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Don’t forget the ants! Sacramento chef competes on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ TV show

The Pizza Rock restaurant and bar has been so successful in Sacramento that owner George Karpaty has opened two in Las Vegas and plans to spread the high-glitz concept across the country.
The Pizza Rock restaurant and bar has been so successful in Sacramento that owner George Karpaty has opened two in Las Vegas and plans to spread the high-glitz concept across the country. lsterling@sacbee.com

A Sacramento woman who spends her days making pizzas recently stepped out of her comfort zone for a chance to win $10,000.

All she had to do?

Make three dishes with four specific ingredients that don’t normally go together. Oh, and she had to use Queen Weaver ants.

Pizza Rock head pizzaiolo Laura Meyer recently competed on Food Network’s “Chopped,” appearing in an episode that aired Tuesday night. She went head-to-head against three top chefs from restaurants across the country, and finished third.

The competition was broken up into three rounds: an appetizer, entree and dessert, all featuring some type of cheese. One person was eliminated each round, which was called being “chopped.”

For the first round, contestants had 20 minutes to make an appetizer with a Philly Cheese Steak Bowl, lemon soda, Italian sausage and herbed goat cheese. They were also allowed to use limited items of their choosing from a “pantry.”

Meyer made a steak and spicy sausage sub with a lemon and herbed goat cheese sauce.

“I want to make a sandwich because I want something that’s friendly,” she said. “I want something that judges can relate to.”

And it worked — at least partially.

One judge, a chef named Marcus Samuelsson, called Meyer’s sandwich “smart cooking” and applauded her choice of charred peppers.

But another judge, Liz Thorpe, said the goat cheese and lemon soda were “overwhelmed” by the sausage and peppers.

“And it’s difficult to eat,” she added. “The bread is hard to bite through.”

While the judges were deliberating, Meyer told the other contestants: “I don’t think that was a best showing of what I can do.”

Meyer got another chance to show off her skills, though, after a chef from San Francisco was “chopped.”

For the second round, the remaining chefs were given 30 minutes to create an entree with a deep dish pizza, Canadian bacon, basil-flavored Queen Weaver ants and a cheese called pico melero.

Meyer cooked a cheesy polenta topped with Italian sausage and prosecco cheese sauce, and paired it with a candied Canadian bacon and arugula salad. She almost forgot to use the ants — crunching them up and sprinkling them over the salad with minutes to go.

“I really feel like I used the cheese well and elevated the Canadian bacon,” Meyer said.

The judges agreed.

“You took an ingredient that was not terribly interesting (the Canadian bacon) and made it smoky and sweet and gave it complexity,” Thorpe said. “Where the dish doesn’t work so well for me is that it’s not cohesive.”

Another judge, Alex Guarnaschelli, critiqued Meyer’s use of optional pantry ingredients, which she said were more dominating components in her dish than the mandatory ingredients.

Those errors were big enough to send Meyer back to Sacramento without the $10,000 grand prize.

And while it wasn’t the ending she had hoped for, Meyer said she was “definitely proud.”

“Competing here, it’s taken me outside my comfort zone, and it’s made me test my abilities in a way that I never have before,” she said.

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Meghan Bobrowsky, from Scripps College, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee, focusing on breaking news and school funding. She grew up in nearby Davis.

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