The Dover Public Library held a virtual event Monday night replicating Food Network’s “Chopped” featuring chef of local restaurant Stages at One Washington and three-time “Chopped” champion Evan Hennessey. 

Hennessey, a Dover native, participated in the “Chopped” challenge and hosted the free virtual event from the kitchen of his own restaurant, Stages, at 1 Washington Street in Dover. The show’s format requires four participants to create an appetizer, entree, and dessert in three separate rounds with rigorous time constraints. The challenge is that the chefs are given a basket of random ingredients with no time to prepare before putting the dish together. They are judged upon the conclusion of each round until there is one chef remaining – the “Chopped” champion.  

Hennessey received his first “Chopped” title in 2018, and for his hometown of Dover, agreed to replicate the competition in front of the online audience live, as well as answer questions about his experience and cooking in general. He said staff of the public library reached out to him originally to do a Q&A segment after coming up with the public competition on their own, and the idea evolved from there. Hennessey said the intent was to reach out to the community and keep them engaged and motivated during tough times. Viewers of the event had the opportunity to vote on the secret basket ingredients when they signed up for free online. Reception was so high that the Dover Public Library had to change the link to accommodate more participants. The library is also sponsoring the competition for folks at home with three categories: adult – judged by Chef Hennessey – teen, and family.  

In the Q&A portion of the event, he answered questions from “Chopped” fans about his experience on the show. He reaffirmed the realness of the pressure and how much stress the event can bring upon its contestants. It appears just as on screen, he said, where there’s  

At Stages, Hennessey said he’s used to cooking in front of diners, so he’s used to an audience in a sense, but said no “Chopped” participant wants the station closest to the judges, where he said you can hear their comments. 

He recalled one of his most proud dishes on the show, a nicely cooked piece of venison accompanied by a meal that made one of the judges “feel like they were in Copenhagen.” Just what Hennessey said he was going for. 

The basket ingredients for Monday night’s “Chopped” one round virtual event were as follows: Funyuns, pineapple, squid ink pasta and spam. Hennessey was given 20 minutes to create an appetizer from the basket and answered questions prior to and during the event.  

When the timer started, Hennessey got right to work, slicing the pineapple into chunks, salting it and throwing it on the grill. His piece of advice for home cooks was to taste your food, but also to use salt to help bring out the other flavors in an ingredient, as he did for the pineapple. 

He cut down the spam into cubes, combining it with butter and water in a saucepan. He said he aimed to render it down so it could be pureed. He then chopped the Funyuns into small bits, combining the crumbs with herbs like dill and basil. He blended the squid ink pasta into a powder, aiming to use it as a crunch with the final product. 

Hennessey labelled his dish “grilled pineapple with a topping of herbs, Funyuns and squid pasta with a spam puree.” Surprised with the positive outcome of the spam and the processed Funyuns, he said, “I’ve outdone myself.” 

In an interview with The New Hampshire, Hennessey said the “tough and real situation” the restaurant industry is dealing with is a “huge makeover,” in closing and adapting to different models. In the tough scenario, he said, it is the restaurants that adapt that will make it.  

He said that patrons should continue to go to restaurants, and encouraged customers to contact their favorite restaurants if they are uncomfortable with sit-in dining, and ask them what they’re doing to ensure the safety of their patrons. Hennessey said restaurants are doing “some of the best jobs in sanitation standards,” going above and beyond to make their places of business safe. 

After over nine years, Hennessey said Stages is going strong and thriving, having added another time slot for patrons to dine-in six people at a time. 

Photo courtesy of Food Network