BURBANK, Calif. — Former Scotland County resident and restaurant owner Gerry Fong recently whipped up a key lime pie on an episode of the Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” which landed him $8,000 and some sweet bragging rights.
Fong, whose family once owned Fong’s Chinese Restaurant in Laurinburg, set off from home a few years ago to continue his education and explore his career options. Fong worked at many restaurants and eventually earned a degree in culinary arts before settling down in New Bern with his wife and daughter.
Today, Fong is the executive chef and co-owner of Persimmons Restaurant and was one of four chefs to compete on the cooking show, which aired June 29.
“They were intense and they were very fast,” he said. “Everything was happening so fast and they catered to us so much. There were no retakes — what happens, happens. If you burn something on your stove, it’s burned.”
Cutthroat Kitchen is a cooking show with a devious twist — contestants can sabotage each other’s ability to cook by throwing unexpected twists their way. Each contestant is given $25,000 at the beginning of the episode to bid on sabotaging opportunities throughout the show. The winner takes home any remaining cash he or she hasn’t spent at the end of the competition.
“Everybody got set up,” Fong said laughing. “I set up a couple sabotages and I was sabotaged but I kept a positive attitude and kept working.”
According to the New Bern Sun Journal, Fong was in a face-off with a female competitor that had not yet been eliminated. The two had to make a key lime pie for the show’s final round. Fong bid $8,000 for his competitor’s limes to be taken away — she had to dig lime wedges out of beer bottles instead. That sabotage gave him enough advantage to win the show.
But Fong didn’t get so far in the competition without having to endure a few setback sabotages of his own, according to the Sun Journal. In a segment that did not air, Fong’s box of ingredients were locked up and he was given a ring of 200-300 keys, of which only one could open the box. He’d also endured having to use bread as replacements for his pots and pans to make soup and a salad. Fong ended up having to wrap his bread in plastic wrap and cook it in the microwave.
Fong said he was surprised when he was contacted by the Food Network in February after he won a cooking competition held a year ago. He knew he had to decide whether to “keep moving or stay stagnant.” After conducting interviews via Skype, he was on a plane heading to Burbank, California, to record the episode in March.
Being a contestant on the show was the first time Fong had ever been featured on national television. “I wasn’t looking for it,” he said. “I wasn’t out looking to be on TV. The opportunity just came around.”
He said one of the hardest parts about the show was keeping it secret until the episode aired at the end of June. Surrounded by friends and family crowding around a television, Fong said watching himself on the screen was “weird.”
“There were some moments I saw and said, ‘Ah, I forgot about that.’”
Fong and his competitors spent three days shooting the episode at the Burbank studio. The days went by in a blur of cooking, interviews, filming, waiting for the film crew to clean and prep the stage and waiting for the judges to make their decision.
“It was really exciting,” he said. “It’s just like what it looks like on TV — same stage, same pantry — the only things you don’t see are the 50 roaming cameras.”
Reach Rachel McAuley at 910-276-2311, ext. 15. Follow her on Twitter @rachelmcauley1.