ST. PETERSBURG — For the second time this year, a Tampa Bay chef has beaten Bobby Flay at his own game.
Il Ritorno’s David Benstock took home a big win Thursday evening when the St. Petersburg chef claimed victory over the Food Network star in an Italian-themed Beat Bobby Flay episode titled ‘Mission: Impastable.’
Now in its 28th season, the hit show’s format features two competing chefs who battle it out in a first round using a secret ingredient of Flay’s choice. The winner then goes on to compete against the show’s host making a dish of their choosing.
Benstock’s success on the show comes just a few months after Cena chef Michael Buttacavoli also beat the celebrity chef, in an episode which aired in February.
Thursday’s episode filmed in New York back in 2019 and pitted Benstock against New York Italian chef and cookbook author Nicole Karr. In keeping with the show’s characteristic cheesy and over-the-top antics, Benstock entered the cooking arena behind a cloud of smoke dressed in a black trench coat lined with plastic bags full of pasta.
In the first lighting speed round, Benstock and Karr went head to head over a dish that highlighted Asiago cheese. Though both chefs were told they needed to feature the ingredient more, Food Network chef and celebrity judge commentator Anne Burrell and comedian Jaboukie Young-White ultimately chose Benstock’s Asiago and mushroom grilled cheese over Karr’s Asiago risotto.
For the second round against Flay, Benstock chose mezzaluna — a type of half moon-shaped pasta — as the competing dish. Longtime Il Ritorno fans may have recognized that Benstock’s secret weapon was his signature short rib mezzaluna, which has been a fan favorite on the St. Petersburg restaurant’s menu for years.
Throughout the competition, Benstock appeared calm and confident, something he attributed to his father being there, watching from overhead in the stands.
“Having my dad there watching me cook against Bobby Flay is incredible,” Benstock said.
When the time came for the judges to make their decisions, the panel of three culinary experts fell hard for Benstock’s pasta, which he served with a charred shishito pepper sauce. And though they seemed to like Flay’s pumpkin mezzaluna with mushroom, sage and brown butter sauce, Benstock ultimately got the win.
“I really like it — there is a lot of balance,” judge Einat Admony said. “Overall, I think it’s absolutely delicious.”
For Benstock, the win came as a welcome surprise.
“I feel amazing right now,” he said. “I feel like I’m on top of the world.”