Josh Hershkovitz was walking into Camden Yards with his daughter on Opening Day last spring when he got a highly anticipated call from The Food Network.
“Somebody let me know that they saw an ad on Craigslist that Chopped was casting in the area, so I sent an email and they got back to me,” says Hershkovitz, co-owner and executive chef of Hersh’s Pizza & Drinks. “After applying and going through a few rounds of interviews, I watched a few episodes and thought, ‘Oh man, do I really want to do this?’ It’s daunting, but it was a great experience.”
The chef, best known for serving up wood-fired pies and authentic Italian pastas at Hersh’s in Riverside, will go head to head with three other contenders from around the country on an episode of Chopped airing this Tuesday, November 1, at 10 p.m. on The Food Network.
The single-elimination cooking show, which premiered in 2009 and is now in its 32nd season, challenges chefs to create inventive dishes using a box of mismatched mystery ingredients in less than 30 minutes for industry big-wigs like Aarón Sánchez, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Amanda Freitag.
A newbie to the world of culinary throw downs, Hershkovitz prepared by cooking under a time crunch. Before heading to New York City to film last June, he had his sous chef put together a few mystery boxes to practice with at the restaurant.
“We came up with some bizarre stuff,” he says with a laugh. “Soup with almond paste dumplings wasn’t one of the good ones.”
In keeping with the restaurant’s locally sourced philosophy, Hershkovitz says he is no stranger to improvising with special ingredients from area purveyors, but competing on Chopped really put his skillset to the test.
“I go to the farmers’ market twice a week, and as I’m buying stuff I’m always coming up with dishes in my head,” he says. “I try to find a way to fit new things into my repertoire, but it’s never, ‘Here’s a mystery ingredient, you have 30 minutes, go!’”
Aside from the experience of being on set (Hershkovitz notes seeing the show’s notorious walk-of-shame hallway where contestants go after being “chopped” as a highlight), the chef says that one of his main takeaways is now being able to do things quicker in the kitchen.
“At Hersh’s we’re very deliberate about what we do,” he says. “I love the history of food and we’re very grounded in traditional techniques, so coming up with things on the fly isn’t really how we do things. But now I find myself realizing that there’s always more you can get done.”
Though details about the dishes will remain under tight wraps until the episode airs, a synopsis posted on Food Network’s website reveals that the competitors are tasked with working with an odd Cajun ingredient in the first heat, fish during the entrée round, and “a drink that you have to chew” in the final dessert battle.
Hersh’s happens to be closed on Tuesdays, so there won’t be a viewing party, but Hershkovitz hopes that his customers are excited to see a familiar face grace their screens.
“It’s definitely a morale booster,” he says. “People take it as validation that the place they’re going to eat at all the time was tracked down by Food Network.”