Besides Chopped, we also enjoy watching The Great Food Truck Race hosted Tyler Florence. A recent episode of Chopped featured four food truck owners so you can imagine how excited we were to combine a few of our favorite TV-related foodie pleasures into a show! We reached out to Chopped Champion Michael Israel of Moe Deli Truck to learn more about him and his experience on the show.
FP: We love the concept of the Moe Deli truck! How did the idea come about?
MI: My family is originally from Montreal, where they make a very unique type of eggroll that has open ends and is full of meaty filling. The end result is an almost sausage like eggroll with dark crispy ends which provides great flavor and texture. My wife and I wanted to use the idea of Montreal eggrolls as a foundation for a great food truck, and we decided to blend Montreal eggrolls with our other passion, which is classic Jewish deli. The end result is MOE, giant Montreal style eggrolls stuffed with Jewish deli inspired fillings.
FP: What a great idea and name!
Name some chefs that have inspired you.
FP: From our other interviews, we’ve heard nothing but good things about Thomas Keller!
Tell us about your experience on Chopped.
MI: The Chopped experience was fantastic. As a chef, there are not many opportunities to compete in such athletic and mentally challenging competitions such as Chopped.
FP: Chopped definitely demonstrates the physical and mental challenges of cooking!
What was the hardest ingredient to work with?
MI: The hardest ingredient was the blood sausage. People who love pork blood love blood sausage, and for the rest of the world they tend to despise it. Trying to transform such a polarizing ingredient that is already in a finished staged is incredibly difficult.
FP: Which round was the most difficult?
MI: The appetizer round was the most challenging. I had to not only conquer my nerves, but also the basket ingredients, which were the most difficult. The time challenge is immense with only 20 minutes to prepare an appetizer.
FP: We can only imagine the pressure all the chefs are under with the time constraint!
When you’re not operating the truck, what are some of your favorite meals to cook for yourself and/or for guests?
MI: I love making big family style dinners for friends and loved ones. Every Friday night, it is customary in a Jewish home to make a big Sabbath dinner. Some of my favorite things to make are braised short ribs, roast chicken with roasted vegetables and garlicky potatoes.
I also love to make soup, and I use the farmer’s market for inspiration. I take whatever is in season and find a way to make a great soup. My wife and I launched a pop-up restaurant called Fress at the beginning of the summer, and that represents the food that I am very passionate about.
FP: Fress is another catchy name and cool concept!
When you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in LA.
MI: Most of the time I prefer to eat in down-home restaurants that serve genuinely great food without pretention. Top of the list is Langer’s Delicatessen in Los Angeles, which makes incredible pastrami sandwich and chopped liver. There is an amazing Sichuan Chinese restaurant near LA called Chung King, which serves authentic Sichuan food that is not only delicious but also unbelievably spicy. Finally, you can’t live in LA without having a favorite Mexican joint, and mine is King Taco. They make a burrito with sweetbreads that I dream about, crispy and delicious.
FP: They all sounds like great places. If we ever visit LA, we’ll make sure to check them out!
What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name 🙂
MI: I am a cheese-aholic. The stinkier and runnier the better. My wife and I love to buy pounds of delicious cheese, a loaf of crusty bread and yummy wine and just go to town. The amount of cheese we consume in one sitting can be a bit outrageous.
FP: Half of FP (Kristina) would be right there with you!
You said if you won Chopped, you would take your wife to Israel. Have you gone?
MI: We haven’t gone on the trip yet, but we are in the planning stages.
FP: We hope you get to visit Israel soon. Be sure to let us know all about the trip and…the food of course!
In three words, how would your friends and family describe you?
MI: Loving, funny, cook.
FP: If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing? What are your non-cooking hobbies?
MI: I would have been an airline pilot. I love aviation; I have my private pilot’s license. I also love to travel and eat, which would be the best perk of being an airline pilot.
FP: Traveling and eating sounds ideal to us! Thank you so much for your time. We wish you continued success with MOE Deli Truck and Fress!