Melissa “Missy” Corey, a cook at the Portland restaurant Duckfat, was in her hometown of Chicago on Tuesday night when her friends, family and co-workers watched her take down three other competitors on the Food Network show “Chopped” to win $10,000.

“I was the youngest contestant and the only female contestant, so it was sort of intimidating first walking in there,” Corey said in a phone interview from Chicago. “I don’t think any of the guys who were against me thought that I would be the one to pull it off in the end. I think I sort of surprised them.”

Corey, 28, watched her “Chopped” episode, “Ready, Set, Escargot!” with friends and family in Chicago, feeding them a big spread that included dishes she cooked on the show.

Her friends and coworkers from Duckfat had their own party in Portland. They viewed the show on the big screens at Nosh Kitchen Bar on Congress Street and texted Corey throughout the episode.

“We can’t wait for her to come back,” said Ashley Shane, the manager at Duckfat.

‘’Chopped’’ is a cooking competition in which four chefs use ingredients in ‘’mystery baskets’’ to create a three-course meal that is judged by a panel of three experts. After each course, one of the chefs is “chopped’’ from the competition. The last chef standing wins $10,000.

“Chopped” producers came to Portland in February 2011 for a casting call, and several of the city’s chefs have competed on the show since then. The only other Mainer to win on the show, oddly enough, was Corey’s boss, Rob Evans, who owns Duckfat and is former owner of Hugo’s. Evans took home the $10,000 in prize money in October.

Evans and his wife and business partner, Nancy Pugh, are away and did not watch the show with the rest of the Duckfat crew. But Evans called in their congratulations just the same.

Corey said she spoke to him Tuesday night, and he said he and his wife “were really thrilled and thought I looked very composed and did a great job, and they were really proud.”

“He really has been a strong mentor to me,” she said. “He was really supportive, and I really wanted to win because he thought I could. It inspired confidence in me that I didn’t think I had.”

Evans helped Corey prepare for the show by giving her a trial-run mystery basket last summer, when she was working at Hugo’s. She then practiced with another mystery basket put together by Hugo’s chef de cuisine.

Her cousin helped her do a final trial run with three mystery baskets before she left in July to shoot her episode in New York City.

“So I practiced a lot, actually,” Corey said. “I’m very competitive. I really wanted to win if I was going to go through with it.”

On the show, Corey’s appetizer mystery basket contained escargot, Calvados (an apple brandy), pickled jalapenos and Chinese longbeans. Corey sauteed the escargot with garlic and shallots, then deglazed them with the Calvados and placed them on a grilled baguette. She served the snails with a side salad of spinach, the pickled jalapenos and Chinese longbeans. The salad was dressed with some herbs, extra virgin olive oil and some of the pickling liquid.

The entree mystery basket contained ground lamb, Stilton cheese, Chinese eggplant and birch syrup.

Corey made lamb meatballs stuffed with the Stilton and served them with a ragout of eggplant, capers and tomatoes. On the side, she had flatbread with more of the Stilton, some sage and the birch syrup, which is the reduced sap of the birch tree.

“It’s got a root beer-like flavor,” Corey said. “It was actually kind of good. Strange to go with the other components of the dish, but it’s a unique product that I think I would use again.”

For the last round, Corey made a garnet yam rice pudding with coconut water and Thai basil, and a brittle made out of roasted noodles.

Corey said that, having worked at Hugo’s, she was used to working with unusual ingredients, “so I have a pretty broad knowledge of strange food.”

She supplemented that knowledge by reading up on ingredients that have been used in past episodes of “Chopped,” just to make sure she was familiar with them.

“I don’t think that any of the ingredients that I happened to get throughout the day were that strange,” she said. “The roasted noodles were strange to be a dessert, but they’re not that scary of an ingredient.”

Shane, the manager at Duckfat, said there will probably be some kind of celebration of Corey’s win when she returns from Chicago at the end of the month.

Chef Sam Hayward, Corey’s boss when she worked at Fore Street, said everyone at his restaurant is “very pleased for Missy.”

“And I’m personally very proud of her,” he said, “and for all the progress that she’s made as a cooking professional in a very few years.”

So what will Corey do with her winnings?

Well, they’re already gone.

Before spending the money, Corey, who wants to own a restaurant one day, spent a month in Chicago doing a stage, or culinary apprenticeship, at about 20 restaurants around the city, including chef Grant Achatz’s Alinea and some of chef Paul Kahan’s restaurants.

Then she spent a month walking and eating her way across Europe. She visited France, Italy and the Netherlands, and spent two weeks in Spain. She said it was nice to be out of the kitchen and in the dining room for a change.

But the trip devoured her $10,000.

“I really like to eat well,” Corey said, “so I think I blew the whole thing on my stomach.”

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: meredithgoad


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