Houston Chef Wins Chopped

Latest Houston Chopped champ creates feast from deadly animals; eyes new restaurant with winnings

Latest Houston Chopped champ creates feast from deadly animals

Erin Smith Chopped Pappa Charlies
Erin Smith is Houston's newest Chopped champion. Photo by Eric Sandler

Another Houston chef has triumphed on Chopped. Erin Smith, formerly the executive chef at Main Kitchen in the JW Marriott downtown, won $10,000 on the show Tuesday night, joining Justin Turner (Bernie’s Burger Bus) and Shannen Tune (Craft Burger Truck) as local Chopped champions.

During an episode titled "Deadliest Baskets" for its use of ingredients from either dangerous animals or that could be poisonous if not prepared properly, Smith made a salad with rattlesnake, an entree with alligator and pound cake with huitlacoche (corn mushroom) sauce.

After being encouraged to apply by her father and her fiancé, Southern Goods sous chef Patrick Feges, Smith tells CultureMap that she didn’t do much to prepare for her reality TV moment beyond watching a few episodes on her flight to New York. Knowing dessert would be a possibility, she worked with Underbelly pastry chef Victoria Dearmond to memorize a pound cake recipe.

“That was the one thing that I where I thought, ‘Okay, if I make it to that round, I need to know what to cook,’” she says. “I was going to make a pound cake no matter what the ingredients were.”

Smith’s narrative in the story focused on her relationship with Feges and their plans to open a restaurant together someday. Using the money she won as part of an their initial investment, Smith says they’re serious enough about the idea to have begun looking for spaces.

“That’s definitely what we want to do, so I have no doubt it will happen,” she says. "I think we’re just struggling with getting over that first hump of, how do you initiate this? What do you do first . . . Asking questions to all our friends who’ve done this before."

Opening a restaurant also drove Smith’s decision to begin working as a bartender at Montrose wine bar Camerata. Since she’s always been in the kitchen, her new position gives her the opportunity to interact with patrons and build her wine knowledge.

“I don’t know that I would say I have aspirations for a wine career, but I think it’s all part of the same career (in the restaurant industry),” she says. “I’ve always felt like chefs really need to understand beverages. I feel a lot more comfortable (now). If I was to go back to the culinary side and look over a wine list, I would feel just as much ownership as I do over the menu. That’s always been important to me.”

A restaurant that brings Camerata-backed wine knowledge with a menu that mixes Smith's interest in vegetables with Feges's skills as a pitmaster would be a must-visit addition to Houston's restaurant scene.  If the boisterous crowd of friends, family, and colleagues that cheered Smith on during a watch party at EaDo barbecue joint Pappa Charlies is any indication of the future restaurant's prospects, it will open with a devoted following.