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Waste not, want not is food for thought for 'Chopped' Covington chef

Lola chef Nealy Frentz watches herself get 'Chopped' on Sunday night.

Does Lola get what Lola wants? A couple of dozen 30-somethings gathered Sunday night in the living room of a quaint Abita Springs cottage to find out.

In this case, Lola is actually Nealy Frentz who, with her husband Keith, is the co-owner/co-chef of Lola, a Covington restaurant. And the friends gathered there were on hand to watch the television airing of the Food Network’s cooking competition show, Chopped, in which four chefs compete to turn a basket of mystery ingredients into a three-course meal. Course by course, chefs are “chopped,” until only one winner remains. And that one chef takes away a $10,000 check.

The episode on view, "Leftovers Overload," will air again at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8, on the Food Network.

A cheer went up from the gathered gourmets as the opening credits of Chopped appeared on the television screen and there was Nealy. It was followed by a big Yuk! when the mystery ingredients were revealed. For this is one of the “leftover” shows -- a 30-minute extravaganza of food most of us would be tempted to throw away. Or maybe feed to the dog.

(Spoiler alert here: For those who didn't catch the first run and plan to tune in tonight, be aware that from here on out, we're giving away the plot.)

First challenge required each chef to create a first course from day-old matzoh ball soup, gummy leftover macaroni and cheese and the remains of an onion mum, complete with its sauce. For Nealy that translated into her version of a crab cake spin-off.

Lots of friendly groans accompanied video of the four chefs blending, grinding, sauteeing these weird ingredients into anything that resembled an edible. And, while one chef was chopped, our Lola/Nealy was still in.

Course two: the entrée. Who could make anything appealing from leftover rib-eye steak, very cold mashed potatoes, packets of ketchup and a tired Greek salad?

More yuks and groans from the viewing audience. But not from our Nealy.

“I’m thinking Grecian taco time,” she says on-screen, proceeding to the pantry in search of tortillas. Little did she know that one other chef had a quite similar idea.

So there they were, two chefs thinking tacos and the third planning his version of a steak salad.

Of course, it’s not enough in this competition to simply repurpose food into some kind of edible presentation; chefs are judged on their creative use of their mystery ingredients as well as their presentation. Somehow, steak salad didn’t give off an air of great creativity. So one more chef was chopped.

And then there were two. And it was time for the final course. Once more the gathered gourmets groaned when the mystery basket revealed part of an ice cream sundae, some old bananas, torilla chips and some very flat soda.

For our Lola/Nealy the final challenge was met by recreating her grandmother Byrde’s famous Hummingbird Cake. While the other chef was making peanut brittle out of tortilla chips, Nealy was whipping up her batter.

So did Lola get what Lola wanted?

No. She was CHOPPED!

More groans from the gathered gourmets. But since Nealy had known the outcome for months, there was no groan from her, just a smile.

“They're talking about doing a ‘redemption’ round in the future,” she said. “So maybe I’ll go back and win that one.”

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie.

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]