Steely Houston chef beats Bobby Flay in feisty Food Network breakfast battle
In the episode titled “Full Frontal Assault,” Bundy earned the right to face Flay by defeating California chef Johnny Alvarez in a 20-minute cooking challenge. He then challenged Flay to a chilaquiles battle where Bundy made the smoked duck chilaquiles that are a staple of Traveler’s Table’s brunch menu.
Bundy tells CultureMap that it took a little bit of negotiating with the show’s producers to settle on a dish for the competition. As he explains, the dish had to be something the audience would be broadly familiar with and that Flay hadn’t already made for the show. They taped the episode in February 2022, which means Bundy and the Traveler’s Table team have been keeping this secret for a year-and-a-half.
Although he had some familiarity with reality TV — Traveler’s Table appeared on a 2021 episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives — Beat Bobby Flay marked his first time in a cooking competition. To prepare for the show, Bundy’s sous chef Miguel Torres helped him practice both the initial, 20-minute cook with a mystery ingredient and the 45-minute chilaquiles challenge.
“I’m Hill Country born and raised. I love competition. That was one of the biggest reasons I wanted to do it,” Bundy says. “I grew up playing football. Being able to do a competition feels like a Friday night game. I prepared the way you would for football. I was very focused with no outside distractions.”
“We have a saying if you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of training,” Traveler’s Table co-owner Matthew Mitchell adds. “He and Miguel were in the kitchen making sure they got everything timed. If anything, that was the best way he could have prepared. You’re going to be more nervous, you’re not going to know where everything is, there’s an audience, all that.”
In the first round, Flay challenged the chefs to make a dish using a bone-in chicken breast. Bundy served a pan fried chicken schnitzel with a spicy butter sauce, frisee salad, and fried egg. Unfortunately for Alvarez, the grilled pollo zarandeado with pico de gallo he served to Michael Symon and Samantha Bee turned out raw in the middle, paving the way for Bundy to advance.
Bundy acknowledges he was nervous during the first round while he figured out where to find all the proper utensils. As an example, Bundy began pounding his schnitzel with a lemon juicer until Symon stepped in to offer him a mallet.
When it came time to face Flay, Bundy says the nerves had faded. Viewers watch him work methodically to prepare a salsa and an avocado puree, fry the tortillas, cook and smoke the duck, and get everything plated in time. Symon and Bee aided his cause by tossing light-hearted distractions at Flay.
Judges Katie Pickens, Corby Kummer, and Abigail Hitchhock evaluated Bundy’s Smoked Duck Chilaquiles with Salsa Roja, Chorizo, and Avocado Puree against Flay’s Chilaquiles with Salsa Verde, Chorizo, Fresno Hot Sauce, and Scrambled Eggs. “It was just so savory and delicious and ate really well,” Pickens tells Bundy about why the judges ultimately chose his dish over Flay’s.
While Chopped champions take home $10,000, the only reward on Beat Bobby Flay is bragging rights. Still, the chef says he enjoyed the experience and would be open to appearing on other shows.
Currently, he’s working with Traveler’s Table’s owners Matthew and Thy Mitchell to develop the menu for Traveler’s Cart, a new restaurant devoted to global street food that’s expected to open in March 2024. Bundy will serve as culinary director for both restaurants. He says he’s feeling more confident in the kitchen since the win.
“It felt amazing. There’s times I think about it. I still can’t believe it happened. It’s got to be one of the biggest things I’ve ever done,” Bundy says.