The judges called him a genius. They raved over what he could do with a simple button mushroom. They said they were humbled to eat his food.
But in the end, Rob Evans heard those three terrible, biting words: “You’ve been chopped.”
Evans, 49, owner of the Portland restaurant Duckfat, made it all the way to the final two in the Food Network show “Chopped Champions” Tuesday night, only to lose the $50,000 grand prize in the dessert round to Jun Tanaka, former executive chef of Pearl Restaurant & Bar in London.
Tanaka’s Carrot and Ginger Frangipane Pudding with Chantilly and Carrot Sauce edged out Evans’s Cinnamon French Toast with Orange and Carrot Gelee and Almond Foam.
But it was close.
“Every bite of Rob’s dessert had a different quality to it,” judge Amanda Freitag said during the final deliberations. “It’s really hard to compare (the two chefs) side by side. They’re a really good apple and a really good orange.”
Chef contestants on “Chopped” are given mystery baskets of ingredients to create an original dish for a panel of judges in a limited time. In each episode, there’s an appetizer, an entree and a dessert.
The chef whose dish isn’t quite up to the judges’ standards gets “chopped” from the competition after each round, until the only one left wins $10,000. Evans won in an episode that aired in October 2011.
In “Chopped Champions,” 16 past winners of the show cook against each other in a best-of-the best competition that has a much more lucrative payoff of $50,000.
In addition to Tanaka, Evans faced off against Kenneth Johnson, executive chef at Pescatore in New York, and Vinson Petrillo, chef de cuisine at Prospect in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Throughout the competition, the judges praised Evans’ creativity and willingness to take risks with food. More than one judge called his work “genius.”
The contest began with an appetizer basket containing pig ears, ramps, pine nuts and apple streudel. Evans used the ingredients to make free-form ravioli with ramp sauce, crispy pig ears and grilled apple streudel.
The judges and other chefs were shocked when they saw him making pasta by hand with only minutes to spare.
“I look over and Rob is making fresh pasta,” Tanaka said. “My admiration for him just went up a notch.”
The entree mystery basket contained abalone, curry leaves, serrano ham and amaranth grain. Evans made an abalone and serrano scallopini with curry leaf egg sauce with puffed amaranth, button mushrooms and basil.
“I don’t have a thing to say to you,” judge Alexandra Guarnaschelli said, admitting that she was unable to come up with any criticism. “This dish really works.”
Two of the judges even used the word “genius” to describe the plate.
With that kind of praise, it’s not surprising that, after the final verdict, Evans said he wasn’t expecting to lose.
“I did think I had the title,” he said to the camera after the winner was announced. “I gave them what they wanted. So I thought. So I thought.”
Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: