Tony Maws Is a Chopped Finalist
Chef Tony Maws was busy in the Craigie on Main kitchen when “Chopped Grill Masters Napa: Part 4” aired on Tuesday, so he hasn’t actually been able to watch himself beat out three other chefs yet.
Though he may not know how the Food Network producers cut the episode, he knows how it ends. He stuck around California last fall for a couple extra days to film the finale, after all. That episode airs on the Food Network this Tuesday, August 2, at 10 p.m.
Maws is chef/owner at the nose-to-tail institution Craigie on Main, and the fire-fueled Kirkland Tap & Trotter (which, incidentally, is hosting a grill-fest of its own with Hojoko and O Ya “Top Dog” Tim Cushman on Monday, August 1). He was one of 16 chefs who competed in a four-part Chopped Grill Masters tournament to earn a spot in the final competition.
In the Chopped finale, he’s up against three other grill masters from around the country, including Clevelander and fellow James Beard Award winner Jonathan Sawyer, 2015’s Best Chef Great Lakes. (Maws is 2011’s Best Chef Northeast.) Sophina Uong, a Bay Area chef adept with whole animals, and Daniel Gomez Sanchez, also from the Bay Area, are the other finalists.
Each chef earned $10,000 for winning their respective episodes, and the finale will net the champion an extra $50,000—a huge amount of money, Maws says. He’ll keep any plans to spend it private.
Chopped Grill Masters is set up like any other version of the show: The four competitors are presented with a basket of mystery ingredients for each round—appetizer, entree, and dessert. During “Part 4,” a jar of rose petal confit threw Maws off in the appetizer round, he recalls, but he doesn’t remember much about the dish.
“You have seconds to figure out what you’re going to do, then actually get it cooked in real time. It’s pretty nuts. Because I haven’t seen the show, I didn’t even remember what [my appetizer] was,” he says. “I do remember looking at the rose petal confit and being like, what am I going to do with this? It was awful. It’s not good. We make our own at Craigie, where we’re using fresh beach roses, a really beautiful syrup that we make, but this was, like, generic, really bad, sugary, very strong rose petal confit.”
But a different split-second decision swung the entree round in his favor: Maws de-boned the whole red snapper, then grilled the bones along with filets of the fish.
“In the amount of time I had, I wasn’t able to commit to a beautiful sauce,” he says. But he could extract enough flavor from grilled fish bones to drizzle on the judges’ four plates. “I got this great, smoky, charred, natural fish juice, and I used that as the sauce. The lemonade [another ingredient in the basket] went into that too, because on its own, it was way too sweet, but incorporated with the fish juice, it was a nice, lemony fish sauce.”
Chopped isn’t Maws’s first time on television. He appeared on an episode of the rebooted Japanese version of Iron Chef in 2012, and he was also on Esquire’s Knife Fight. TV isn’t a main priority for the chef, but he says sometimes, it’s “just too fun to pass up.” Chopped was a great experience, he says, despite being thrown off by a few canned ingredients.
“Everyone is talented. I accepted the contest,” he says. Success “comes down to whether you can [execute a dish] in a half hour. A lot of what we do in a real kitchen is a lot of trial and error. Certainly, there are dishes done spontaneously that turn out fantastic, but a lot of them are like, what if we do this, what if we add more acid? That’s what makes [Chopped] a lot of fun to watch, and fun to do. You see the ingredients and you have to go.”
Watch Tony Maws in “Chopped Grill Masters Napa: Part 4” when it re-airs Saturday, July 30, at 3 p.m., or Tuesday, August 2, at 7 p.m. “Chopped Grills Masters Napa: Finale” airs Tuesday, August 2, at 10 p.m.
On Tuesday, August 2, the Kirkland Tap & Trotter TVs will be tuned to Food Network.
“People can buy shots whenever I do something stupid,” Maws says.
Kirkland Tap & Trotter, 425 Washington St., Somerville, 857-259-6585, kirklandtapandtrotter.com.