Devon chef cooks up a storm on “Chopped”

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Win(e)ding down: Amis Trattoria executive chief Kiristina Wineski takes a break from the kitchen near the wine cellar. Wineski said her 60-hours-a-week is worth it but tiring.

By Tiffany He, Co-T/E-Life Editor

Next door to the renowned blue walls of the Devon Horse Show, is Amis Trattoria, a cozy family-styled restaurant oozing with quiet charm and Italian flair. In its kitchen, is executive chef Kristina Wisneski preparing fresh ingredients and cooking up to 400 to 500 dishes per night. But this isn’t the only kitchen she has worked in.

Wisneski won $10,000 after competing in “Chopped,” a TV show cooking contest in New York where professional chefs compete making three-course meals. Each round, the chefs must incorporate four unconventional ingredients into a course from the mystery box or risk being “chopped” by the panel of judges made up of Maneet Chauhan, Chris Santos and Geoffrey Zakarian. Wisneski was featured in the episode “Wonton Wonder” that premiered on the Food Network on Feb. 12.

Wisneski received a call from the show while working at the restaurant Enoteca Tredici in Bryn Mawr.

“I didn’t even actually apply, which is the craziest part. At first, I didn’t even think I was gonna get (the award),” Wisneski said. “I didn’t think anything was going to come of it, but something did and it was really exciting.”

In the first appetizer round, the contestants tackled a mystery basket filled with scallions, water chestnuts, wonton wrappers and hot dog eclairs. As the competition heated up, Wisneski felt the pressure of the 20-minute time limit as she crafted her plate of steamed wontons and scallion Salad.

“I was trembling,” Wisneski said. “I was terrified I was going to cut one of my fingers off. I had to tell myself to stay calm.”

In the entrée round, the three remaining chefs opened their new baskets to find pheasant; green tomatoes; tepache liqueur, a sweet drink made of fermented pineapples and spices; and trash can nachos. Wisneski impressed the judges with a roasted pheasant with green-tomato salsa verde and a nacho crumble.

“I stayed calm and stuck to what I know in the industry. You just have to keep your cool and not be cocky; be humble about what you do for sure,” Wisneski said.

In the final round, Wisneski and Chef Patrick Carter from Indiana faced head-to-head with a spread of disharmonious flavors: moon drop grapes, apricot paste, bagel chips and the most dreaded ingredient, pickle cupcakes.

“The most difficult round was the dessert in general. I made it work for what it was until they (the judges) had the huge chunk of pickle,” Wisneski said.

Despite her difficulty incorporating all the ingredients into a moon drop grape mousse with an apricot and mint sauce, Wisneski proved herself to be a “Chopped” champion, taking home $10,000. She hopes to spend the money on traveling to Europe with her niece, who turns 17 years old this year.

Watching the Food Network with her family partially inspired her to become a chef. However, Wisneski’s passion in becoming a chef mainly stems from the time she has spent cooking—and eating—with her family.

“I’ve always cooked ever since I was little for holiday dinners. I have a picture of me and my great grandmother peeling horseradish in our kitchen and my dad used to love saying that ‘everyone in the family except for you would run out of that kitchen,’” Wisneski said.

Horsing Around: Katherine Wisneski prepares horseradish with her great grandmother as a child. when she was younger, Wisneski cooked holiday dinners with her family.

She pursued her interest at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, where she learned most of her technical skills. After graduating in 2013, Wisneski moved to the Philadelphia area to begin her culinary career at Savona in Gulph Mills. She later joined the Zavino Hospitality group, where she was named executive chef of the Enoteca Tredici in Bryn Mawr before taking on her current position at Amis Trattaoria in Devon. With her busy career, one of her biggest challenges is balancing work and family.

“You’re working holidays, nights, weekends. I don’t see my niece and nephews on their birthday or my goddaughter, but you get used to it. Sometimes we just celebrate Christmas on a different day,” Wisneski said.

But for all the time she spends away from her family, she spends even more with her other family: her kitchen staff.

“It’s something I love to do. I probably work a minimum of 50 to 60 hours a week which seems like a lot to a lot of people, but the kitchen staff is basically my second family. That’s why we try to build a team of people that we love because we are with them more than anyone else,” Wisneski said.