Jefferson City native chef Natalie "Figgy" DiBenedetto took home some new bragging rights and a prize of $10,000 after competing in season 40 of "Chopped."
In this episode that aired March 26 on The Food Network, chef Figgy competed against three other chefs and the clock to make creative dishes using low cost, budget friendly ingredients.
In the first round, chefs were given frozen taquitos, frozen corn, a dozen eggs and fresh basil.
Figgy was not only able to catch the judges' attention with her dish, but she had also caught their attention while doing a little dance seminar to the robot, or "frozen dance" as judge and executive chef Alex Guarnaschelli described, with one minute left on the clock.
Chef Figgy had made a taquito and chorizo hash with a poached egg and crispy tortilla bits.
"Tequito hash should really be a thing," judge Tiffani Faison told Figgy during her critique. "This dish, it's crunchy, it's delicious, it's all the things you want."
The second round proved to be a bit more complicated as the remaining three chefs were given a can of beef tripe stew, broccoli, chicken legs and a box of instant mashed potatoes.
Figgy created buttermilk fried chicken and baked beans with tripe red-eyed gravy and roasted broccoli.
"I am just mesmerized by Figgy's fried chicken," judge Scott Conant said, as Figgy began turning over her chicken in the skillet.
"This is the fried chicken of my dreams," judge Faison later commented as they tasted her dish.
For the final round, Figgy and her final opponent went head-to-head to create a dessert made with blueberry muffin mix, cream cheese, carrots and white wine ice cubes. Her dish was a white wine glazed carrot and blueberry crisp with a cream cheese gelato.
It was easy to see that both chefs had struggled with this challenge. However, after a short overview between judges, Figgy's opponent had been chopped naming her the winner of the challenge.
For the airing of the show, Figgy had been surrounded by nearly 100 family members and friends during a watch party back home in Portland, Maine. Everyone kept cheering her on, her parents said.
Although Figgy was nervous during the competition, she said cooking with low cost ingredients is her jam.
"With the theme being dollar budget, I kind of did what my dad told me to do: 'To make a silk purse out of a sow's ear' and I think I did it," she said on the show.
Figgy also mentioned, before the show aired, her style of cooking definitely comes with Missouri influence.
"Growing up in Missouri exposed me to several different styles of cooking," she said. "Some of my fondest and first memories of food were from the Bootheel where my folks grew up, just north of the Arkansas border. The absolute best peaches and blackberries from Campbell, dry rubbed ribs from Dexter and chopped pork sandwiches from a little barbecue joint (Haydens) in Poplar Bluff. Though I've significantly cut back on my meat consumption, I still crave that barbecue!"
"Then there was fried chicken from Jefferson City and the surrounding areas," she added. "I bet once a week we would either go out or fry some at home, and it was always fried in cast iron skillets and simply seasoned with salt and pepper. I continue this method here in Maine at my takeout."
Since competing on the show, Figgy has returned to her restaurant Figgy's Takeout and Catering where she has been booming with business and selling out of her fried chicken.
"Big big thanks to @foodnetwork, my ridiculously awesome family, my friends and customers for making this such an amazing experience," Figgy wrote on her business' Facebook page just after the show aired. "It was so outside of my comfort zone, but I'm so happy I did it. Challenge yourself! Embrace your weirdness! Use exclamation points! Be true and honest to everyone you meet but mostly to yourself and wonderful things will happen."
Figgy's next step will be to compete in "Chopped Champions" finale for $50,000 at the end of the season.
You can find Figgy's episode "Dollar Dishes," season 40 episode 7, at foodnetwork.com/shows, Hulu or on YouTube.
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