On last night's episode of Chopped, contestant Joe Bayley cooked his way through two mystery baskets before facing his final challenge: creating a coherent dessert out of an avocado, some coffee liqueur and a honeycomb. His avocado and ginkgo mousse with coffee ganache and lime-infused honey impressed the judges and sent his opponent packing. Bayley collected the $10,000 prize money—but not before yelling "Ten Gs, baby!" into the camera.
I caught up with the Chopped champ—a dear friend and FCI classmate—during a rare moment on dry land, as he headed to a bar in Juneau to watch his own victory.
Name: Joseph Bayley
Location: Afloat in the Gulf of Alaska
Occupation: Chef on board the Island Spirit
How long have you been cooking professionally? I've been in kitchens for 13 years: catering, food styling, you name it. I've been cooking since high school and have never really had another type of job.
Were you confident going in? I have a pretty wide range of cooking experience, including a four-month stint in Antarctica, so I was extremely confident.
What on earth were you doing in Antarctica? I worked under a Parisian-trained pastry chef, 10000 feet above sea level. I learned how to make US Military Type II Class III doughnuts and baked over 11,000 choc chip cookies, which I'd use to bribe air pilots to bring me real milk from New Zealand. Not a lot of fresh produce out there: I saw a grown man cry at the sight of a plum tomato.
So a half-hour cooking contest must have seemed like a breeze. Actually, it was more like a 14-hour contest. We started filming at 6am and didn't wrap until 8 at night.
What was the atmosphere like on set? Calm chaos. I'm sure there was some animosity, but everyone was focused on doing their own thing. Every one of the competitors was cool, and I don't have a bad word to say about any of them. Of course, I was still ecstatic to see my opponents walk away.
Are you happy with how your dishes turned out? Yes and no. The warm jumbo shrimp salad over wilted arugula with golden raisins—that was my weakest effort. I'm happy enough with my flank steak, but, really, what a boring ingredient! What I'm proudest of is my avocado-ginkgo dessert. It was a little more out of the box than my opponent was willing to go, and I nailed it.
You were judged by some serious chefs: Geoffrey Zakarian of Town and Country; Amanda Freitag of the Harrison, and Scarpetta's Scott Conant. Did you agree with their assessments? Definitely. They're smart chefs, and they know more than I do. I finished my first dish five minutes early, instead of sticking it out and improving it. They didn't like that, and they were right.
Now that you've been behind the scenes, what would you say is the biggest misconception about competitive cooking shows? The pace. The actual cooking segments are no joke, but in between all of that is TV purgatory. An hour in the stew room; getting pulled and pushed here and there; getting mad at Ted Allen for fudging his lines; just waiting and waiting. The TV aspect is way more draining than the cooking.
What advice do you have for aspiring competitors? Don't bother coming in with a game plan. You have to be able to react on the fly to the contents of the mystery basket, and having a list of dishes that you're dead set on making will only bog you down. Be ingredient-driven, not idea-driven.
Any plans for the prize money? It'll allow me to work for free for a while, so I can learn more. This September, I'm going to Barcelona to find myself a stage—a culinary internship.
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