Christopher Walker, general manager of both the Charles Street and Cambridge outposts of Savenor’s Market, was already a regular viewer of “Chopped” when he was selected to appear as a contestant on the Food Network game show earlier this month, but going from watching it at home to being named a season finalist on the long-running series has admittedly been a somewhat surreal experience for him.
“It was like going from playing poker with your friends to playing in a [televised] tournament with everyone in the world watching you,” said Walker, a Boston native, who started his career with Savenor’s as the lead butcher at its Cambridge location on Sept. 4, 2015, before rising the company’s ranks.
Every episode of “Chopped” pits four trained chefs against each other as they create an appetizer, an entrée and dessert using often-unusual pre-selected ingredients, which are unbeknownst to them beforehand, as is the overarching general theme that must be incorporated into each dish. While subsequent episodes this season focused respectively on burgers; bacon mac-and-cheese; and pizza, Walker and the three other contestants appearing on the Nov. 10 season premiere, who included, besides Walker, another butcher from Maine, as well as two restaurant general managers from Massachusetts and New York, were tasked with creating a menu of bacon-infused dishes.
First, Walker and his rival contestants were charged with creating an appetizer within a 20-minute timeframe using a “mystery box” of ingredients comprising yuzu kosho, a South Korean condiment; uncured bacon; a beer mug filled with cheese sauce; and romanesco, which Walker described as “like cauliflower, but green with pointy tips.”
Walker and his fellow contestants were then allotted a half-hour to make an entrée using pork belly; corn; something, he said, that resembled “a Jell-o shot with bacon”; and canned biscuit, before dessert, for which they were given 20 minutes to create that dish from chocolate chips, mac-and-cheese candy canes, wild blueberries and Banana Foster, which is made of bananas and vanilla ice cream, topped with a buttery sauce.
On each episode, the four contestants were whittled down to one finalist via the process of elimination, with the winners of each of this season’s three respective episodes (including Walker, who clinched his spot on Nov. 10) going on to compete against each other in the season finals, which take place on Dec. 8 in Hidden Pond, Maine, just outside Kennebunkport (and where every episode of this season has been filmed).
Of his rival contestants, Walker said, “There were all such nice people that I wanted to be friends with them, but I had to remind myself that they were the competition.”
As for how he ended up on “Chopped,” he said a former apprentice who once worked under him at Savenor’s had previously appeared on the show and recommended him to the show’s producers, who then reached out to him via Instagram.
But despite his newfound celebrity, Walker has remained humble – in fact, he’s often initially bemused when Savenor’s patrons stop and congratulate him for his outstanding performance on “Chopped.”
“I keep I forgetting I was on the TV show because I’m so focused on the holidays,” he said. “We start planning for Thanksgiving and Christmas in June, so in my mind, it’s all just turkey, turkey, turkey – rib-eye, rib-eye, rib-eye.”
While Walker knows he’ll be facing some stiff competition on Dec. 8, he’s also confident that the experience he has gained working at Savenor’s will again help him rise to the occasion.
“Working at Savenor’s with good, quality products puts me at an advantage because I know what I have to do to make sure it tastes right,” Walker said, “and the talented people I work with and who love food have inspired me on the show, too.”