Even the prospect of cooking with a rattlesnake wasn’t enough to inspire Seattle chef Kaleena Bliss to bet on a more familiar ingredient in her first of two “Casino Royale” cooking tournament episodes on Food’s “Chopped.” Network.
It was this ability to think quickly on her feet that helped Bliss win the tournament — and $40,000 — in the season finale that aired Tuesday night.
“No regrets in everything I’ve done in my career to get me to this point because crazy, stressful situations are what gave me the ability to be a good critical thinker,” Bliss said, executive chef at Conversation at the Thompson Hotel in SeattleWednesday morning.
“I feel like that confidence just comes when I’m in the kitchen. … The most nerve-wracking parts were everything else, actually; the easiest and most confident parts for me were when the ‘clock has started and you’re going to do what you [have to] do.”
In each episode, the contestants had to prepare a starter, a starter and a dessert. At the start of each round, contestants were given several ingredients—including at least one stinky—as well as the chance to roll the dice: an even number gave them a more useful ingredient; an odd number could be something worse.
“At least they gave [the rattlesnake] for us in a box and we didn’t have to make it,” Bliss said after her debut episode of “Chopped” premiered in early January.
She then won that episode and returned to face the winners of three more episodes in Tuesday’s finale.
In both episodes, Bliss ended up working with ingredients she’d never cooked with before, including the rattlesnake, but she didn’t hesitate, and she rarely bet on a different, potentially better ingredient.
“What are you going to do? They’re taking our phones away from us, so it’s not like we can sit down and research what it was. Google left then,” Bliss said. “Either it’ll work or you’ll make a fool of yourself on TV. Some of them worked for me, some didn’t.”
Growing up in Vancouver, Washington, Bliss often watched PBS and Food Network cooking shows, especially “Iron Chef,” with her parents.
“I don’t know why, but I always knew I was going to be a chef,” she said. “I remember in high school everyone around me was like, ‘Why am I going to college?’ And I’m, like, ‘Oh, I’m just going to culinary school.’ ”
Bliss earned a bachelor’s degree from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, majoring in Culinary Arts Management, and returned to the Pacific Northwest to work in Portland before heading to the Puget Sound area. , including a passage as a submarine. cook at now closed Four swallows on Bainbridge Island.
Bliss, 34, joined the Conversation in the Thompson kitchen in November 2019.
“I feel like my cooking is really based on my inspirations from growing up in the Northwest,” she says. “We are so lucky to have the forest, the mountains and the Sound close by. We have an arsenal of ingredients to choose from. … When I was younger I was really into traditional French cooking, cooking everything with butter, but as I get older I like to find ways to incorporate interesting flavors without it being super heavy.
Bliss posts pictures of herself culinary creations on her Instagram page and, as is often the case these days with reality competition shows, that’s how a “Chopped” rep found and recruited Bliss to the program.
Bliss says her Thompson bosses were supportive even though the “Chopped” opportunity came just as the hotel was preparing to reopen Conversation after a 19-month pandemic shutdown. In October 2021, “Chopped” took Bliss to Knoxville, Tennessee to film his title shot.
She said the taping of her first episode happened during a 16-hour day.
“If I look a little crazy doing the interview [segments] it’s because it was all done in the end,” she says.
In this first episode of “Chopped,” Bliss talks about a bit of anxiety, which she says likely kept her from competing in TV cooking contests in her 20s.
“Nowadays there are [are] a lot of people are talking about it, especially people in our industry and especially chefs,” Bliss says. “I don’t feel like it’s so quiet anymore. As I got older, and especially going through the COVID pandemic, I started talking about it with my doctors. …I think it gave me the confidence to jump the no and do something like this.
Bliss, who will create a meal as part of the Field to Table Meal Series at Lumen Field on Saturday, says she was surprised that her dessert was her most successful creation in the finale.
“Before going on the show, I thought I’d probably be the weakest in dessert, because the typical savory chef here, right?” Bliss said. But she ended up creating upgraded versions of the desserts she made in the two “Chopped” episodes (apple-ricotta donuts and dark chocolate custard) and put them on. the Chat menuwhere they remain to this day.
“I actually took inspiration from on-the-fly thinking with the two desserts I made on the show,” Bliss said. “I thought, well, fuck, if it passed the ‘Chopped’ judges, maybe Seattle would like that.”