A report by Duane Wilkins for The Amsterdam News.
It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to be taped live on national TV while competing in a life-changing cooking rivalry with several expert chefs, all to win the title along with a large cash prize. Just ask Jamaican chef Andre Fowles, who won the grand prize after battling in a few tournaments on the Food Network’s popular “Chopped” show.
Fowles amazed the judges with his captivating Caribbean flavor profile. Persuaded to take part in “Chopped” by his wife who, like Fowles, is also an avid viewer, he said it felt surreal to win the championship and a great honor on the representation of his country.
The executive chef of trendy Caribbean restaurant Miss Lily’s, located in lower Manhattan, Fowles was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. He knew since the young age of 16 that the culinary world was his calling, and he has been burning in the kitchen professionally for approximately 10 years.
“As a kid, I used to watch and help my grandmother out in the kitchen with meals, which started my interest with food,” said the 27-year-old chef. Fowles gives a salute to his grandmother, a great cook and also his inspiration, known by all as “Mama Cherry.” She took pride with making the big Sunday dinners for him and his siblings. “As I entered my late teen years, I started catering for friends at what we call a ‘runabout,’ where everyone comes together to eat and entertain each other,” said Fowles.
He relocated to New York almost three years ago, and his style of grilling utilizes Caribbean spices offered with a distinctive international flair. The deep flavors are what Fowles shows and tells in all of his favored creations with seafood, such as Escovitch fish, lobster and shrimp. He asserts that any menu item in restaurants can look appetizing, but if there is no depth in the seasoning, the taste wanes.
Throughout the show, chefs rush around the “Chopped” kitchen to prepare an appetizer, entrée and dessert in the allotted time. (Incidentally, the segment in which Fowles appeared had a Caribbean theme.) Fowles was composed and blocked out the many cameras, and said the kitchen was smaller than what he’d imagined. When the clock indicated the time to begin roasting, Fowles had 20 minutes to select the recipe of his choice to present to the judges from the secret assortment: Jamaican spiced shrimp with papaya chutney mixed with canned spice ham, mofongo, thyme, frisee, vegetable stock, onions and pepper. “It did get intense with the time, especially during the appetizer round with the food preparation, but I remained focused and watchful of the moments while being determined to showcase my Caribbean inspired entrees,” stated the proud Jamaican chef.
The second part was the entrée, for which the amicable chef put together a traditional curry goat over jasmine rice. The enamored judges felt that Fowles had transported them to Jamaica when they tasted just one bite of his dish. For the dessert round, it was head-to-head with Jamaica versus Trinidad, the home of Fowles’ competitor. Fowles, who is a baker also, hit a home run with his sweet potato mousse with candied mango.
From birthday parties to wedding anniversaries, Fowles caters all types of events. His clientele list is vast and includes corporate execs, fashion elites and film entertainers, just to name a few. The enterprising culinary artist has future plans of owning his own catering company along with a chain of restaurants. A cookbook is in the works as well.
Fowles humbly explained that he’s even received recognition in the streets since the broadcast and said it’s been fun being noticed in restaurants, on the subway and in stores, just like a celebrity chef.
Fowles is here to stay in the food game for the long haul and wants to be an advocate for Caribbean cuisines and Jamaican culture. He’s well on his way.