HSC Chef Cheryl Barbara wins Food Network's CHOPPED!

New Haven school 'lunch lady' named 'Chopped' champ
Article appears in full with pictures at: http://newhavenregister.com/articles/2011/11/23/news/new_haven/doc4ecc7804ae4e8359454270.txt?viewmode=fullstory
Learn more about Cheryl at https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Chef-Cheryl-Barbara/295936443771896?sk=wall  
By Mark Zaretsky, Register Staff

NEW HAVEN — Look out, America! Make room for High School in the Community “lunch lady” Cheryl Barbara on the nation’s roster of celebrated superstar chefs.

Barbara, head cook at High School in the Community, took the $10,000 top prize Tuesday night on “Chopped,” a popular Food Network cook-off show.

She outcooked and outfinessed three other “cafeteria wonder women,” including her fellow New Haven school chef Rhonda DeLoatch, top chef at Common Ground Environmental Charter High School, to earn the honor from a three-judge panel that included White House chef Sam Kass.

“Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart, and for helping us to put ourselves out there to take care of these children — because they need us,” Barbara told the judges after they declared her the Chopped champion.

In a decade as a school breakfast and lunch cook at High School in the Community, “I never considered myself a chef,” a tearful Barbara said. “But after what I went through today ... I’m a chef. ... ...I’ve never felt so euphoric and so blessed. I did it!”

In addition to Barbara’s cash prize, the show awarded each of the four contestants a five-day class at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., “to further your education,” said show host Ted Allen.

While Barbara was the winner among the two New Haven Public Schools chefs, she won a lot more than just crosstown bragging rights.

She — along with her competitors, who all were chosen for their commitment, dedication and talent in making delicious, healthful meals from fresh foods — won a healthy level of respect for raising the bar on a profession that, in addition to making things tasty, is charged with preparing what sometimes are the only healthful meals kids get.

“Stereotypes of lunch ladies with the hair nets, serving slop — that’s not it!” Barbara said during a lead-in segment for the competion.

“For a lot of these kids, lunch is the last meal of the day,” and it’s a challenge “just to get them fed,” she said.
Besides Kass, who has taken a lead role in the fight against childhood obesity, the judges were chef/restauranteur Marc Murphy and chef Amanda Freitag. The dishes were judged on presentation, taste and creativity.

Kass, pointing out that the school chefs are expected to make tasty, healthful meals for about $1.25 per plate, declared, “These women are heroes.”

“They’re magicians!” said Freitag.

Murphy later suggested that all of their titles should be “school chef — because that’s what you are.”

The other competing chefs were Diane Houlihan, assistant cook manager at Great Neck Elementary School in Waterford, and Arlene Leggio of Islip High School in Long Island, N.Y.

The four contestants went to New York to film the show, where they were given baskets of mystery ingredients and told to concoct an appetizer, entree and dessert. The goal was to cook a healthful and delicious meal.

All four chefs were asked to prepare appetizers incorporating canned tuna, wonton wrappers, spinach and dill pickles; entrees that included collard greens, boneless chicken breast, anchovies and quinoa; and desserts that employed sunflower seeds, grapes, cream cheese and canned pineapple.

Barbara, drawing repeatedly on her Italian heritage, won with her renditions of Itailian sausage tossed with spinach, wrapped in wonton wrappers; quinoa-encrusted chicken & collard greens sauteed with anchovies and penne pasta, and an elegantly-presented sweet, fruity grilled cheese sandwich — with chocolate drizzled on top — for dessert.

“It’s always Pasta Monday in my school,” she jokingly told the judges during the entree round.

The judges knew right off the bat that it was going to be a tough choice, when all four chefs whipped up impressive and artfully-presented dishes in the initial appetizer round.

DeLoatch was the first to get chopped, despite the fact that she was the one who managed to use the most vegetables in her dish, because of what the judges said was her failure to put enough dressing on a salad that was part of it.

Undaunted, DeLoatch told the judges, “This is the experience of a lifetime. I thank you.

“I’m not a ‘lunch lady,’” DeLoatch said later. “I’m a chef.”

In the entree round, Leggio was the one to go, leaving Barbara and Houlihan to battle it out over dessert.

But in the end, it was Barbara left standing.

“It was unbelieveable,” White House chef Kass said of Barbara’s dessert. “I don’t know a child that wouldn’t just devour that. ... I think Cheryl knocked it out of the park in dessert.”

As they awaited the judges’ decision, Barbara told Houlihan, “We fight the big fight, every single day. ... This fight was not a big one compared to what we usually fight.”

Allen was the one who referred to the lunch ladies as “cafeteria wonder women.” Each chef was featured in a trailer introducing the episode with an introduction filmed at their respective schools.