Detroit pastry chef wins Food Network’s ‘Chopped’

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroiters may know Crystal Smith for her specialty bourbon bread pudding at Bayview Yacht Club in Detroit, but recently she has upgraded her title to Chopped Chef champion.

Smith, 34, has had a passion for cooking since she was a teen and said sticking to what she knew helped her win the Food Network competition, whose theme was baking.

“Chopped” requires chefs to create a stunning dish from a mystery box of obscure ingredients supplemented with pantry staples. The battle includes four chefs, three challenge rounds and three judges who nominate one chef to be chopped at the end of each round, leaving one champion with the $10,000 prize.

Smith said she didn’t have the courage to apply, but her former boss gave the casting crew her information. Soon, she was on a flight to New York and was filmed in an episode of her favorite show in March.

“For me, it’s actually my passion, not just a way to make money,” she said. “When I’m stressed, it’s a calming agent. It’s something I love.” .

Smith works as a pastry chef at Bayview Yacht Club. She’s cooked professionally for three years but started cooking when she was 12 by watching her mom.

“I actually started when I was younger because my mom worked two jobs,” the Detroit native said. “She wasn’t home a lot and I got tired of eating the same thing every day, so I learned how to cook for me and my younger sister.” .

She went from her mother’s kitchen to the Art Institute of Atlanta and then transferred to the Art Institute of Michigan, where she graduated from the baking and pastry program.

Prior to filming, she said she watched every episode of “Chopped” to prepare. In her first challenge basket, she received bitter melon, vegetable gratin, steak and dough. Her son’s love of Mexican food inspired her steak fajita flatbread appetizer.

Her main course basket was filled with kale, roasted mushrooms, chicken breast and crème puff dough. She turned that into a pan-toasted chicken with a mushroom cream sauce and sautéd kale entree.

Last, she made a mixed berry shortcake out of pastry flour, oven-roasted grapes, marshmallow fluff and lemon balm for dessert.

“They were all really simple, actually. I only had one ingredient that I wasn’t familiar with, the bitter melon,” Smith said. “My judges were Scott Conant, Amanda Freitag and Nancy Silverton. They were all equally hard.”

Now, as a single mother of three and $10,000 richer, she said she’s going to put it all into her new business, You Had Me At Cake 313 LLC.

She said the experience was an adrenaline rush and is something she’ll remember.

“I just wanted to show that good things do come out of Detroit,” she said. “Detroit receives a lot of bad press ... that Detroit is full of murder and drug dealers, and there’s more than that.”

The episode, "Flour Power", will air again Wednesday at 1:00 a.m. and Thursday, July 20, at 9:00 p.m.

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Twitter: @SarahRahal_