Jamaican Chef Is CHOPPED Champion

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

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Twenty-seven-year-old Jamaican-born André Fowles stamped his class last Tuesday evening on the Food Network’ s highly acclaimed series Chopped.


With Caribbean cuisine taking centre stage, he emerged the winner and copped US$10,000 to boot, which he’ll use to visit his mother in the United Kingdom whom he’s not seen in 15 years.


Fowles, who is currently the resident sous-chef at Miss Lily’s, an authentic, vibrant Jamaican restaurant in New York, and who conducts interactive teaching sessions at
Bon Appétit,
Food & Wine and
The
Daily Meal, left Jamaica in 2014.


Speaking to Thursday Life immediately after his emphatic victory, Fowles took us behind the scenes.


Thursday Life (TL): How did you get to compete on the show?


André Fowles (AF): I have always been a huge fan of the show and my wife, Schnell, who is also a "foodie", has always wanted me to compete on the show. So I just applied online thinking nothing of it, as thousands of really good chefs apply every year, so it would be a long shot for me to get selected.


TL: Were you nervous when you got selected to compete?


AF: Not at all! I was more excited about getting such a tremendous opportunity to represent my country and to showcase my cuisine.


TL: And against the line-up?


AF: I am naturally competitive, and to become a great chef you have to build that competitive edge whilst striving for excellence, so I was quite at ease.


TL: Who was your strongest competitor?


AF: Definitely Chef Brandon (Soverall). He being Trinidadian, I knew he would bring bold flavours that would be similar to mine. He seemed ready to compete and had the experience to back it up.


TL: Were you more nervous or excited when you found out that it was a Caribbean-themed episode?


AF: Honestly, when Ted Allen (the Emmy Award-winning host of
Chopped) announced that it was a Caribbean-themed episode — Cooking Caribbean — I started to feel apprehensive about how I would face my country if I got CHOPPED! Jamaicans strive to excel in all we do, we are very proud of our culture and our cuisine, and we carry that pride with us always. That pride was what fuelled my competitive nature throughout the competition.


TL: So how was it cooking and presenting your dishes to the judges, like Chef Aarón Sánchez, for example?


AF: It felt amazing! Growing up, I was obsessed with watching the
Food Network and dreamed of one day being named amongst the crème de la crème of chefs. Having migrated to the United States of America just over a year ago and to have been given such an extraordinary and life-changing opportunity is just unbelievable. It was very intense presenting to the judges; I just wanted to cook the best food that would totally "wow" the judges.


TL: How did you feel when Ted said "open the basket" in the first round?


AF: With the tension building up, it was time to prove to myself that I had made the right decision — that of pursuing my passion of becoming a chef. With my heart beating so hard, I could feel it in my throat [as] I opened the basket and saw shrimp, salted cured ham and mofongo.


The main thing that kept going through my mind was to finish on time (I had 20 minutes).


I kept thinking of strong flavours and so I made a spiced roasted shrimp with mofongo and salted ham ragout.


TL: How did you feel going into the entrée round?


AF: It felt great not being CHOPPED in the first round, that’s for sure! I felt more comfortable going into the entrée round as I knew I would push myself harder to impress the judges and make it to the dessert round.


TL: Did you ever think you would have made it to the dessert round?


AF: After the first round, yes, I did! I am always confident of my abilities in the kitchen and not being CHOPPED in the first round definitely boosted my confidence to win it all.


TL: And the final round, the Caribbean showdown: Jamaica vs Trinidad?


AF: I felt a sense of accomplishment and joy to have made it to the final round and to be competing against my Trinidadian counterpart. I knew I had to finish strong, to take the title for Jamaica.


TL: And being named ‘
Chopped Champion’?


AF: It was surreal being in the moment when Ted Allen announced that I was the
Chopped Champion. I kept thinking about Schnell, my entire family and my friends, and how proud they’d be. I give God thanks for blessing me with an amazing gift, along with the strength, knowledge and skills needed to compete and win at such a high level.


TL: And to your mentors like Martin Maginley (executive chef at Round Hill Hotel & Villas) and Mario Machado (then chef/patron at Mac’s Chop House, Kingston, Jamaica) and your lecturers at HEART?


AF: Thank you all for instilling core values in me. Thanks to Chef Kenrick Stewart for his invaluable lessons and guidance; Chef Mario Machado for teaching me what it takes to be a great chef; and to Chef Martin Maginley for constantly sharing his passion for Caribbean cuisine and the inspiration he has been to me. There are many people who have impacted on my life, teaching me life lessons and ingraining morals, values and attitudes that have made me who I am today. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart and I wish God’s richest blessings on your lives.


I have to also mention Jacqui Sinclair who has been one of the most influential persons in my life. Jacqui inspired me to be true to myself and that my food would shine. She supported and guided me through some challenging times in my life and was always there to give me some invaluable advice.


Prior to joining the team at Miss Lily’s, Fowles worked for two years as chef de partie under the tutelage of Martin Maginley, multi-award-winning chef at the cashmere-chic Round Hill Hotel & Villas. He also worked at Kingston’s celebrated Mac’s Chop House under the celebrated Mario Machado.


Fowles was trained at the Runaway Bay HEART Academy. Indeed, he was one of the chosen few who got the opportunity to take part in the Culinary Institute of America’s Professional Chef Programme and is a proud certified executive chef from a renowned culinary institution.


Originally from Kingston, Fowles attended the Donald Quarrie High School and credits his grandmother Veronica Davis, affectionately called Mama Cherry, for his foray into the culinary arena.


"The culinary bug bit me when I was a youngster," he told Thursday Life in an exclusive interview. "I’d watch my grandmother cook and bake at home. I remember how everyone enjoyed the puddings and other treats that she made; not to mention her tripe and beans, coconut rice and peas, and pumpkin punch. I was inspired by her approach to cooking and how she took the time to develop the flavours in every one of her dishes."


 

    

           


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