walker told Eater he's "nervous about the short preparation time of each course, but excited to cook with a great group of well respected chefs."
Program manager Courtney Kennedy explained that Cooking Matters Maine "offers healthy cooking classes to low-income families, teaching them how to stretch their food dollars in a healthy affordable way. We do this through a partnership with chef volunteers and nutrition educators who help teach food skills and nutrition education."
From Rob Evans to Shannon Bard, a ton of excellent chefs have volunteered their time and expertise, and the Chopped Challenge raises awareness of the worthy program. Walker said he's happy to be involved as he feels "teaching is one of the most important skills a chef possesses, and you can have a significant impact" on the families utilizing the classes. See if Walker has what it takes to triumph on Sunday from 5 to 8 p.m.