A Shirlington restaurant owner brought her Hawaiian-influenced cooking to one of the Food Network’s most recognized shows.
Mikala Brennan, owner of Hula Girl Bar and Grill, competed on season 32 of “Chopped,” the competitive cooking show where four contestants are handed a basket of mystery of ingredients with which to cook across three rounds.
A panel of expert judges tries the creations and after each round one contestant is eliminated — “chopped” — from the competition.
Brennan’s episode, entitled “Raw Deal,” was the 400th in the show’s history. She competed against Steven Londono and Timothy Walker, both from New York City, and eventual winner Marie Yniguez, from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Brennan was eliminated after the second round and did not reach the final course, and said that while she enjoyed the experience, being chopped was still emotional.
The corridor chopped contestants exit through “is a hall of shame when you walk down that thing,” she said. “I was definitely trying not to pop a tear, because it’s really upsetting.”
Brennan’s episode was filmed in the network’s New York studio in August, one month after the show’s production staff descended on her Campbell Avenue eatery to film and gather background information. Brennan and her staff signed non-disclosure agreements promising not to share the news, then had to wait until the Food Network announced an air date.
The episode premiered on February 28, and will be re-run at various times throughout the network’s schedule.
In the first round, Brennan and her fellow competitors had to make an appetizer using sushi burgers, fresh wasabi, longan berries and pork floss as main ingredients, with the help of the show’s well-stocked pantry and fridge.
Then the entrée round called for the use of buffalo top sirloin steaks, porcini mushrooms, aji dulce and sea buckthorn juice.
In the dessert round, held after Brennan was eliminated, the final two chefs used polenta cake, bechamel sauce, plums and pink Himalayan sea salt.
Such ingredients required some creative thinking to prevent the episode’s judges Chris Santos, Amanda Freitag and Maneet Chauhan from eliminating her.
“It’s one of those things where you almost go into a surreal mode,” Brennan said. “You start flipping through every single recipe you’ve ever done or come across, and you’re trying to figure out what you can do. I’ll be honest, I really didn’t have a plan that quickly.”
Brennan has some experience with the Food Network, having previously competed on the show “Rewrapped” which aired in 2014 and asks chefs to recreate classic snack foods before making a new dish using that same snack food as the main ingredient.
But she said the experience of cooking in the “Chopped” kitchen, surrounded by cameras and being asked questions by host Ted Allen while planning and executing a meal against the clock, is a whole different ball game.
“It’s a very weird experience, because as a chef you’re just trying to figure out what you’re cooking, and then you’re also jumping over cables to get the things in the pantry, then you’re trying to get around camera people and other people you’re competing against,” Brennan said. “Then there’s Ted Allen over there asking questions. It’s a high-stress situation, but that’s the whole point of it.”