Ed Randolph / Photos courtesy of Food Network
Ed Randolph, owner of Handsome Devil BBQ, thrives on competition. He and his team have notched victories in BBQ competitions up and down the East Coast, even in the face of fierce competition. But when he got a casting call for a special, grill-themed episode of Food Network’s Chopped, he knew he’d have to bring his A-game.
We sat down with Randolph ahead of his episode’s air date on July 9 to hear how he fared in the famously chaotic kitchen.
Congratulations on the win! Was it hard to keep your win a secret for almost six months?
Ed Randolph: It’s been killing me. My daughters didn’t know. I couldn’t tell my parents. My dad’s like Google. He’s the human version of Gmail — everybody would know about it. So I couldn’t tell him, I couldn’t tell really anybody. Even when I finished the episode, they had someone walk with me all the way back to the train station at 125th Street, just to make sure I didn’t jump on the phone being so excited immediately.
What was it like being judged by Food Network stars?
Judges were great. They were hard, but they kind of worked with everybody and tried to see it through. It was a good time. I mean other than the judges talking to you, you mostly don’t realize that they’re there. And I was actually positioned at the very far end, so I couldn’t hear them except for when they were like ‘I think Chef Ed has got a fire.’
Yeah. They were like, ‘I think Chef Ed has a fire going on.’ Then someone else said, ‘I think he’s cooking in it.’ [Laughs] But I cook over fire all the time. I know what I’m doing.
It was funny, I couldn’t get the fire out when it was done. Because they say, ‘Time’s up. Stop!’ And I just hear the thing roaring behind me on the grill top. So the guy was trying to throw salt on it to smother it, and the salt was just blowing up like Pop Rocks. And now I’m laughing cause it’s like fireworks going off behind me: pop-pop-pop-pop! And I’m like, ‘Oh man, I’m going home.’
For the rest of the episode I had two guys with fire extinguishers next to me the whole time, which was quite comical. I wish we could have gotten a photo of that.
Ed Randolph’s BBQ book / Photo by Ken Goodman
Any other behind the scenes moments we should know about?
In the barbecue world we have this thing called the 9:22 shot. Why it’s called 9:22, I don’t know. I think it’s like the only time everybody’s got time and nothing goes on. But all the competitors get together and we do a shot to kind of cheer each other on and wish each other good luck. So I found a time during our dessert round that I poured a shot for myself and my competitor, and I told him this is something customary in the barbecue world that we do to wish each other good luck. So we did a shot, and then one of the judges was Moe Cason, who’s a barbecue guy, so he started screaming ‘Where’s my shot?’ It was funny, I totally forgot that a barbecue guy was one of my judges.
Do you have plans for the prize?
For me, again, I’m already on the show. I won. You could put a sign outside the door that says ‘Chopped casting, chefs needed’ and you’d have a line from Harlem all the way to Midtown Manhattan. Everybody wants to be on the show. I answered a couple questions online and did a phone interview, and now I’m here. So for me it’s paying it forward. My daughter has Type One diabetes so we’re donating proceeds to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Why did you want to go on Chopped?
For me, going on Chopped was to validate what I’ve been doing and what I’ve been working on for the past six or seven years. Also, it was to show to my girls that if you have a dream, it doesn’t matter if you’re six, 12, or 44, still pursue it and go for it. So really, it was a validation, [I] was really going to see if I can go up against trained chefs.
I’m not from the Culinary [Institute of America]. I’m just a guy that grew up in Minisink Valley and had a Polish grandmother and an Italian mother, and we had a farming family, and I just learned how to cook for a bunch of people that way.
What was the audition process like?
There wasn’t one. I got reached out to by a casting company. I went to a barbecue extravaganza seminar show in Illinois in January, and ran into somebody that does casting out there. And at the time, she gave a website for people to go on just to get your name on the casting list.
Literally everything was done via website, you put in everything, all of your qualifications. And then I received a call from an associate producer. We did two or three phone interviews, and they said everything looks okay, if we have an episode for you, we’ll reach out. It might be six days from now, it might be six weeks, it might be six years. You never know. It just depends if you fall in the right location.
I finished that interview and within a couple days, all of a sudden I got a call from somebody saying they’re going to come and film my promo. And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? I didn’t even get told I was being on the show.’ But they said ‘Yeah, you’re going to be on.’ So literally the guy came to shoot the teaser like a day or two before I was going on the show.
Were you intimidated by the competitors?
The competition didn’t scare me so much, because we do so many competitions on the barbecue side. My biggest thing was just my experience and knowledge of the kitchen and recipes because you can’t go into the recipe book or anything. Everything’s got to be in your mind if you need to make a cake. Well, we practiced easy cake recipes, biscuit recipes, stuff that can just be simple. You know, 4:3:2 counts, so you know how much of everything to put in.
So you did practice a little bit?
Yeah, did a couple rounds at home. It was nice. The girls would go shopping — we have three daughters — so they could each pick out a round. So somebody picked out the appetizer round, somebody had the entree round, somebody picked the desert round. And we came home and practiced.
The only thing that really was the deciding factor was the pantry. I mean, in your house, you’re familiar with where everything is, right? In the studio, you lose a lot of time because you’re trying to find stuff in the pantry that you have no idea where X, Y, Z is.
They literally give you like a minute to go around and familiarize yourself with the pantry. But your mind is running so fast, you see all the TV cameras, everybody set up ready to rock and roll, and you’re saying, ‘Oh, bananas.’ Whoop-de-doo, you know? Then all of a sudden they say ‘Go!’ and you’re like ‘Where are the bananas?’
Did you have a plan or strategy going in?
My plan was just to try to keep it simple. I didn’t want to lose the time. The time was the one thing I thought would always get me. What I did is I named all four basket ingredients for my wife and my three girls. So when I looked at my plate at the end of the day, I could call out their names and make sure that they were on the plate.
It’s usually the kiss of death if you miss an ingredient. So as long as I had those four on there, it didn’t matter what else I had with it, you know, if I had forgotten to put something else on, as long as the four basket ingredients were always on my plate.
Was it as stressful as it seems on TV?
It was a really stressful experience. Even when Ted does that little thing where he says you know, ‘Who’s going to be chopped?’ and then it cuts to commercial — you film that. They don’t tell you that. I’m expecting it to just be part of editing. So they’re like, ‘Who’s next to be chopped?’ and we’re all looking at it, looking at it, and then they yell ‘Cut!’
I’m like ‘What do you mean, ‘cut?’’ We’re right here! But you have to go back in the room and hang out. You have to wait another half hour while they take all these other film angles and cuts and do all this stuff. It’s a lot of time that your mind starts really weighing on yourself: What did I really do? Is it good enough?
At any point did you feel like being restricted to a grill was a hindrance?
No, because I cook on so many grills. I think it was an advantage to me. I really think the other chefs had to kind of adapt their ways to cook to the grill, and not so much just grilling, but the adaptation of the equipment. You’re using these cast iron plates and grilling and there’s hot spots. It’s really learning where your equipment is. That and the product you’re cooking with.
You could tell me it was any type of animal, but as soon as I hear the word ‘ribeye,’ I know what I’m dealing with. I know what temperature I need to take it to, I know where I need to be for my tenderness.
Ed Randolph appeared on Chopped on Tuesday, July 9 at 10 p.m. ET/PT