Whenever there is a Chopped marathon on Food Network, we find ourselves watching the old episodes to learn more about the Chefs and their extraordinary talents. We caught up with Chef Jennifer Cole-Ruiz (@JenniferChef), a past winner of Chopped, to learn more about how her excursions around the world helped her become the chef she is today.
FP: How did you get your start with cooking? When did you decide you wanted to be a chef? What do you enjoy most about cooking?
JCR: I put myself through college waiting tables, helping out in the kitchen and cooking with a catering company. I have a degree in Political Science and was going to study law when I decided that food was not only beautiful but also amazing…textures, colors…art that could not only fill the soul but also the stomach. I adore cooking…it is my passion, my way of expressing myself but also a way of connecting with other people.
FP: We love that you followed your passion in order to do what you love! What chefs have inspired you?
JCR: Susan Spicer- worked for her for two years, learned a lot, she is an amazing Chef!
Francis Paniego and his mother Marisa Sanchez…amazing chefs both modern and old school La Rioja Spain.
Joan Roca- one of the most amazing Chefs in Spain, a genius.
Jean Paul Vinay- 1st Michelin starred Chef at El Bulli.
Elena Arzak- best female Chef in the world currently and an all-around nice person to work with.
Andres Madrigal- brilliant Chef right now opening places not only in Madrid but also in Peru and Buenos Aires.
Most of these Chefs I’ve worked with the exception of Joan Roca and their level of passion for their craft is inspiring and are really great to work with.
FP: Tell us about your experience on Chopped from casting to filming. Share with us the good, the not so good, the bad etc. What was it like to compete with the other chefs?
JCR: I would say that overall, Chopped was a positive experience. In Spain (where I lived 12 years), I was frequently on TV so that was not a problem. I think that Chopped is one of the few authentic food competitions on TV where we really don’t know what is in the basket before we open them. The judges are much nicer than they appear on TV as are the crew in general. The only negative I found is that they encourage the contestants to talk dirt about each other…I suppose for a “drama effect”. I’m southern, my Mama didn’t raise me that way.
FP: You’ve cooked for places in New York, Atlanta, New Orleans, Paris and throughout Spain. Share with us some of the differences and similarities in working in kitchens throughout the world.
JCR: I’ve noticed that in some cities no matter how you cook something it won’t sell. Rabbit in Atlanta (back in the day) was a no way but at Bayona in New Orleans, it sold like hot cakes. Paella in Spain is a lunchtime meal that is sold in the States for dinner. What I find similar is the love for what you do, the drive, the care put into the dishes in all restaurants. The almost battle veteran mentality at the end of a hard shift and the sense of teamwork. It’s a hard job…you have to love it to do it.
FP: When you are home, what are some of your favorite meals to cook? If you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in NYC or other cities/countries you’ve visited.
JCR: At home, we cook light. Lots of salads, kimchee, pickles, ceviches,.. eggs eggs eggs! My wife is Cuban, born in Cuba, raised in Madrid so we make lighter, healthier versions of those cuisines.
FP: Sounds like you eat well! What are some of your guilty pleasures (if any)? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name 🙂
JCR: Duck and game products. I’m a foie freak, but adore rillettes, pork, duck rabbit etc. Plus I love good bread-crusty with a great crumb toasted with tomato, olive oil and garlic..my favorite breakfast in Madrid even if it is Catalan
FP: In three words, how would your friends and family describe you?
JCR: My wife says: passionate, resourceful, and talented..but then again she is my wife. 😉
FP: If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing? Any non-cooking hobbies?
JCR: If I weren’t a Chef I would like to think that I would be involved in a charity or doing something to help people.
FP: Chef Jennifer, thank you for sharing your experiences with us! We look forward to hearing more about how your talents take you all over the world!
Chef Jennifer Cole-Ruiz is currently the Chef de Cuisine at Aliseo in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.