Young Olympia chef crowned winner of “Chopped Next Gen”

Kristine Sherred

The News Tribune

Chef Elise Landry, co-owner of Chicory in Olympia, has been named a “Chopped Next Gen” champion.

The 29-year-old chef competed in Episode 4 of the new series, a spinoff of the Food Network’s uberpopular competitive cooking show. It began streaming Tuesday just after midnight on Discovery+.

“The competition went well for me,” Landry, co-owner and chef of the year-old Chicory in Olympia, Washington, said coyly on Memorial Day.

We spoke by phone 12 hours before her episode of Chopped Next Gen, a spin-off of the Food Network’s uber-popular competitive cooking show, was set to begin streaming on Discovery+.

Per contestant rules, she couldn’t divulge details, but she hinted at what we learned just after midnight, June 1: She won.

The prize is $10,000 — and of course the notoriety of being a Chopped Next Gen champion.

Landry, 29, is delighted at the prospect of bringing that excitement home to Olympia and the South Sound.

“I definitely think that being on this show holds more weight here in a smaller town,” she said. “It’s an ideal situation for us. To be on a nationally recognized show, people are excited that we’re repping their town.”

A New York City casting agency, explained only as representing a new show from the producers of Chopped, recruited her in January via an Instagram message — one of those “message requests you almost miss,” she said. “I sat on it for a while.”

Unsure, she also worried about leaving the restaurant. The show was slated to film in February, and at the time of scheduling, she and husband Adam Wagner were operating a takeout and outdoor-only restaurant basically by themselves. After a video interview, she agreed to the four-day adventure.

Learning that it highlighted younger chefs, she said, tipped her: “I’m doing it for the restaurant.” She also looked forward to meeting her contemporaries — including judges Mei Lin, a TopChef winner, and Nyesha Arrington, both based in Los Angeles.

“I was nervous all day,” she said. The filming coincided with the unusual winter storm that dropped feet of snow in Western Washington, delaying her flight several times and leading to her bag, knife roll therein, to get lost in transit. Thankfully it turned up in time for the competition.

“It was a really cool experience,” she recalled Monday. “The hardest thing for me — they didn’t want competitors to talk to each other on set,” for a host of understandable reasons, she said. “I was so excited to meet new people, other chefs my age. I’m also not the type of person to talk shit and act tough and all that. None of us were that way. I think that’s a factor of what makes us ‘Next Gen.’”

In the trailer for the new show, Landry takes a star turn near the 1:30 minute-mark, when host Liza Koshy mistakenly asks the contestants to open their mystery ingredient baskets. A producer yells from the background, “No no no! Close ‘em up!”, as Landry looks over at Koshy, wondering what to do next.

Her appetizer transformed cucumbers and their flowers into a gremolata with scorpion powder, served with a scungilli (conch) fritter over crème fraîche. For the 30-minute entrée round, Landry broke down a whole red snapper, grilling the rich, fatty collar and pan-searing the filet in a crust of cornmeal and cracker crumbs from the oddball basket ingredient of a plant-based charcuterie board. That two-way fish was plated on a buerre blanc touched with snail caviar and upland cress, a bitter microgreen.

Pitted against Atlanta chef Demetrius Brown in the final round, Landry concocted a dessert of uni ice cream with a chocolate-cornflake crunch and pomegranate syrup.

“The next generation is about sustainability, both in our food system but also in the restaurant industry,” she said after winning. “I’m happy to be the one to pave the way.”

Landry and her husband Adam Wagner opened Chicory last July, after securing funding and signing a lease in February, mere weeks before the pandemic shuttered restaurants in Washington state and across the country. They made the best of that time by investing personally in renovating the space at 111 Columbia St. in downtown Olympia.

Her cooking style harnesses her childhood in Kansas City — born on the Kansas side, raised in Missouri — as well as her father’s family roots near Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Before moving to the Pacific Northwest, she cooked in her hometown, meeting Wagner at a neighboring bar. They furthered their skills in the kitchen and behind the bar, respectively, in New Orleans.

“That is my heritage,” she said of her style. “There’s really not a lot of that expressed here in the Pacific Northwest, although people appreciate it. It’s kind of on-brand for what we’re trying to do at the restaurant — using local, seasonal ingredients but applying techniques that you’d find in the South or the Midwest.”

Her father, she noted, is a regular at barbecue competitions, which in part led to the limited-supply weekend ribs special at Chicory.

The couple hopped first to Hogstone’s Wood Oven on Orcas Island before settling on Olympia as the right home for their first restaurant. In addition to being a tighter-knit community than big cities allow, they were also wooed by the stacked Olympia Farmers Market, she said. “The first time we came through, it was just so impressive.”

After a few short months as a pastry chef at Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar, the Chicory lot became available.

It’s been a crazy first pandemic year, but Landry awaits a more robust second summer in the city that, through its support, shares this Chopped championship.

“It’s pretty much a daily conscious thought,” she said of her and Wagner’s adopted home. “I’m so glad I live here. It’s such a beautiful place — I’m in the right spot.”

Stream Chopped Next Gen on Discovery+, which offers a free seven-day trial.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct an editing error in the first and second paragraphs.