Florida chef scores sweet victory on Food Network's 'Chopped'
Local pastry chef Rebecca Reed packed her bags, carrying with her a lifetime of experiences and creative ideas, and flew to New York City to compete on the prestigious Food Network show, "Chopped: Sweets" back in March.
Months later, a national television audience — comprised of foodies, friends and locals — learned this week that Reed was crowned "Chopped: Sweets" champion (season 2, episode 4: "Take Me to the Tropics"), and returned home with a $10,000 cash prize.
Back in late 2019, Reed, 33, filled out a general application on The Food Network's website to be a show contestant. She's a corporate pastry chef for the local Black Sheep Restaurant Group: Restaurant Orsay (Avondale), Black Sheep (Five Points) and Bellwether (Downtown Jacksonville).
When months passed, she'd all but forgotten about it when she received a call from casting producers to schedule a phone interview. From there she received several additional calls before submitting a formal application and copious photos of her confections.
The episode filmed March 4, just days before the city shut down due to COVID-19, and aired the evening of Aug. 25.
The premise of the show is that four contestants are given a basket of four mystery ingredients and 30 to 45 minutes to create a delicious dish. Was she nervous?
"Yes! I'm pretty sure that was my expression!" Reed said Wednesday, following the episode airing Tuesday evening. Reed, along with the Black Sheep Restaurant Group, hosted a Zoom watch-party where she gossiped about behind-the-scenes action during commercial breaks in her PJs, while munching on a bowl of popcorn.
She maintained focus and stuck to a plan. The outcome?
"I gained confidence in myself and know that my talent and technique stacks up and I get to encourage other working moms in this industry to go for it," Reed said. "It's helpful to see someone like you doing hard things. It inspires me and makes me want to be a role model."
In the episode, Reed skated through three rounds with her perfect macarons and a charred corn soufflé that wowed judges — both difficult dishes to execute in such a time crunch. In her final showdown, her competitor called her a "fierce mouse," noting her small (5-foot-1) stature and big deliveries.
Before the competition kicked off, Reed unfolded a note her husband had slipped to her that contained a Michael Jordan quote: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." It helped her to stay focused and go for it — she worked up until the last second, utilizing all of the precious but limited time. "I'm so proud that it paid off," she added.
Reed said she is a fan of host and chef Aaron Sanchez, so competing on the show was a dream come true. Back when she was a culinary student, she noted an utmost admiration for him.
An honors Master of Pastry Arts graduate from NYC's French Culinary Institute, Reed didn't call Jacksonville home until eight years ago when her husband's job relocated the young couple. For the past 28 months, she's worked with Black Sheep Restaurant Group. Previously she was pastry chef with San Marco eateries Matthew's Restaurant and Rue Saint Marc.
Reed said she is constantly dreaming big, and creating an ever-changing lineup of creative dessert menu items for each of the three restaurants — five items plus soft serve at Bellwether, six items at Black Sheep, and half a dozen on Orsay's menu, plus seven petit fours and an assortment of packaged ice creams to go. Her detail-driven, meticulous work ethic, positive attitude, confidence and creativity don't go unnoticed.
"I am so happy and proud of Rebecca and what she has accomplished for herself, our restaurant group and our city," said Jonathan Insetta, chef/owner at Black Sheep Restaurant Group. "She is an outstanding pastry chef, as well as a great leader, and exemplifies the amazing talent we have in Jacksonville."
What's on the horizon following the victory?
"Virtual cooking classes for corporate events, wedding showers, family gatherings and beyond," Reed said. "I love to teach, so ramping up this side hustle is exciting and fun and helps to supplement my income right now."
Reed expressed her love for Jacksonville, and helping to put it on the map.
"Our food scene is on the rise and I'm proud to be a part of it," she said. "Other restaurants in bigger cities, or Charleston and Savannah, get all the limelight. It's important for me to represent Jacksonville well and bring that spotlight here."