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.

MLK Day, With Celebratory Recipe from a Guest Chef

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My kids’ teachers have been doing a great job these past few weeks, edifying their charges on who Martin Luther King, Jr. was, and how he changed the North America we live in right now. I can’t listen to King’s I Have a Dream speech without being deeply moved. As we ponder on how much King accomplished in terms of civil rights even though his life was cruelly cut short, and how much there is to go, I often think of how he fought on without giving up, always peacefully, overcoming or ignoring obstacles that would have turned a lesser person back. Repeated arrests. His home was firebombed. He was stabbed. In a typical year, he traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, making well over 200 speeches – because he had a cause, a dream. This was at a time when schools were segregated, when colored people and whites had to drink from separate water fountains and sit on separate parts of a bus or theater, when fire hoses and police dogs were turned on peaceful marchers, when scores of nonviolent rioters were killed. When blacks, as well as Hispanics and Asians, were denied economic opportunities and jobs, were instead, exploited, denied voting rights and faced racist violence. King, too, made references that showed he knew his life was in peril. Yet he fought on.

I came across a young man recently, born and raised in Montclair, NJ, who went on to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America (more…)

January 18, 2010. Tags: , , . American, Southern. 1 comment.