BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
An Astoria chef not only competed on one of the Food Network’s most popular shows, but he won the $10,000 prize.
Nick Testa, executive chef at Astoria’s The Bonnie and Sweet Afton bars, took to Chelsea, Manhattan, where he competed in the Food Network’s Chopped, hosted by Ted Allen and judged by Aaron Sanchez, Maneet Chauhan, Marc Murphy and Marcus Samuelsson.
Chopped is a competition where four chefs call on their culinary skills as they face off against one another to prepare a three-course meal, using mystery ingredients.
Testa, who had been watching Chopped since it first aired in 2009, was influenced to apply by his chef friends, some of whom had competed in the competition prior and had won.
“I always said I wouldn’t do it,” said Testa. “But my friend pushed me to. I did it and it paid off.”
According to Testa, the show was filmed seven months in advance and consisted of a 16-hour day of filming.
“It was really fun,” said Testa. “While you’re filming, there’s so much high energy and everything is real. In the beginning, it was a little stressful while you’re getting familiar with the kitchen, but everything else was fun.”
Testa reflects on when he received the email stating that he made it to the show.
“It was pretty exciting, but at that point I was most nervous,” said Testa. “I was like, now I have to do this. I can’t back out.”
Because he was unfamiliar with how the competition would go, he only told a few friends that he would be competing: those who asked him if he had won. Because of the rules, Testa had to keep it confidential until the airing seven months later, which he said was frustrating.
“It was a big waiting game,” said Testa.
Testa said competing in the show taught him to face his fears head on.
“I was always apprehensive about going on the show,” said Testa. “Winning Chopped showed me to wash all those fears away. It let me know that I can take on a lot more than I thought I could.”
In regard to participating in another food competition, Testa said it depends on the caliber of the show, but he would love to do something similar to Chopped because he had so much fun.
Testa, who grew up in Westchester County, discovered his love for cooking as a teenager when he worked for a small-town deli. He said watching the other workers in the kitchen and on the grill was what spiked his interest. It was then that he realized he wanted to go to culinary school, which he did.
Today Testa works at two bars in Astoria and one in Manhattan as an executive chef.
Testa said he has a strong passion for cooking, something he doesn’t plan to ever stop loving.
“Just having that knowledge to manipulate food the way I do is so motivating,” said Testa. “Not a lot of people have that skill.”
What drives Testa to continue cooking are his failures.
“Every time I mess up on something, whether I get a recipe wrong or something doesn’t taste right, I tend to drive myself to make it even better.”
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.