This story contains spoilers, so consider waiting to read it if you plan to watch the episode.
A former Jacksonville resident and food truck owner recently had the opportunity to compete on Food Network’s “Chopped.”
Duke Krueger, former owner of the Yonder Southern Chikin food truck and Yonder Smokehouse in Jacksonville, competed on Episode 10 of Season 56 of “Chopped,” which aired Tuesday night.
Krueger, who is the executive chef, partner and owner of Cinder Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, appeared along with three others in the episode’s Battle of the Best Southern Chefs. In his introduction, Krueger said he was there to prove that the South truly is the culinary heartland of the United States.
“I think I’m the chef to beat,” Krueger said on the show. “I just need everyone to get out of the way.”
Kroger competed against Nashville chef Star Mai, Greensboro chef Shawn Reeves and Louisville chef Allison Settle and cooked in front of a panel of judges that included chef and restaurateurs Kelsey Barnard-Clark, Darnell Ferguson and Manette Chauhan.
For those who are not familiar with how Chopped works, the chefs in each round are provided with a basket of ingredients that they must use to prepare a dish.
For the appetizer round, the chefs had to use vegetarian fried chicken, corn, shrimp, and a pimento cheese tomato pie. Settle decided to make New Orleans-style grilled shrimp with pimento cheese and polenta, while Reeves went with pimento-stuffed shrimp with sweet corn puree, and May created shrimp with corn succotash and pimento-tomato sauce.
Kroger stuck to its roots, making low country potatoes with fried shrimp.
During the judge’s criticism, Ferguson said he was impressed by how quickly Krueger was able to get the dish out. Clark said the shrimp were cooked flawlessly, but she would have liked to see the corn stick out a little, and Chauhan agreed, adding that she thought the flavor was great.
The judges eventually agreed to cut Settle, sending Krueger, Reeves and May to the entry round.
The chefs were then tasked with preparing a main course using fried eggs, turnip greens, sliced ham, and biscuits and gravy. While May chose to make honey-glazed pork chops with sawmill gravy, Reeves went with seared pork chops with fried egg aioli.
Kroger, on the other hand, chose to make its seared pork chops with biscuits and gravy, a sauce made from butter, flour, and chicken broth.
“I want to show that Southern food is not traditional, it’s fried and unhealthy, and remind people of what it can be,” Krueger said.
Clark told Kroger that the dish was beautiful, and the dish was a success. Ferguson liked the well-cooked pork and green curry sauce, but was bothered by the strength of the curry, adding that it made fried eggs difficult to find. However, he said he would eat the meal again and again.
Finally, Chauhan said the flavors were delicious, but agreed that one of the sauces should have been different because they were competing rather than complementary. Unfortunately, because of this, Kruger was chopped up after the Entry Round, and May went on to win after the Dessert Round.
Krueger spoke with the Daily News Wednesday and said the experience was a lot of fun, despite not winning.
He said he got the opportunity after someone reached out to him on Instagram and asked if he was interested in being on the show. He assumed it was a scam at first, but it ended up being legitimate.
He traveled to New York in November to film, saying the experience was surreal.
“It’s really fun to interact with the chefs at that point, and it’s very comforting to see everyone as nervous as you are,” Krueger said. “It didn’t feel like it was quite scripted, but I was like, you kind of push it in the direction of what you need and things like that, which was kind of funny to see. It’s controlled chaos.”
For example, Krueger said if you have a spoon that you don’t use anymore, they’ll ask you to throw it on the floor and a production crew member will walk under the cameras to grab it. While the episode’s intro was filmed the day before, the entire episode’s competition was filmed over 12 hours in one day.
“It’s a bum not to take it home, but it was a very fun experience and to put what I was trying to do on a pedestal there by promoting modern Southern food and its approach,” Krueger added. “I wanted people to see that, this is really cool, this looks really good, and this is a nice twist on that. I want to try something like that and hopefully someone will see that and make their own twist. That little bit of impact alone is vital.”
This experience has also helped Kroger redefine his career, and he looks forward to continuing to learn, as well as teaching and mentoring his employees.
To watch Kroger’s episode of “Chopped,” search for reruns on Food Network or watch on demand.
Reporter Morgan Starling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.