If you’re like us, we bet you have an obsession with chocolate. A few weeks ago on Chopped, four talented chefs had to incorporate chocolate witheach basket. We caught up with one of the contestants, Doug Wetzel, Executive Pastry Chef at Gertrude’s in Baltimore, MD, to learn about him and his experience on the show.
FP: Tell us about your experience on Chopped from opening the first basket to the end.
DW: Chopped was an incredibly amazing and fun experience! It was a long day of adulting though, I think I was there for around 13 hours. It was a lot of hurry up and wait; it takes them awhile to clean up the set after each round.The entire crew was really friendly. The judges were great and Ted is the best (we all tried hard to get Ted to laugh and break character). When you are lined up in front of the judges, you are forced to stare at them for several minutes. I guess they are able to get all theses great dramatic stares, but it’s super awkward. All of my fellow chefs were amazing and friendly as well. It was just a fun, crazy and completely surreal day. The only slight downside was the catering – the caterer they use for lunch is awful – a bit ironic.
FP: We’ve heard many good stories about being on the Chopped set. Share with us a day in the life as the Executive Chef at Gertrude’s.
DW: It’s hard to share a day in the life of an Executive Chef at Gertrude’s because no two days are ever the same. That can be both fun but sometimes frustrating. I get up in the morning around 4am, so I can get to the gym by 5. Stay there for an hour or so and then head into work. I usually arrive around 7am. I receive and check orders while getting the daily specials set. Lunch service starts at 11:30. I make sure that all the stations are set and prepped by 11 and then become a glorified floater for most of lunch service. I usually get to break away by 3 and then I can start getting ordering done for the next day. I have an amazing team full of talented people, so by 4 or 5pm I can have orders finished and be able to retire for the day. It’s odd to be an Executive Chef and not have to work the dinner shift but I have an extremely talented staff that can handle the dinner rush with no problem.
FP: Next time we’re in Baltimore, we’ll have to swing by! Where are some of your favorite places to eat in the city?
DW: I love Hersh’s pizza in South Baltimore! My wife and I have a slight addiction to the Sushi Burrito at Shoyou Sushi, also in South Baltimore. We can never get a seat because it’s always packed, so we mostly do take-out. Alma Cocina in Canton blows my mind every time; Alma is a Venezuelan restaurant that is an amazing flavor experience. I always look forward to a Smoking Bowls pop up to get my ramen fix and if I feel I’ve earned a treat I’ll go to The Charmery or Diablo Doughnuts.
FP: Sounds like a delicious list! What are some of your guilty pleasures? We call them foodie pleasures, hence the name of our blog.
DW: I’m currently in the midst of a Donut odyssey. I’m planning on doing a donut pop up this spring so I have been traveling around Baltimore, DC and Philly trying different donut spots.
FP: Mmm…donuts are guilty pleasures for sure! If you could get on a plane tomorrow and visit any place just for its food, where would it be?
DW: Ireland, hands down! I was there for a few days last summer and it was the best seafood I have ever had in my life. I would love to explore more of it.
FP: If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing? What are some of your non-cooking interests and hobbies?
DW: It would have to be a job where I would be on my feet all day. I was not meant to sit at a desk for hours on end. Oddly, I love doing yard work. A job where you can be outside all day seems like something I would dig.
FP: What is the one item in the kitchen you can’t live without?
DW: I have an All Clad Double Burner Nonstick Griddle that I’m fairly attached to. My wife and I have off Sundays together and one of my favorite times of the week is Sunday breakfast. That griddle is the champ of Sunday breakfast.
FP: Describe the first memorable dish you made.
DW: I love Cherry Pie! One time when I was in middle school I stayed home from school because I was sick. I was hungry and really wanted Cherry Pie so I decided to look through my Mom’s cookbooks to find a cherry pie recipe (I was a chunker in my youth). I found a recipe book from the 80’s that was all about microwave cooking; it had a microwaved-baked Cherry Pie recipe, so I made it. At that moment I truly understood that if I wanted something to eat I had the power to make it.
FP: What is the best cooking advice you’ve received?
DW: The best cooking advice I’ve received really wasn’t advice, but more of a way to deal with stress in the kitchen. My pastry chef at The Ritz Carlton was the calmest chef I have ever worked with. He taught me how to deal with stressful situations and how important it was for him to keep his composure so his crew wouldn’t get stressed. He would say “only be worried, if I’m worried”. He never worried about anything. So I try to adopt that at Gertrudes and help the kitchen maintain composure during busy/stressful times.
What really motivated me to go on Chopped was a chance to have a very public platform to raise awareness on the importance of organ donation. Since my accident I have made it my mission to help get the word out about organ donation anyway I possibly can. Chopped gave me a soap box to stand on.
FP: Yes, we read your story and are so glad that everything worked out with the transplant. We wish you continued health and success!
Read about Doug’s transplant story featured in the Baltimore Sun back in 2015.