Was a Delaware chef’s Italian cooking enough for a Food Network win?


Previously he outsmarted three other chefs, but this time the dry fish took him down.

Delaware chef/restaurateur Robbie Jester’s bid to take home the $25,000 Food Network prize on “Chopped: Battle Italiano” and earn the title of “Chopped” Grand Champion ended Tuesday night.

He was chopped.

Jester was one of 16 chefs competing in the TV culinary elimination competition that focused on regions of Italy. Dishes prepared by the chefs, who used ingredients in a provided basket, were judged by other chefs specializing in Italian cuisine, including Scott Conant, Alex Guarnaschelli and Gabe Bertaccini.

Jester learned about cooking Italian food by working at Piccolina Toscana on Wilmington’s Trolley Square. Last week he won a competition that focused on food and dishes from Tuscany. He then advanced to the finals, competing against three other chefs representing the regions of Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Puglia.

“To be the person that represents Tuscany, carrying that weight is a big deal,” Jester said. “It would be incredible to win for Tuscany.”

Jester seemed excited to win, noting that he had already defeated three chefs to reach the finals. “There are only three left in the way,” he said.

Jester was successful in the first round, where he had 30 minutes to complete a primi, or a first course, with pizza in a tube; zucchini blossoms; zampone, a pork sausage stuffed into the foreleg of a pig; and Caciocavallo cheese.

But he wasn’t thrilled about using the pizza in a tube. “That’s gross,” said Jester, owner of the Pizzeria Mariana store in Newark.

His pappardelle with herb cream sauce and grilled pumpkin blossoms was enriched with shallots, rosemary and chili flakes.

Guarnaschelli was intrigued by some of Jester’s choices. “I don’t think I ate a grilled squash blossom,” she said as she watched him light the edible flowers that are normally served fried.

Jester focused mainly on his dish, but questioned a competitor’s decision to make and cook pasta in 30 minutes

“If you’re making homemade pasta for three Italian chefs, your pasta has to be fantastic,” he said. When he saw the pasta on the plate, he said, “It looks beautiful. Everyone is bringing their A-game.”

Guarnaschelli called Jester’s dish “stunning” and Conant had more compliments for Jester.

“Chef, I think this is the best dish you’ve given us,” Conant said.

Jester advanced to the second of three rounds and had to make an entree with Branzino; dear dolci, peach cookies; artichoke hearts and Alfredo sauce.

Jester clenched his fists when he saw the branzino. “I’ve been waiting for some seafood,” he said.

His Italian-born opponent Antonello Zito was not too happy with the Alfredo sauce, an ingredient rarely used in Italy.

“If I cook this, people, they will make fun of me for the rest of their lives,” said the Italian chef from Puglia.

Jester pan-seared the branzino with cannellini beans, made a broth with Alfredo sauce and created a crispy artichoke salad. He added ingredients including Calabrian peppers, olives and thyme.

Jester wasn’t as confident at the end of the round.

“I worry about the other chefs, their tastes might be a little more developed,” he said.

The judges agreed. Guarnaschelli gave Jester kudos for his searing of the branzino, but Bertaccini said Jester was eliminated because “we thought your fish was way overcooked.”

Bye, Chief.

Jester seemed to approve and, being a good sport, gave shoutouts to the two other chefs in the round.

The battle has begun: This Delaware chef once defeated Bobby Flay. But was he “chopped” from the Food Network?

Hungry for brunch?: OpenTable puts Delaware on its list of best brunches. Here are 6 places that deserved more love.

“You can’t make mistakes when you’re next to such great chefs,” he said. On his Facebook page, Jester expressed his gratitude to the community for inspiring him.

Zito, the Italian-born chef, was declared the winner of the tournament after a dessert round.

You can find Patricia Talorico at InstagramX And Facebook. E-mail [email protected]. Sign up for her Delaware Eats Newsletter.

Back To Top