It could almost be described as a fairy tale come true for Christopher Walker.
The general manager of both the Charles Street and Cambridge locations of Savenor’s Market, Walker won first prize on the Dec. 8 season finale of the Food Network’s hit series “Chopped,” and is using his $25,000 winnings to save his grandmother’s Dorchester home, where he grew up, along with members of four generations on his mother’s side of the family.
Chef Walker was crowned the “bacon champion” on the Nov. 8 season opener, landing him a spot on the “Comfort Food Finale,” which pitted him against Chef Stacy Mokes of Talula’s of Asbury Park, N.J.; Chef Dan Rassi of Wicked Fresh Craft Burgers and Fire by Wicked Fresh, both of North Conway N.H.; and Chef Serita Ekya of S’MAC of New York City, who were the season’s respective top-prize winners in the pizza, burger and mac-and-cheese categories.
Every episode this season was filmed in August in Hidden Pond, Maine, just outside Kennebunkport, and pitted four trained chefs against each other as they improvised an appetizer, an entrée and dessert using “mystery boxes” consisting of often-unusual ingredients while incorporating an overarching general theme into the meal. One contestant is eliminated after each round until a finalist emerges after dessert (and who ultimately goes on to compete in the season finale).
In the 20-minute first round of the finale, Walker made an appetizer he called “The Family Meal,” in reference to the dishes comprising ingredients left over from kitchen prep-work that restaurants commonly provide to their on-duty servers and staff, and which they eat together “family style.”
The ingredients given to the contestants for this round included pizza pot pie, red sorrel, grape jelly and hot butt cappy, and Walker gave it his own personalized twist by adding red wine vinegar and veal demi to make a hearty soup, which, he said, was inspired largely by some of the dishes cooked in his childhood home.
“In my family’s kitchen, they were always making soup,” he said.
For his main course, which he dubbed “Sunday Dinner,” and which one of the judges called “pure comfort joy,” Walker made mac-and-cheese with bourbon, heavy cream and cheddar. He put the dish together within the allotted half-hour timeframe from the mac-and-cheese stuffed turkey, collard greens, pizza cocktail and wild boar bacon provided, embellishing it with potato and smattering of green pickle.
Once again, Walker drew inspiration from his family recipes for the mac-and-cheese – a comfort-food staple that his grandmother taught his mother to make in the home, where she, too, grew up.
“I’ve worked in kitchens all over the world,” said Walker, who gave his dish an extra kick by using pickled collard greens, which he called a “staple of soul food,” in the pizza cocktail, “but it all started off in my grandmother’s kitchen.”
For dessert, Walker used the allotted half hour to make his “Grandmothers’ Cornbread,” which he attributed to his maternal and paternal grandmothers, who both hail from Georgia, and who each have their own recipe for the dish.
The ingredients provided for this round included a “cinnaburger” (a quadruple bacon cheeseburger with cinnamon rolls instead of burger buns); wild Maine blueberries; mango ketchup; and mac-and-cheese candy canes, and Walker made ice cream from yogurt, bourbon and lemon as part of his dessert.
“Some people think you’re crazy for making ice cream because so many things can go wrong,” said Walker, who previously hadn’t made the frozen confection in 10 years.
Despite the spirited competition between the contestants, Walker said he developed a genuine sense of camaraderie with them, which he likened to the same sense of togetherness he has felt working as part of a professional kitchen staff.
“I really have such great respect for the people I competed with, especially the people in the finals,” Walker said. “They were incredible people, and they were very kind. We had great camaraderie…because we were all showcasing our industries and reminding people to support small businesses, and that’s want it really boils down to.”
(And apparently the feeling was mutual, since Rassi told a reporter for the Conway (N.H.) Daily Sun last month, after hearing Walker’s plans for the award money, that Rassi would’ve shared his winnings with Walker had Rassi won instead.)
For Walker, the money means his grandmother can stay in the home she and Walker’s grandfather bought and raised their family, and where five of Walker’s nieces and nephews were living at the time of the finale’s filming.
“It’s been phenomenal, and it’s nice to know that the light at the end of the tunnel is here,” said Walker, adding that after the pandemic hit, the family barely had enough to cover essentials and were in grave danger of losing their home. “My grandmother is happy, and that’s always great.”