In December, Chef Phil Crispo was named a champion on Chopped, the Food Network’s cooking show in which professional chefs vie to create the tastiest meal using “mystery” ingredients — like, say, lump crabmeat and ice cream cones — that aren’t often found on the same plate. Born in Beacon, Crispo moved to Scotland as a youngster, but returned to Dutchess County eight years ago to become an assistant professor of culinary arts at Hyde Park’s Culinary Institute. HV asked the chef about his star turn on the show — which earned him a cool $10,000 in prize money.
How did you get interested in cooking?
I refer to myself as a “closet” chef. I fell in love with cooking in Scotland, but I never had any proper training. We lived in a small village, there wasn’t a lot to do, so I cooked all the time. When I left school, I got a job cooking and haven’t looked back since.
Why did you want to go on Chopped?
People would say to me, “You’re brilliant at making something from nothing.” I look at foods and think, “What’s its function as an ingredient?” I’d never seen the show before, I watched it for maybe five minutes. But my colleagues said to me, “Hey, go give it a try.” So I said, “What the hell.”
What was your reaction when you saw the weird combination of ingredients in the baskets?
I don’t think I had time to worry. It’s such a strange experience: You have no time to react, you just start to cook. You rely on experience — it’s me versus the ingredients — and you figure it out as you go. It was exhausting.
Was it as stressful as it seems on TV?
I think so. I was highly motivated, and trying to get “in the zone.” It was like competing in a sport, I felt I needed the competitive edge. The biggest pressure I felt was coming from the CIA — none of the faculty have ever done Chopped before. And being on a national stage, that was huge. The students loved it; it let them see that if you work hard, you’ll succeed in life.
Would you ever prepare any of these dishes again?
Actually, I was thinking of refining them. I’m contemplating it.
What will you do with the money?
Bring my two daughters and three-and-a-half granddaughters (one daughter is pregnant) to New York for a visit.