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Atlantic City resident chef takes spotlight on TV competition

  • Food & Drink

It’s important to be supported. After attending a recent screening, one thing is clear, Hard Rock bets on its employees. 

BreakingAC was invited to a private event at Kuro where friends, family and coworkers could find out en masse whether Executive Chef Leslie Daniel won the latest episode of the cooking game show, "Guy’s Grocery Games," hosted by Guy Fieri on the Food Network. 

photo  Those gathered ate Leslie Daniel's food as they watched him compete.
 


Guests were treated to a lavish spread of sushi, signature cocktails and even a rendition of the tostada that our hometown chef prepared for the first round of the competition. The tostadas were unique to say the least.

Chef Daniel also grabbed the mic during the commercials to explain the nuances of the competition on Season 36, Episode 12 entitled "Hunter’s Whammy Cart."

Allow me to explain. 

When you think of tostadas, you’re probably not thinking of wasabi peas, bananas and baby food. But those are a few of the ingredients that the chefs were required to use in their dishes. And somehow, miraculously, Chef Daniel made it work! 

I ate two. 

Banana, wasabi creme is now a thing!

The premise of this week’s show is this: Fieri's son, Hunter, hasn’t restocked the studio store properly.

Instead, he puts six “returned items” into each of the contestant’s shopping cart. Thes six items must be used in either of the two cooking rounds. 

Round one was a hometown dish and round two a “grilled feast.”

Incidentally, the wrinkle added to round two is that competitors could only pull items from even aisles of Guy’s Grocery Store. This meant zero produce was allowed. 

Contestants are scored on a 50-point scale. The winner gets to shop in a bonus round for up to $20K! 

So how did he do? 

SPOILER ALERT: Chef Leslie knocked out the other three competitors with a total score of 42. 

photo  Cheering on Chef Leslie.
 


He managed to shop until he dropped ... $16,000 into his bank account. Not a bad payday for cooking with sweet potato baby food, Slim Jims and Nacho cheese and the aforementioned trio of mandatory ingredients. 

In another lesson entitled Life Isn’t Fair, Daniel was tempted with a mystery check he could take in place of running in the bonus round. 

This week, the check totaled higher at $17,500. 

But, as Daniel said to Fieri on the show: “I came here to do a challenge. So, I’m going to do the challenge.” 

The evening finished with remarks from George Goldhoff, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, and Chef Leslie being presented with a custom guitar. 

Among the fashion-forward guest list of locals was Boxing Hall of Fame legend Jamillia Lawrence and her wife, Tiffany Jordan, who both made sure Chef Leslie was looking fierce with fabulous hair from their Atlantic City business of note, Violet Mae’s Naturally Right Hair Salon. 

Other sister properties sent in sentiments via video for the chef-turned-television star. 

You can catch the replay of the show on the Food Network at 5 p.m. Sunday.

BreakingAC also caught up with Chef Daniel to ask some questions about his life in the kitchen.


BreakingAC: You mentioned in your bio that you asked for an Easy-Bake Oven when you were a kid. Can you point to a particular reason or moment that made you want to ask for that? 

Leslie Daniel: As a child I was always interested in cooking. When I saw the Easy-Bake Oven, I was excited about the possibilities I could make inside of it! My dad found a unique Halloween version with spooky brownies and a Frankenstein case. It was like a mad scientist baking kit.

BAC: Who were your cooking heroes when you were young? Are they the same now? 

LD: I've never really had a cooking hero. Food has always been my inspiration. In the times we live in now, I can see so many different chefs and how they view food. From a young age my parents introduced me to a lot of different cuisines. So they were a huge kickstart for my inspiration. They have always been such strong supporters in my career. I can say that they are still my heroes ever since day one!

BAC: What is the most common misconception about being a chef? 

LD: One of my favorite misconceptions is that people think we cook for ourselves at home the way we do at work. I spend a lot of time preparing food for guests trying to make a memorable dining experience. Then I go home and eat an Uncrustable pb&j with a can of Sprite .

BAC: How did you learn the art of Asian cuisine?

LD: I started back in Miami. A couple friends from culinary school were working at Katsuya in South Beach and asked their chef to give me a chance to learn and work. From there, I was hooked! Everything I learned was from hands-on experience and from the chefs I worked with over the years. 

BAC: What are any fundamental differences between Asian cooking and European cooking techniques? 

LD: One cooking technique that comes to mind is the Japanese art of tempura. That cooking technique is a unique craft. Sautéing, grilling and steaming are all very universal but used in unique ways in both cooking styles.

BAC: What goes into planning a menu like the Cherry Blossom Festival one? 

LD: I really just wanted to create something fun and elevate some traditional dishes — fun street foods and sweet treats under the blossoms. Just looking into what foods are commonly served during this time during the street festivals, and trying to translate them into a new experience.

BAC: Is this the first time you applied to be on Food Network? 

LD: I've applied to Food Network twice before as an up-and-coming cook when I was in Las Vegas for shows like "Chopped" and "Hell's Kitchen." Even now, I still want to compete. They have a new show called "Next Level Chef" I would love to compete in!

BAC: Was filming fun? Or just a long day? 

LD: Filming was definitely a fun experience. Everything happens so fast. One minute the rules are being explained and the next thing you know you're in the action and then the day is over. It’s such a rush.

BAC: Do you have an X-year plan to accomplish any particular dream, accomplishment or career move? 

LD: I'm honestly living my dream right now! My goal is to keep doing that by taking the opportunity I have to share my vision of food and knowledge with anyone who wants to be a part of that goal. I really hope to be a part of opening new restaurants and just making great dishes. 

BAC: Do customers find it intriguing that you are the executive chef of an Asian restaurant? 

LD: I think guests are surprised when they find out that I am the executive chef. No one ever comes out and says it. But you can see it in their faces. I share a leadership role with the executive sushi Chef Shingo. He handles the sushi program and I focus on the hot and cold kitchen areas.

BAC: What’s your favorite cooking technique to do? Is any cooking task Zen for you? Making a certain sauce? Peeling potatoes? 

LD: I love to do any style of cooking. Being in the kitchen is my Zen. From knife work to sauté or grilling, I love it all. Cooking is just my passion. Just recently I was making dumplings and just found myself in my happy place. Making them all consistent and knowing that people would enjoy them later just put a smile on my face.

BAC: Finally, what would you eat for your last meal?

LD: I've thought about my last meal a couple times and it's honestly so hard to choose. Lately, I've loved burgers. So a nice burger and some crispy French fries would be cool … or a nice rice and yellow curry with katsu! I honestly couldn't choose!

author

Michelle Tomko

Michelle Tomko is a classically trained performer with a bachelor in fine arts, a five-time winner of Atlantic City Weekly’s Nightlife Award for “Best Comedian,” a North to Shore grantee and a Stories of Atlantic City Arts fellow. She is also an accomplished home chef with years of restaurant, catering, bartending, wine and cocktail experience.

Sunday, May 19, 2024
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