Warning: This article contains spoilers about the eliminations on the “For Sake’s Sake” episode of Chopped, featuring cheftestant Ria Pell, aired on November 20th 2012.
I arrived at Ria Pell’s Chopped viewing party at Sauced an hour after it started. I’d been at Porter in Little 5 Points getting to know a new beer. While I was there, tweeting as usual, I saw Fox Bros. BBQ, one of the restaurants catering Ria’s shindig, tweeted out a picture of their pork belly buns. That’s when I decided to drink up and head on over.
Of course, by the time I got there, a lot of the food had been picked over — Fox Bros. had sold out, Kevin Rathbun’s new dishes for KR Steakbar were gone, but what was left was definitely not the bottom of the barrel.
Ria’s Bluebird, Proof and Provision, The Albert, and food truck favorite, Pallookaville, along with four or five other places were on hand to feed the few hundred Chopped fans that turned out to cheer for Ria, who is best known for her pancakes. And the food was amazing, an amazing menu of pork-belly sliders, corn dogs, pigless pigs in blankets, cream cheese brownies, and veal carpaccio served on pork rinds. Ale Yeah kept the party going with a couple of beer selections, including $1 PBRs. And there’s nothing wrong with $1 PBRs.
DJ Osmose provided the music before the show and during the commercial breaks, and I have to assume after the show because, in the name of sobriety, I needed to head home when the party moved inside for champagne on the hostess.
Weaving between plumes of…let’s call it cigarette smoke, I ran into Kevin Rathbun (he of numerous eponymous restaurants on Krog Street), and Zeb Stevenson (Executive Chef at Livingston Restaurant and Bar/Proof and Provision, and a former winner of Chopped, himself). I was lucky enough to snag a front-row seat with my plates from Villains and the Spotted Trotter and planted myself there while my sidekick went off to fetch more PBRs.
The show itself was drowned out by raucous cheering every time Ria added butter to her dishes, or spoke, or just appeared on screen. In the entree round, Ria (and fellow competitor Derek Gigliotti) couldn’t locate the panko breadcrumbs, and that led to jeers of “F*** panko” from the crowd. It was that kind of super-supportive crowd: the kind that makes an enemy of breadcrumbs for being hard to find.
It was the kind of crowd that makes me so happy to be involved with Atlanta’s food scene. Atlantans take it on the chin when people say we’re not a sports town, but if they say we’re not a foodie town, we’ll beat them with our copies of Cooks Illustrated and send them on their way.
In the end Ria was victorious. Her inventive shortcake edging out Gigliotti’s sweet sushi roll (which looked like it was a fourth grade food project of some kind).
The truth is, though, that Ria was a winner before she ever entered the Chopped kitchens. She has two acclaimed restaurants and a huge following of some of the most exceptional and incredible fans you could ever run into on a cold night in November. If that’s not winning you probably pay too much attention to Charlie Sheen.