Blackened Chicken by Justin Gaines, Winner of TV’s Chopped (Food Network)

Classically-trained chef Justin Gaines, born and bred in Montclair, whom I mentioned in my MLK Day post earlier this week, won the Jan. 19 episode of the Food Network’s Chopped series!

The show pits the skills of four ostensibly skilled chefs against the clock, each other, and baskets of mystery ingredients.

“There was a lot of drama in that episode,” Gaines said, describing the pre-recorded show which, contractually, he couldn’t discuss until after it had aired. “I had the attitude of going in to win it, but now, I’m humbled by everyone’s response to it.”

His mom Cathy said, “I am elated and so proud! This is the fruit of my labor as a single parent, and of what I’ve worked for, for the last 29 years – to see my kids become successful.”

Gaines, 28, who was “cooking every day after school, then doing homework,” and who started out as a student who washed the dishes at Enzo’s pizzeria, performed consistently throughout the courses, demonstrating his classical training at the Culinary Institute of America, from which he graduated in 2003.

Currently executive head chef of the SaZa Italian restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama, Gaines said his immediate plans comprise setting up five to ten more restaurants under the SaZa umbrella this year, while continuing with food consulting and private catering in the tri-state area. He has, since his win, been overwhelmed with calls from TV and radio stations.

Said Ellen Rothman, a friend of the family, who joined other friends and Cathy Gaines at a local restaurant, The Office, to watch the nail-biting episode, “We were jumping up and down, we were so excited. His mom and I were remembering Justin as the skinny little boy he used to be. It’s just amazing how he has turned out; we are so proud and happy for him.”

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January 23, 2010. Tags: , . American, Dinners, Guest Chef, Mains, Southern, Stories. Leave a comment.