How I Beat Bobby Flay on “Chopped”
Chef Stephen Coe took home $50,000 for besting the Food Network's favorite son
During a five-part tournament that aired over the summer, Massachusetts-based chef Stephen Coe beat out 15 other former Chopped winners for the right to face off with Bobby Flay in a winner-take-all finale with $50,000 on the line.
And when Coe got his shot at the Food Network’s favorite son at the end of Chopped: Beat Bobby Flay, that is exactly what he did.
Coe, who was on Chopped four previous times and holds the title of “World Bacon Champion” from the Food Network series Chopped Grill Masters, took out Flay by making a free-form lobster ravioli dish out of mystery basket ingredients including fried milk, salty fingers (sea beans), crispy duck and lobster. “I don’t want a rematch,” Flay said after the judges named Coe the winner.
To find out what it took to cook Bobby Flay’s goose in a Chopped-style cook-off, we got in touch with Coe for a wide-ranging conversation about how he was able to pull off such an upset. The story below is told in his own words. It has been edited for length and clarity.
The Prep Work
I trained hard, both mentally and physically. I cut any alcohol and caffeine out of my system. I worked out harder and ran a lot to make sure I had endurance, which also helped clear my mind. And then I studied certain strategies Bobby uses on Beat Bobby Flay. I watched a bunch of them to see his cooking style, his technique, the way he seasons and how fast he was. That definitely worked to my advantage too. It’s like a sport. I’m checking out who I’m going against, whether it’s a team or not.
I also reviewed things in my head that I had self-sabotaged in the past, like overthinking. I’m pretty fast when I compete and often end up with time to add elements to a dish that might not need to be there. I’ve learned I have to censor myself. So I kept that in the back of my mind.
Beating the First 15 Chopped Chefs
The more I compete on Chopped, the more I don’t get fazed at all. Going into this last tournament, I just rocked the stone face. I didn’t talk to anybody and it worked to my advantage, because then they were trying to get in my head and I wasn’t even paying attention to them. I said a few times, “I’m not here to be your friend, I’m here to win money. I’m here to slay Bobby Flay and win $50K.” I said, “I don’t have a sad story like you guys do. I could care less. My life’s not perfect, but I don’t care. I’m here to compete.”
It was like a game day. In one of the shots, you see me just jumping up and down like, alright, somebody ring the bell. Let’s fucking do this. Like a linebacker getting ready to light up a quarterback.
It wasn’t that I was confident I was going to win it — I was confident I could make it into the finale just on cooking techniques and the skills I have and just being comfortable in the Chopped kitchen. And the way other people were cooking. There was a lot of great chefs there, but simple mistakes were being made.
As we started getting toward the end, I started thinking I might have it. I was ready to go against Bobby Flay the whole time. Like, I was ready for game day before we even started the season. I was ready. The person who shows up to win is the one who is going to be ready.
The Dish That Beat Bobby Flay
I saw the lobster and immediately knew I wanted to do a lobster ravioli. But I wasn’t doing a classic ravioli because I thought he was going to do a classic ravioli with a little bit of a twist. I decided to go freeform and layer the pasta because I thought it would look better, tighter.
Then I’m like, “How can I elevate the pasta?” I saw female lobsters and decided I was going to take the roe out, cook it, add chives and fold that into my pasta dough. There were these little pinkish-red dots and green dots from the chives in the pasta dough, which looked cool.
Then on to the salty fingers. I knew they could hold up, so I decided to tempura fry them so they’d have a nice little crunch on top. Then I tasted the duck and felt the texture. It was almost like pancetta, so I wanted to cook that down. My base was garlic, shallots, tomatoes. It needed a little bit of brightness in there. I diced some butternut squash and made a sauce out of that at the same time, which I knew would all flow. Cooked that down, added some spinach and Parmesan cheese and it kind of came together. It was almost like a playful carbonara.
Competing Against Bobby
I don’t think he took me seriously until halfway through the round, when he saw I was just fucking lighting him up and outcooking him. His pasta machine broke, so I threw him mine. I was being a true competitor and helped him out because I wanted a fair game. I didn’t need to give it to him. He would’ve crashed and burned right there.
Then you could see him start to get flustered. He would look over to me and I was ahead of him. It was about the 20-minute mark that I think I started seeing it. In my head I was like, “I got him. I’m going to win this fucking thing.” At that point, I just tightened up everything. Double-checked the seasoning and my cooking techniques. I had enough time to plate and enough time to slow down and focus on the end result.
My overall strategy was to be a fucking beast. I was chirping at him a little bit. I wanted to get his head early and I did. I was barking at him a little bit. I was trying to see where his weakness was and then I found it. He 100 percent got flustered easily. And once he got to that point, he never recovered. And I saw that. That’s why I just moved into cruise control. When he was running around like a moron, I never left my station. He’s a lot more comfortable in his kitchen — it’s like a showboating kind of thing. I knew when I had him in the Chopped kitchen, that was my homefront.
I could hear the judges saying he was crashing and burning at one point and that his ravioli wasn’t working. Then he threw his dough. While he was piecemealing his ravioli the judges asked me what was in my pan. I told them: “Bobby’s self esteem.”
At the end of the day, I beat Bobby Flay by outcooking him. I cooked harder, faster and I didn’t get flustered. Other people that have beat him in the past, it might’ve been on judging. I definitely outcooked him and you could see it. He was tired. He was worked. I don’t think he had a throwdown like that in a while. It’s about bragging rights more than anything because I don’t care about the money. It wasn’t about money. It was about taking the win.
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