In a recent Chopped Redemption episode, four runner-up chefs were given the opportunity to avenge their losses from their first times on the show. Chef Cara Thompson (@Chef_Cara) took advantage of her second opportunity by displaying her culinary talents and confident demeanor on her way to being named Champion. Chef Cara, currently the Sous-Chef at SushiSamba in Miami, took some time to answer some questions for us.
FP: How did you get your start with cooking?
CT: I always knew I had an interest in cooking, but I never thought of it as a career. I suppose it’s like having the love of your life right in front of your face and then one day you wake up and realize it, which is exactly what happened when I was about 18.
FP: When did you decide you wanted to be a chef?
CT: I had a home ec class at the time and one day we had a speaker from a culinary school. I was actually surprised to learn that you could go to school to become a professional chef and that’s when I decided to enroll at the Florida Culinary Institute in Palm Beach, Florida.
FP: Many empty stomachs are sure glad you took that home economics class!
What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
CT: I enjoy being a chef because it fits me. There is no other job I could imagine myself having. I love the excitement of the kitchen, the responsibilities that I have, and the bonds that I create with my kitchen crew.
FP: Name some chefs that have inspired you.
CT: I respect and admire the culinary techniques of famous chefs, but my personal mentors are those whom I have cooked alongside.
SushiSamba Executive Chef Brian Nasajon has been particularly instrumental in shaping my culinary approach, having introduced me to many of the techniques that I currently use, especially the degree of refinement I have in my dishes.
FP: Tell us about your experience on Chopped.
CT: It is a rare experience that is nerve wracking, exciting, and humbling all at once. I loved doing Chopped because it really takes you out of your comfort zone and challenges you as a chef.
FP: What did you learn from the first time that led to victory the second time around?
CT: The first time I did Chopped, I was so inexperienced, but of course, I thought I knew everything. I learned so much from that day and it really helped me during my second appearance – going in for the redemption round, I was more relaxed, which enabled me to focus.
FP: What was the hardest ingredient to work with?
CT: The hardest ingredient I had to work with was the duck testicle, which was in the mystery basket during my first appearance on the show. I had no idea what on earth it was until I heard the judges talking about them. I had no idea how to cook them, let alone clean them.
FP: Oh yes the duck testicle…we can only imagine the difficulty!
When you’re not working at SushiSamba, what are some of your favorite meals to cook at home for yourself and/or for guests?
CT: I love cooking things I ate growing up. I’ve been away from home for almost 11 years now so it’s comforting to make something such as collard greens, pulled pork, or my grandmother’s meat pies. Southern food always reminds me of home and simpler times in my life.
FP: Nothing better than home cooking!
If you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in Miami or other cities you’ve visited.
CT: I love The Federal. It’s a wonderful little place on Biscayne and I always recommend it to everyone I know. I am always so impressed by their flavorful, yet simplistic dishes.
My late night spot is Moshi Moshi on Washington. They are open until 5am so I can always go there after work – with time to change out of my chef’s garb – and have a great meal.
FP: Since we live in NY, we’ll have to check out those places in the near future! So many places to eat at with so little time…
What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name 🙂
CT: A hot salt bagel with over easy eggs, sausage, and cheese. Cheese, any kind of cheese and lots of it…and French Fries.
FP: We hear you about cheese…such a foodie pleasure!
In three words, how would your friends and family describe you?
CT: Confident, perfectionist, passionate
FP: We definitely saw your passion on Chopped Redemption!
If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing? Any non-cooking hobbies?
CT: If I hadn’t become a chef and I could tolerate being in school for more than a year, I would have pursued something in the medical field. At one point, I actually shadowed an anesthesiologist and enjoyed the thought of being involved in the surgical field.
FP: We’re glad (along with many others!) that you decided to pursue your culinary passion! Thank you so much for your time. If we’re ever in the Miami area, we’ll make sure to stop by!