Houston's restaurant scene has garnered plenty of national attention in recent months, but locals have rarely oozed with pride as they did last week when Craft Burger truck chef-owner Shannen Tune won last week's episode of the Food Network competition show, "Chopped." That is, until last night, when four Houston chefs competed against each other. We were at the Bellaire location of Bernie's Burger Bus last night for a viewing party with chef-owner Justin Turner, one of the competing chefs and the only one with a bricks-and-mortar restaurant. Apparently, it was the right place to be: Turner took home the win—and the proverbial bacon of a cool $10k—for his victory on this week's appropriately titled episode, "The Bold and the Baconful."
Each episode of the hour-long show involves three rounds (appetizer, entrée and dessert courses), all ending with the elimination of a chef. The one left standing in the end is the winner. The challenge is preparing something palatable from a purposely motley mix of "mystery box" ingredients. Turner's concoctions, which included a goat cheese bruschetta and pho with pork shoulder meatballs, beat out similarly intriguing dishes from competing Houston chefs Sean Carroll (Mélange Crêperie, soon to open at downtown food hall Conservatory), Martin Horsey (Stab It food truck) and Angela Rowley (Blackbird Foods).
It was the final round, in which Turner was expected to create a dessert course out of minute rice, Flamin' Hot Cheetos, French butter and Granny Smith apples, that his star power truly shone through. Last night, when his winning dish, a rice pudding with brown butter apples and Cheetos brittle, was unveiled in the final minutes of the show, the assembled crowd of supporters on the patio at Bernie's erupted in joyful applause.
Turner had managed to keep the secret of his win for the past several months and his proud moment was one he graciously shared with family, friends and his burger joint's loyal customers.
"It sounds cheesy, but we're going to Disneyland!" Turner told Houstonia of his plans to celebrate his victory with his 4-year-old son, Cooper. As he gears up for the opening of another location of Bernie's in the Heights this fall and a seafood concept in the works in Memphis, Turner says his primary focus in 2016 is to continue to execute at a high level.
And, as a natural on television, the media career of this budding celebrity chef may be just beginning. Turner says he welcomes more opportunities to cook for national audiences. "The food part is what I love to do," he told us. "I definitely wasn't as nervous about the TV part as I thought I would be, so I would love to do it again."