Local San Francisco Bay Area Chef Conquers on ‘Guy’s Grocery Games’
Chef Tracey Shepos Cenami of La Crema Winery conquered the finale of one of Food Network’s most popular shows, Guy’s Grocery Games. Her standout dishes wowed judges Aarti Sequeira, Troy Johnson, and Marc Murphy. Her coffee-crusted swordfish steak with foie gras creamed spinach easily won the steakhouse dinner round. When the competitors had to make an upscale lunch using frozen burritos, she continued to wow the judges with a calamari salad with fried bean cakes and Thai slaw. Facing the last round, Shepos Cenami presented a carbonara with egg yolk and Parmesan frico that beat out the competition and powered through to win the $10,000 prize. The Daily Meal had the opportunity to chat with Shepos Cenami about being on the show, her passion for cooking, and what’s coming up next.
The Daily Meal: What was your initial reaction when you were asked to return to compete on Guy’s Grocery Games Supermarket Masters Tournament?
Tracey Shepos Cenami: I was excited to return because the first experience was such a fun time. I won on my first episode (Cheesy Special) so my follow up reaction was nervous because I knew I was competing against other previous winners and the competition would be tough.
How did you feel when you won the preliminary episode to move onto the finale?
Winning the episode was so rewarding because I had a few obstacles (including not plating four plates in round one!). The challenges were definitely tougher this time around, even going into it with previous GGG experience.
What was your thought process when you were asked to create an upscale lunch using something as mediocre as frozen burritos?
The upscale lunch/frozen burrito/wok/$23 limit challenge was probably the toughest challenge I experienced. It was really three challenges in one! Honestly, I had no clue what I was going to do with the burrito. I knew I didn't want to completely disguise it so when I opened and investigated it, an idea just formed and I went with it. I ended up making a calamari salad with fried bean cakes and Thai slaw. When the judges liked my use of the burrito, it certainly validated my culinary instincts. The most exciting part of the show, for me, is the fact that you have to make quick culinary decisions and commit to an idea and then execute that idea with little or no time or opportunity to change it. You are truly cooking not only from culinary experience, but also instinct.
What do you plan on doing with your tournament winnings?
I have plans to redo my home kitchen and create a great space for my family to cook and enjoy meals together.
What did you learn during filming that you wish you had known prior to your appearances?
Filming is tough! The entire experience takes all day — 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There’s a lot of interviewing, filming, picture taking, and other “non-chefy” tasks before you even get to cook.
How do you think your participation on the show will affect La Crema Winery?
My hope for my participation on the show is to represent as the chef of La Crema, to make our wine club members and my coworkers proud, and create growing interest in the winery and our amazing food.
What inspires you when it comes to cooking? What keeps you motivated?
I am inspired and motivated by great seasonal and local ingredients, constantly evolving ideas and concepts, and delicious wine. I am lucky to work with an extremely talented staff who I mentor and who also teaches me new things every day. My job is regularly exciting and challenging and never boring!
How did you know cooking was your calling?
Cooking has been an important part of my life since childhood, since making meatballs with my Nana or cookies with my mom. It allows me to share a part of something I love with friends and family by cooking them a meal, either of my own creation or a memorable dish someone shared with me.