Virginia Willis Blog

SPOILER ALERT: Chopped, Nuts, & Ice Cream Fiascos


Nuts. There’s the whole nuts thing to begin with… I know you’re glad those are pecans featured in the photo above and not the other!

Ok, before I get started with all that – thanks for reading, thanks for watching, and thanks for your support. Since I announced that I would be appearing on Chopped, I have had so many notes and emails of encouragement. It’s been incredible humbling. It has touched me more than I could ever express. I’ve read the posts on Facebook about being carried into the winner’s circle and how folks just knew I’d won.

I knew the results.

I knew I didn’t win, I knew I had been chopped, but I was still proud. Of course I was disappointed; I wanted to win. But, you know what? I may not have won, but I didn’t fail.

There’s a lot to be said for that. Originally, I wasn’t entirely convinced I wanted to even participate. On one hand, I like watching the show and appreciate the entertainment factor. On the other? I am weary of fighting food. How weird can the ingredients be? How fast can food be prepared? How many can be served at once? How much can be eaten at once? Those concepts are pretty far from my food and cooking philosophies, which primarily involve refined Southern cuisine, using sustainable food, and classic French technique.

The deal is: I love to cook! Chopped was a challenge. I’m not a restaurateur and yet I know I can cook! I wanted to see if I could do it. I also recognize it takes a lot of nerve to go on national television in front of millions of people and possibly fail. I had a 75% chance of failure – and a 25% chance of success.

There’s an expression I use with myself quite a bit, “If you try, you might fail, but you are guaranteed to fail if you don’t try.”

It was an honor to make it through the try-outs and tests just to even have a chance at being a Chopped champion. I made errors, things I know better than to do. I second -guessed myself on a few things and of course knew not to do others, as well. Hindsight is 20/20. I’ve replayed those thoughts and choices again and again. My competitors were very well-qualified opponents but, no one is prepared for the strange ingredients offered up in those baskets on Chopped.

Lamb balls? Seriously? Lamb balls and coffee? Chickpea flour and raspberries? Whoa. I’ll just tell you one thing, an armchair quarterback is an easier place to be! It was hot as blue blazes in that kitchen. There’s no space to put anything. The dishes are on one side of the enormous set and the ingredients are on the other. I just remember muttering repeatedly, “I can do this, I can do this.”

That ding dang ice cream fiasco was nearly the death of me.

I’m not used to industrial restaurant equipment. The whole idea that I even pulled off using the anti-griddle is flat out hilarious to me. Me, of all cooks, successfully using a high-tech piece of equipment from kitchens which often feature molecular gastronomy, seemed ludicrous. In my kitchen, I focus on teaching people how to make chef-inspired food at home with equipment and ingredients available at your local cookware store.

Did you see that fork get sucked up into the ice cream machine like a tornado? Oh Lordy Mercy. I wanted to die, but I never, ever, ever thought about quitting.

I almost made it. “Almost” is rarely good enough for me. “Almost” doesn’t cut it – yet, somehow I am satisfied. Well, almost…. The main thing is that I didn’t give up. I know I am a damn good cook.

And, you know what? I’d do it again in an absolute heartbeat.

Special, special thanks to The Lisa Ekus Group, my trainers Sally Ekus and Debi Loftis, and the amazing folks at The Cook’s Warehouse, especially Matthew Hott, for their amazing support.

I am given much and feel incredibly blessed and thankful. I volunteer with Georgia Cooking Matters, the Atlanta Community Food Bank, and Tonight we’ve promoted #LetsChopHunger. As we consider what it means to have food for entertainment, please also consider donating or volunteering for an organization that helps folks with hunger issues. To those that much is given, much is expected. Let’s share the love.

Lastly, many, many congratulations to Tabb Singleton for his amazing victory. I am so happy and proud for his very well-deserved win. Bravo, chef.

In honor of my ice cream fiasco I am sharing a recipe for CHOPPED NUT ICE CREAM!

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Chopped Nuts Ice Cream

Chopped Nuts Ice Cream


8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups light cream
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 cup 2% or whole milk
1/4 cup strong brewed coffee
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts such as pecans, almonds, pistachios, or walnuts


  1. To prepare an ice bath, fill a large bowl halfway with ice cubes; toss kosher salt generously among the cubes, and add a bit of water. Set aside.
  2. Place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring 1/2 cup of the cream to a simmer. Pour the cream over the chocolate
  3. Let it sit for several minutes, then slowly stir the cream into the chocolate. Once it’s smooth, add the cocoa powder to the chocolate cream. Set aside.
  4. Heat the milk and remaining 1/2 cup of cream to a simmer in a saucepan. In a bowl, blend together the egg yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt with a wooden spoon until thick and light, being careful not to make the mixture foamy.
  5. Whisk in half the hot milk, then whisk the mixture back into the remaining milk. Heat gently, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add the coffee.
  6. Continue stirring the custard until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and it reaches 180°F on an instant-read thermometer.
  7. Remove from the heat and immediately strain into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve. Add the reserved chocolate mixture to the strained custard and stir to combine.
  8. Place the mixture over the ice bath and chill until completely chilled.
  9. Add the NUTS and the chilled custard into the bowl of an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Enjoy, ’cause y’all this stuff is good!!

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, Thanks so much.

Copyright © 2012 Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, LLC.

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37 Responses to “SPOILER ALERT: Chopped, Nuts, & Ice Cream Fiascos”

  1. Virginia, I am so proud of you and happy for you. This essay rocks the entire experience to a rich, luscious, profound and important level far beyond a trophy or a blue ribbon. You are truly a star and look how much wisdom, fun, and goodness has come from you doing this wicked-hard, daunting, impressive and on-going worthy challenge. You took this all the way. On you go!

  2. Hilarious. I came by to see what I missed. Somehow, despite your notices, I forgot to tape it. As for that tweet about the “lesbian chef with lamb balls,” as you would say, “Lord have mercy. ” Of all the idiotic things to emphasize. Although I do agree that you have gigantic cojones to have done the show.

  3. I was a nervous wreck watching you. Just because I wanted you to win so bad and I thought you should have. Your dessert looked amazing compared to Todds. I watch Chopped all the time and admire how the chefs can come up with ideas for the crazy ingredients they put in those baskets. You were awesome and I was so happy when I saw the Cornish game hens, I knew you would be happy about them. So fun to watch someone you know on the show. You should be so proud 🙂 Karla Patenaude

  4. Joanna Palmer/ Gio

    Loved watching you last night, VA. Grace and skill under pressure personified. You’re a winner in my household, believe me.

      • Joanna Palmer/ Gio

        You’re welcome Virginia. We all enjoyed cooking the book during those months. And… the threads are still up and folks are still cooking from BAY’A, as we call it. You’re a local hero you know. We’re all saying what dignity and poise you exhibited on Tuesday, plus culinary skill. In the vernacular, “You wozz robbed…”

  5. Dearest Virginia, Believe me, I am humbled as all I know is that you were eliminated. Our TIVO recorded only the last two minutes when you where dismissed, pretty summarily I thought but perhaps we missed a more rounded assessment. Will try to pursue. Anyway I’m deeply sad that I won’t have the pleasure of following your trials by fire but it IS by fire, manby contestants on those shows look real fools and I’m not sure that does any good, though I know all publicity is good publicity but there are limits. Anyway, my condolences, but another adventure under your belt and excellent experience for another time….a big hug and love 🙁 Anne


    From: Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises [] Sent: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:17 PM To: Subject: [New post] SPOILER ALERT: Chopped, Nuts, & Ice Cream Fiascos

    virginiawillis posted: “SPOILER ALERT!! Nuts. I didn’t win. Well, then there’s the whole nuts thing to begin with… I know you’re glad those are pecans featured in the photo above and not the other! Ok, before I get started with all that – thanks for reading, thanks for”

  6. Applauding your immense courage, Virginia. And that tornado fork? I wish I had such a great memory! Chopped nut and fiasco ice cream for all!

  7. Carole Ashkinaze Kay

    Virginia, you are a class act. Watched the show because you are from Atlanta and a friend of Nathalie’s and was so excited to see you sail through the first two challenges. Lamb fries indeed! That show is about speed, and thinking on your feet and I am in awe of you for putting yourself on the line, something you certainly didn’t need to do with all your years of experience and cookbooks and reputation. You showed em what southern spirit and grace are all about and your spoiler alert speaks volumes about what a great role model you are. Hope I get to meet you one of these days. Carole Kay

  8. We have watched many a Chopped marathon in our house, and we always say even the chef who gets chopped first deserves props for giving it a whirl. Congratulations, you did great!!!

  9. Judy Coleman

    Virginia, you were great last night! I was so in awe as I watched you adapt to whatever the situation threw at you. I could imagine you thinking, “OK, that is not going to work, so I will just ……”. Great job as you represented the South!

  10. Loved watching you handle the heat and the mystery ingredients. Your intro was confident and upbeat. This blog , as usual, was funny and honest. I will watch you cook anywhere, anytime. Congratulations for saying YES I can do this and doing it….Natalie Caine Los Angeles

  11. JoAnne T. Baldwin

    I wish you had told those folks, “In the South, we throw those things away!!”

  12. Linda Luzader

    You know they often have a Second Chance competition for those that did not win in the final round? Hope to see you there! Loved your episode. I kept saying “I have taken cooking classes with her!”. You were wonderful; really enjoyed watching the show this time.– A student in OH– Linda L.

  13. Beckie Vanderpool

    Bravo! Your grace under fire was an inspiration! I would have fainted upon opening the first basket – ugg! You won without winning! Your representation of southern gentility and cooking was a breath of fresh air.

  14. Virgina, you did an amazing job last night! I was at home on the couch rooting for you all the way. You have absolutely nothing to be disappointed about. You had such a great attitude and positive spirit throughout the entire show. You were a classy, well spoken, beautiful representation of the South. Way to go!

  15. Having had the pleasure to work at your side a couple times up here in Maine, it was so much fun to see you on Chopped last night. I know first hand that your talent, effortless style and sincere kindness are no gimmick for the camera. Well done, Chef – you were amazing, win or no.

  16. Kate Tunison

    Hi Chef, I think I missed something – are the measurements for the cocoa included? I always wondered what it would be like on Chopped – now I know – looks terrifying! Thanks, ~ Kate Kate Tunison

  17. Georgia Tanajewski, CKD CAPS

    You’ve got to be in it to win it!! And Bravo for you benig in it. if only there had been some big mouth bass… for sushi!! Your courage and talend inspire us all.

  18. You were definitely “grace under fire”. I loved your use of the anti-griddle and was amazed when I saw the fork (I thought it was a spoon) get sucked up into the ice cream machine! I know Nathalie Dupree is very proud of you and I was impressed at your good nature, your calm, your sanity, and I loved the presentation of the dessert. I also like less sweet desserts. I’m CURIOUS when you mention tryouts, tests, and “trainers Sally Ekus and Debi Loftis”… What does all of that mean? What are the kinds of tests? Are you allowed to say? And what do you do at the tryouts? My friends want me to try out for the show but frankly- I’m like you- I’m “tired of fighting food.” When I am most artful and create visual masterpieces that are also delicious, it takes me days to develop a concept in my head. All cooks and chefs and people who cook- like you and me- we all have SOME experience with throwing things together quickly, and in real life it’s NOT so insane. Frankly, lamb testicles disgust me. That poor kid who left after the first round missed the point that lamb fries earned the name because it’s really the only way to cook them. You HAVE to hide what they are. You can be thankful that you didn’t have to make pasta with Scott Conant and that you didn’t use raw peppers or onions, because he hates those. I hope you got to talk with Marcus. I love him. He’s such a sweetheart. Maybe you will get invited back for a redemption episode… 🙂

  19. Like Sandra, I watched you tonight with my husband and kids. We had such fun and were *really* impressed with how you did. I took one look at those lamb balls and just… wow. But you nailed it! You really, really did. Congratulations on inspiring all of us to step out of our comfort zones and take professional risks. Such an important lesson…

    • Thanks so much. This really means a lot to me. It was crazy hard. I am very glad I did it! HA! I want a redemption round – now that I know how to work the ice cream machine!!

  20. Kay Dickerson

    Virginia Willis, you are the greatest! Just watched “Chopped” and thought you did a great job. You deserve a trophy for even continuing after opening that first basket. Mercy y’all, that poor little lamb!! Hope you are back in Savannah soon. Kay Dickerson Sent from my iPad

  21. David Galloway

    Chef, very proud of you. Your inventiveness and creativity is what I live for in my world. Bravo. I am proud to claim you as one of my teachers. Plus, you’re a great person with a passion for what you do, a heart of compassion, and most importantly, a sense of humor. I am with you on the competition food bullshit. They almost ruined Top Chef last season and have seemed to find their way back. The silliness of combos of ingredients plus the time factor is ridiculous. I refuse to watch Chopped because of that. I learn very little. I only watched it because of you. If TV killed the radio star, it may be that TV will kill the art of cooking. Let’s pray not. Proud of you, Chef. Good job. David

    Dr. David Alan Galloway Senior Director- Galloway Consulting *experience*results*value*

    1501 Windy Ridge Lane, Atlanta, Georgia 30339 office: 770-635-8877 cell: 404-213-7674

    “The danger in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” George Bernard Shaw

    Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2012 04:16:43 +0000 To:

  22. I for one was in your corner. You done good girl!


    From: Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises [] Sent: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 11:17 PM To: Subject: [New post] SPOILER ALERT: Chopped, Nuts, & Ice Cream Fiascos

    virginiawillis posted: “SPOILER ALERT!! Nuts. I didn’t win. Well, then there’s the whole nuts thing to begin with… I know you’re glad those are pecans featured in the photo above and not the other! Ok, before I get started with all that – thanks for reading, thanks for”

  23. Virginia, my entire family watched you tonight. We all think you’re grace under fire, classy, amazingly talented, and strong under pressure! Brava! You rocked it, stuck to your guns, and won in our book! Can’t wait to see all that you’re going to do yet! You were BRILLIANT!
    So proud of you!

    • Soooo well said, Sandra. Virginia was wonderful tonight and I too was so proud of her – I say she’s a sophisticated Southern lady. Grace under fire is right, and even when she didn’t win, still graceful and charming. What a lady!


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