We had the pleasure of sitting down with Chef Andre Fowles - a former chef at Round Hill Hotel and Villas - to hear more about his exciting win on The Food Network's renowned "Chopped" cooking competition. Chef Andre competed against 3 talented chefs in the "Cooking Caribbean" episode that aired February 23, 2016, highlighting Caribbean-inspired ingredients.
Chef Andre is an exceptionally talented chef who was born in Kingston, Jamaica. His mother left Jamaica for better job opportunities when Andre was only 11, and his grandmother raised him - passing down her passion for cooking to her grandson. After Chef Andre graduated culinary school in Jamaica, he began working at Round Hill under the direction of Chef Martin Maginley, whom he refers to as an inspiration and an honor to work alongside. Chef eventually made his way to NYC where he currently works at Miss Lily's - a vibrant SoHo spot serving up Jamaican food and flair.
Read on to find out more about Chef Andre's experience on Chopped:
How did you feel when you found out you would be on Chopped? My wife is a big fan of the show like myself, and said, “You should compete on Chopped!”, but I thought there were so many talented chefs out there that I wouldn't stand a chance. But, I decided to give it a shot anyway, so I went online and signed up. Two weeks later, they called and said they were interested, and I couldn't believe it. Eventually, I was informed I would be on the show.
When you heard it was Caribbean-themed ingredients, were you relieved? I had no clue it would be a Caribbean-themed episode! I didn't know until right when Ted told us before the appetizer round. They definitely don’t let you know anything - we were ushered into separate rooms at the beginning and we truly did not know what would be in the baskets prior to opening them. It was all a complete surprise.
Was the Chopped kitchen like you expected? What was different? It was definitely pretty surprising. Much smaller than I expected, and there were LOTS of cameras – around 200! Guys walking around with cameras to capture shots of the food and everything else.
For the appetizer round, how did you select what to make? The first round was the hardest, because you have to get a feel for the kitchen and learn where things are. When Ted told us it was Caribbean-themed just before, I felt even more pressure.
What was going through your mind in the first round? Well I had heard of Mofongo, and even made it before – but not in that tradition though. Truthfully, the Mofongo in the basket was the worst I had ever tried - very dry, no flavor. I tasted it and it was horrible! So I had to decide what to do with it. The salted ham was the worst ingredient though. It was hard to put in the right amount because it was so salty. But in the end, I was happy because I knew the shrimp would cook fast - I just wanted to make sure to infuse Jamaican spices into the shrimp for bold flavors.
Being from Jamaica, were you relieved to see goat in the second round? And how did you pull off that Buss Up Shut??
Yes, I was relieved and immediately thought of my grandmother - she was a great cook and she was my inspiration. She made a mean goat curry so I wanted to make her recipe. With the Buss Up Shut, I was cooking and I was thinking I wanted to have something with the curry, and I wanted to make it from scratch - to soak up the juice. I knew that if I could pull it off, I was definitely going to the dessert round.
When I started, they couldn't believe I was going to make it...the chef to my right from from Trinidad looked over and said "Are you crazy? Are you sure?" Since the dough needs time to rise, it was going to be tight. I incorporated warm water with the fresh coconut water to push the process along, since the warm water makes it softer.
Did you feel the time crunch and/or worry that you wouldn’t finish?
Yes, in the appetizer round. Getting used to the kitchen and the clock and the cameras put on a lot of pressure.
Was there any ingredient that really threw you?
The Salted Ham in the appetizer round. I had to use enough of it, but it was extremely salty, so I didn't want it to overpower the dish.
Who was your favorite judge?
Well I am a big fan of Food Network in general – I have been watching it forever. My favorite judge/chef would have to be Aaron Sanchez. We both had grandmothers who inspired our cooking, so there was a real connection there. We also have the Caribbean cuisine connection. All of the judges were great though, their feedback was positive and they gave fair comments.
What did you feel when you realized you were the champion?
It was such an incredible moment – surreal. I thought about so many things that had led up to that moment, standing there. I thought of growing up in Kingston, in a tough environment. I thought of my mother leaving to the U.K., then when I left to work at Round Hill, then off to NYC. All of these moments rushed back to me. I was proud to represent Jamaica - to really showcase it as a place for some of the best food. It was definitely one of the biggest moments of my life.
How will you use the earnings?
I am going to use them to visit my mom, whom I haven't seen in 15 years. She left to England when I was 11 in search of better opportunity for our family and to support us. I want to surprise her and show her the man I have become.
How did your experience at Round Hill influence your culinary career?
Working under Chef Martin Maginley was an an incredible experience. Chef Martin instilled in us to “never settle” and to “keep on moving”. He taught us not to think about the past, but to keep on proving and developing yourself. He also taught me to innovate on Caribbean cuisine and take it to that next level. I was able to take the expertise I learned at Round Hill with me to NYC.
Currently you work at Miss Lily's in NYC. Can you tell me a little about the restaurant?
Miss Lily's is a vibrant Jamaican restaurant that makes you feel as if you're transported back to the island. It's fun and bright and we serve authentic dishes. It's not traditional Jamaican cuisine that they do though – something that I learned from Round Hill.
Since I've competed on Chopped, customers want to come in and visit and meet me which is such an honor. I love meeting people and cooking for them. I had a family of five drive two hours all the way from New Jersey to meet me and hear my story and try my food. It really shows that your story and food can impact people and make a difference.
What's next? I just received confirmation from Food Network that I will be competing in the Chopped championship! It's an incredible honor. I will be the first Jamaican-born chef to compete in the championship. I want to put Caribbean cuisine on the map for everyone. I want to share my story with others - that I really came from nothing to now be in front of the world.