On the show, chefs compete to prepare a three-course meal using all of the mystery ingredients the show provides them. After each course, one chef’s dish is “chopped” by the judges, eliminating the competitor from the remainder of the contest.
In the appetizer round, four chefs tackled a mystery basket filled with scallions, water chestnuts, wonton wrappers and hot dog eclairs. Wisneski’s steamed wontons were praised for their flavor and texture. The judging panel comprised chefs Maneet Chauhan, Chris Santos and Geoffrey Zakarian.
In the entrée round, three chefs opened their baskets to find pheasant, green tomatoes, tepache liqueur and trash can nachos. Judges praised Wisneski’s use of the loaded nachos, which she transformed into a flavorful crumble to accompany her roasted pheasant with green-tomato salsa verde.
In the dessert round, the final two contestants — Wisneski and Chef Patrick Carter, of Indiana — were tasked with creating delicious dishes from moon drop grapes, apricot paste, bagel chips and pickle cupcakes.
“I instantly thought of sweet and salty,” Wisneski said. “Who doesn’t like that?”
In her allotted 20 minutes, Wisneski whipped up port wine and moon drop grape mousse with an apricot and mint sauce.
She credits her ability to successfully combine such odd ingredients to her adventurous palate.
“I think just trying everything I could possibly eat,” she said. “Since I was little, I always ate pretzels with my ice cream and funny combinations like that. School really helped to teach us all different food combinations, as well.”
Her ability to do that quickly in a competitive environment, she said, was likewise influenced by experiences at Penn College, including a Culinary Competition and Skills Assessment class she took with Chef Mary G. Trometter, assistant professor of hospitality management/culinary arts.
“I was so thankful I got to take that class,” the young chef said. “I’m naturally a very competitive person when it comes to things like this. I also did competitions when we were at the Farm Show.”
There was also some late-night cramming: “The night before (recording the 'Chopped' episode) I couldn’t sleep, because I was terrified I would get something I don’t know how to prepare, so I was looking up YouTube videos!” she added.
Wisneski’s interest in becoming a chef is rooted in time spent cooking — and eating — with family.
“My family has always been the family that sat down and ate dinner together,” she said. “My earliest memory of cooking is with my great-grandmother in Iowa. My mom (Donna) was always the baker, and my dad (Steve) was always the savory chef of the family. I always helped him cook holiday dinners.”
Her interest was further nurtured at Penn College.
“I will always remember how much Chef Mike (Michael J. Ditchfield, instructor of hospitality management/culinary arts) took me under his wing,” she said. “He really taught me a lot and showed me that you can balance life and being a chef.
“All of the classes taught us new things and kept us on our toes. I loved that our labs were like real-life working shifts, because this job is no joke!” she added. “I also loved how small our classes were, because I made some of my best friends in college.”
After graduation, Wisneski moved to the Philadelphia area to begin her culinary career under fellow Penn College graduate Chef Andrew Masciangelo, class of 1997, executive chef and co-owner of Savona in Gulph Mills. While at Savona, the Zagat restaurant guide included Wisneski in a roundup of “20 Sous-Chefs to Watch in Philly.”
“That was surreal!” she said.
She then joined the Zavino Hospitality group, where she was named executive chef of the group’s Enoteca Tredici in Bryn Mawr before taking on her current position at Amis, a Vetri Family restaurant and part of the URBN portfolio of brands.
“With Zavino Hospitality Group, I got to work at each restaurant,” she said. “It was great to see (restaurant) openings and all of the different food they served. When I got the offer from URBN for Amis in Devon, I almost died! It was so exciting because Amis has always been my favorite restaurant in Philadelphia, and Chef Brad Spence is one of the best Italian chefs I’ve ever met. He teaches and pushes us constantly!”
She hopes to do the same for future chefs. Last year, she cooked with Penn College students on the Culinary Connection stage at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
Wisenski is the second Penn College culinary arts graduate to be named a “Chopped” Champion. In Season 3 of the show, Chef Dean Yasharian, class of 2003, was named winner of an episode titled “When Chefs Collide.”
Four Penn College graduates have competed on the Food Network. Chef James Parker, class of 1991, competed on episodes of “Food Network Challenge” and has appeared several times on other Food Network programs, and Chef Kristi Ritchey, class of 2002, competed in the first episode of “Extreme Chef.”
To learn more about baking and culinary arts majors at Penn College, call 570-327-4505 or visit www.pct.edu/culinary.
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