Former military chef outcooks opponents on Food Network show 'Chopped'
By Ted Booker | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. | Published: June 2, 2013
He survived the chopping block.
Robbie L. Myers — a former military chef at Fort Drum — always wanted to test his culinary talent on the Food Network show “Chopped,” but his busy military career never freed up the time. But that chance arose last year, after he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and medically discharged last June.
The “Military Salute” edition of “Chopped” featuring Mr. Myers aired for the first time Tuesday night following Memorial Day. Mr. Myers competed against other retired military chefs to make innovative appetizers, entrées and desserts using the same ingredients within a limited time to avoid being “chopped” from the competition. After surviving each round, Mr. Myers took home a winning prize of $10,000.
Mr. Myers, who is adjusting to family life at his Adams Center home, said the prize has gone a long way toward paying the bills for his eight-member family, including his infant daughter, Violett, who was born in May. Now pursuing a culinary career, he recently was hired as a chef to serve during the summer season at the Wellesley Island Hotel.
He said he didn’t expect to outcook his opponents when the show was filmed in December at Food Network’s New York City headquarters.
“I was sick on that day and couldn’t smell or taste anything, which you need to cook well. I drank half a bottle of Mucinex before I got on the set,” said Mr. Myers, who has cooked for troops in South Korea, Germany and Afghanistan.
But the 32-year-old’s innovative cooking made up for that handicap during the competition, in which contestants are judged on the taste, creativity and presentation of dishes. It took Mr. Myers about 20 minutes to finish making a salad in the appetizer round, which included freeze-dried roast beef, Persian pickled vegetables, rainbow chard and Middle-Eastern mint yogurt soda. In the entrée round, chefs were given Afghan flatbread, goat chops, zucchini and survival candy to work with. This round gave Mr. Myers the chance he needed to show off his expertise.
“Survival candy is little red pieces loaded with carbs to keep you (exercising) for long distances. That was the curveball ingredient, but I chose to grind it up and use it on the goat chops for flavor,” he said, explaining he was the only one who did.
Squaring off against a former Navy chef one on one in the finale, Mr. Myers created a “deconstructed sundae” using pomegranates, pilot-bread crackers, fruit-chew candy and dried carrots.
“The Navy guy’s dessert was better than mine,” he said, “but the judges take all three rounds into consideration.”
The prize was an unexpected windfall for the Myerses, who have been through many trials during the past two years.
Mr. Myers, who served two tours in Afghanistan, in 2006 and 2009, was exposed to stressful combat conditions in which he witnessed close friends die. About 20 soldiers died during the first 17-month tour, when his infantry battalion served in the Korengal Valley.
“We took incoming rounds of fire almost every day,” he said, “from heavy machine guns, 107-millimeter rockets and snipers.”
He was diagnosed with PTSD in 2011 while serving as a noncommissioned officer stationed at a non-combat base in Germany, where the environment was much different. That’s when the PTSD surfaced.
“In an infantry unit it’s a very hard environment, and it’s easy to have symptoms of PTSD kind of hidden because an outburst of anger kind of blends in with the environment. But that behavior stands out at a soft-skilled base,” Mr. Myers said.
His wife, Jamie L., said she is happy to see her husband on the road to recovery after making it through stressful times together.
“The transition from military to civilian life was a struggle, and there were ripple effects in the family and changes in our lifestyle,” she said. “Winning this prize on the show has been a blessing for our family, and I know going on the show is something he wanted to do for a long time.”
“She’s my brain,” Mr. Myers said of his wife, who is a health care provider for the Cerebral Palsy Association and a substitute teacher for students with special needs in the South Jefferson Central School District.
“Our big goal right now is to find a bigger house for the family. And I’d eventually like to start my own restaurant,” he said.