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You could say that chef Shahin Afsharian-Campuzano, currently the culinary supervisor of the Ritz-Carlton Denver and Elway’s, has been preparing for his Chopped debut for his entire life. “I saw how food brought all my loved ones together and how it was the happiest time of the day,” he says. “I had a big influence of cultures to develop my flavors and passions—I’m half Mexican, half Persian.”
Afsharian-Campuzano began cooking as a child, and since then his culinary career has taken him around the world, from chefing at French and English embassies in Mexico City to working under Michelin-starred Joël Robuchon in Monaco to cooking at Havana Blue in the Caribbean to consulting for Mihoko’s 21 Grams in New York. Eventually, he landed at Salati Italian Street Food in Denver, where he decided to apply for the opportunity to be a contestant on the Cheap Eats-themed episode of the Food Network’s hit television show, Chopped. Thanks to Afsharian-Campuzano’s contract with the network, he can’t reveal the show’s results until the episode airs on November 8. In the meantime, we caught up with him to chat about his television debut.
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5280: How did you come to be on Chopped?
SAC: It was pure luck. I came across the application and asked my team members at Salati if I should apply and we all said, “Why not, right?” A month later, I was contacted by the production and audition team and started the long process. You have to do multiple phone calls, videos, and pictures. Then, if you’re selected to be one of the four chefs, you have to coordinate the first recording shot, which takes place in the restaurant you applied with. The show is recorded in New York City in the Food Network studios. I thought it was going to be a simple crew, but I was wrong. Cameras, microphones, and lights were everywhere. It was very intimidating, almost unreal. All of the Food Network team members were very professional. Ted Allen was a great host and tried to keep us calm and in a friendly environment. As far as the judges go, they were awesome and very tough.
What was the actual cooking process like?
This is no ordinary kitchen or service for guests. Once the competition starts, it’s like you forget everything you know. Not knowing a new kitchen, [what’s inside] the secret baskets, or how things work—there was a lot of stress. There were four chefs, four secret baskets, and very little time. The first round is only 20 minutes and it’s the toughest one. In that round nobody knows what they’re doing and all the stress kicks in. We had the least time to develop the appetizer. The other two remaining rounds were 30 minutes each for the main dish and the dessert. The full recording takes 16 hours between [filming the] kitchen, the panic room, and individual interviews.
What is the “panic room?”
It’s a room we went in right after we finished [cooking] each dish. We talked about how we felt in that round. After 30 minutes we went out to be judged. I’ve been in very stressful kitchen atmospheres—the chef life is very demanding and draining and we sacrifice a lot—but this Chopped experience has been one of my biggest culinary challenges in my life by far. It was very draining but fun at the same time.
What were the best and worst parts about the experience?
The best part was pushing myself into something that I never thought I was going to do. The worst was…you’ll see. But really the worst for me was having to open my life to the fullest. I consider myself a very private person, but now everyone knows parts of my life that make me who I am.
What do you hope comes from having been on the show?
I did this show with the dream of showing where I came from and how to achieve dreams. I wanted to show that it doesn’t matter which race you are or where you come from, we are equal and food always unifies. It’s a dream for me to do what I do. I live it and enjoy every day. I want people to see someone who they can relate to and someone who has achieved everything with the help of others. This show is also a homage to my family, my loved ones, and especially my mom and dad who give me the love and support I need to keep growing. It’s for everyone who believes in me.