Christopher Covelli, the executive chef at Sarasota’s Sage and Bijou Garden Café, competed in a Food Network competition last night. In Alex vs. America, celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli faces off against three chefs who are hoping to win a cash prize. “There isn’t a chef more competitive than I am,” Guarnaschelli said in the show’s opening.
Covelli joined two other acclaimed chefs to compete against Guarnaschelli in an episode centered around Italian food—a cuisine the star of the show admitted is not her strength.
The show was divided into two rounds: a “survival round” and a “money round.” The top three chefs in the “survival round” were invited to the second portion of the show, during which they competed for a cash prize if they could beat Guarnaschelli.
In the first round, the chefs cooked with pasta and canned beef to prepare a rustic Sunday supper. Covelli, who specializes in Italian cuisine, made tagliatelli with salsa di peperoni e salsiccia—a dish made with shallots, garlic, pancetta, red bell peppers and the difficult-to-mask canned beef. While his other competitors used the beef sparingly, Covelli embraced it, making it the star of his dish.
Two Italian expert judges, chefs Antonia Lofaso and Evan Funke, critiqued the dishes in a blind tasting. They acknowledged that Covelli’s dish was canned-beef-forward, which brought a few demerits. Out of the four chefs, Covelli came it at No. 3 and returned for round two.
In the “money round,” the chefs cooked with an amaro, a bitter apertif, and six other ingredients of their choosing during a 35-minute timeframe. “I’m going to make something I eat every time I go to Italy,” Covelli said. That turned out to be pan-roasted cod with a bell pepper and zucchini medley and an amaro, lemon and red onion sauce.
Covelli kept his cool while working quickly to develop deep flavors. The two other competitors scrambled in the background. “I used every one of those ingredients to its fullest,” he said as he spooned vibrant vegetables over the fish.
The judges criticized Covelli for overcooking the cod, while loving his vegetables and his use of the amaro. In the end, Covelli placed third overall, which disqualified him from a cash prize, but he did establish himself as a fierce competitor with an impressive knowledge of Italian cuisine. Food Network star Guarnaschelli, meanwhile, swept the competition and lived to fight another day.