Cooking 101

Not sure about you, but we don’t remember the food in our college cafeterias being particularly memorable. After a recent episode of Chopped, it’s clear that students at the College of Charleston are much luckier than we were. Just check out their dining services Instagram page. Recently the college’s Executive Chef, Tonya Mitchell, traded in the college dining hall for the Chopped kitchen. Read on to learn about her and her experience on the show.

Executive Chef Tonya Mitchell. Picture courtesy of College of Charleston
Executive Chef Tonya Mitchell. Picture courtesy of College of Charleston.

FP: Tell us about your experience on Chopped. What was the most difficult part about it?

TM: My experience on Chopped was incredible!! I am truly humbled by the opportunity that I was given to be a part of the show. The most difficult part about the competition was not the cooking. It was difficult because I actually liked all of my competitors. Chef Jason French, Chef Ben Bettinger and Chef Tim Witcher are a trio of talented chefs and regardless of comments that were made or emotions that ran high, I was grateful to have shared this experience with them. I often wished that they were so arrogant that I would dislike them, but that was not the case!

FP: Would you compete on Chopped again?

TM: Although, I made mistakes, I still believe in my talent as a chef and I would do it all over again if given the opportunity.

FP: We hope Food Network calls you back for Chopped Redemption!

How did you get your start as a chef? 

TM: My interest in cooking began with my mother. I have always been interested in how my mother would create meals for her kids out of nothing. We did not always grow up with a lot and so my mother would find items in our refrigerator and create a meal for our family. My mother asked her manager to give me a chance to work with her in the kitchen and she would show me what I needed to know. I hated it!!

However, I began to take an interest in cooking when I saw how much respect the chefs received and how beautiful my mother would make her food and the pride that she took in everything that she did. Once, I saw her work and the respect that the chefs in the kitchen commanded, I knew that I wanted to be one.

FP: If you could cook with any three chefs in the kitchen, who would they be and why?

TM: I would love to cook with Alex Guarnaschelli, Elizabeth Faulkner and Masaharu Morimoto. I simply just want to LEARN from all of them! I believe that each one of them captures all aspects of what I want to be as a chef; passionate, creative and driven.

FP: Great chefs indeed!

When you’re at home, what are some of your favorite meals to cook for yourself and your family?

TM: I am a “Southern” girl at heart and I love to cook soul food at home! My girls don’t like “fancy foods” (as they call it). They love simple cooking.

FP: We’re always up for some southern food!

We hear Charleston is a great foodie town; it’s definitely on our list of places to visit. Where are some of your favorite places to eat in the area? 

TM: I am a huge fan of Martha Lou’s Kitchen, Macintosh, Basil and O-Ku. All four of these restaurants are located in Charleston. Martha Lou’s has the best home-made fried chicken. Macintosh has a menu that changes daily and utilizes locally sourced foods not to mention Chef Jeremiah Bacon has the coolest last name! Basil has some of the best Thai food in Charleston and O-Ku has the best ambiance and sushi.

FP: Sounds like a delicious list…we’d eat at all four!

What are some of your non-cooking hobbies or interests?

TM: I am a movie buff! I enjoy science fiction, crime dramas and action movies the most. Not to mention, that under all of the chef’s clothes, I am a “girly-girl” and I love SHOPPING!!!!

FP: Cooking and shopping… what’s better than that combination?

If you could get on a plane tomorrow and visit any place just for its food, where would it be?

TM: I would love to visit Thailand. I am “goo-goo ga-ga” over Thai food! I love the elegance, the freshness of the ingredients and the intense flavors that Thai food has to offer.

FP: If you ever go, make sure to invite us!

Thank you again for your time. If we visit Charleston, we’ll make sure to give you a ring. We wish you continued success at the College!

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