A local sous chef who competed on the Food Network's weekly competition, "Chopped," participated in a question-and-answer session Sunday night after patrons of his workplace, the Flintridge Proper, watched the program on a TV there.
Though he placed second in the competition, Eli Irland said he gained some valuable knowledge and a fellow food expert in his kitchen, along the way.
Originally hailing from Wayne, Maine, Irland learned his cooking skills initially at Paragon, an elite culinary school in Colorado Springs, Colo. He said he honed his talents while working in established restaurants in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. His journey to his selection for "Chopped" began two years ago, when he filled out a Web form online that was later dug up by the show's producers.
The local viewing of the premiere of the episode featuring Irland was open to the public. The restaurant's owners and about 20 guests watched as Irland made his way to the final round before being "chopped" like the contestants before him.
While Irland did not win the top prize of $10,000, he didn't leave the television studio completely empty-handed. Fellow chef and contestant Afton Farnsworth, himself a native of the Sunland-Tujunga, abandoned his dreams of opening a restaurant in New York to pursue a job with Irland at Flintridge Proper following the show.
Irland mentioned to Farnsworth the possibility of working at the budding enterprise, which opened last year. Days after his arrival in Los Angeles, Farnsworth interviewed and received a job with the Proper, working alongside his former rival from the show.
Fielding questions from patrons — such as "How many burgers did you have to make for each round?" and "Did they tell you how much the $10,000 prize would be after taxes?" — the two chefs provided the audience with another perspective on the show and the process of taping it.
Irland said he felt the show has a contrived nature.
"It's clear the judges are trained by the producers to act and react in a certain way," he said. "I went in to it knowing I would have fun, that the show was less a technical cooking show, and more a dramatic piece to increase ratings. I learned how fabricated and contrived modern television is."
Farnsworth and Irland said they felt about 90% of what the chefs said during the show was cut from the final product, including any attempts to plug the La Cañada restaurant. Nonetheless, the chance to make a repeat appearance on "Chopped" in a redemption episode is something Irland says he wouldn't mind doing at all.
MICHAEL BRUER is a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.