St. Pete's Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe cut from Food Network's Chopped in an emotional championship
St. Petersburg fans saw their local hero, area resident Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe, cut from Food Network's Chopped Grill Masters championship Sunday just 15 minutes into the show -- a disappointing finish for an expert with more than 300 other competitions under his sizable belt.
But those who stuck around to watch the rest of Sunday's episode were treated to a surprisingly emotional cook-off in which the state of sardines prepared by all the finalists made the difference, prompting one of the show's toughest judges to dissolve into tears while awarding the contest's $50,000 prize.
Lampe had joined 15 other grillmasters in the competition, filmed for shows aired over the past five weeks. On the Food Network show Chopped, teams of four chefs are brought together in a timed cooking competition; mystery ingredients are revealed just before each round of a meal is to be prepared and contestants have a short amount of time to prepared an appetizer, main course and dessert.
At the end of each course, a team of three judges tastes and evaluates every competitor's wares, "chopping" one chef each round until a final champion is designated after the dessert course.
But in the Grillmasters episodes, the channel held four separate competitions with a western motif, requiring chefs to use their grilling skills to cook items disparate as sardines, clams, pork butt and tofu. Winners of each individual competition, including Lampe, were brought back for the championship, which aired Sunday.
Lampe was undone by the same appetizer round which eventually sunk second-place finisher Kent Rollins -- a bona-fide cowboy chuck wagon owner from Oklahoma who won over the judges and audience with his folksy manner and raw talent.
Tasked to make a tasty appetizer out of corn on the cob, sloppy joe filling, the Mexican liqueur Xtabentun and sardines, both men had trouble, with Lampe undercooking his fish to the point that judges cut him first.
"I'm disappointed in myself, he told the camera after the cut was announced. "I'm not ready to go."
Eventually, as the chefs were shown bonding with each other and the judges, Texas Lutheran University executive chef Ernest Servantes was handed the crown and $50,000 in a contest so close, only Rollins' decision to leave bones in his stewed sardines made the difference between victory and loss.
More than anything, the episode was a tribute to the brilliance of Chopped's producers, who tweaked their usual formula to deliver a surprisingly heartfelt finale featuring a quarter of top grill experts working at the limits of their ability.
Who knew a cooking contest could bring a tear to your eye?