Photos: Christina Olivarez of Diego at MGM Grand wins on ‘Chopped’
Wed, Jun 20, 2012 (6:58 p.m.)
MGM Resorts International
Mod-Mexican chef Christina Olivarez proved Tuesday night on the Food Network just why she’s one of only a handful of female executive chefs in Las Vegas. Now she’s become the first MGM Resorts International chef and the first Las Vegas female chef to win on “Chopped.”
Christina, who also is the only female executive chef younger than 30 at all 10 MGM properties, celebrated her $10,000 victory at her restaurant Diego in MGM Grand.
“Being on the chopping block each round had me super nervous. It was pretty intense but self-inflicted,” Christina told me at Tuesday night’s viewing party. “When it was all over, I realized that it was a lot of fun, and I had a blast.”
The 28-year-old wonder chef isn’t planning a TV career, though. “I’m more into cooking than television,” she continued. “I am very passionate about my food and the culture. I’m all about cooking it and eating it. So if I’m invited back for ‘Chopped Champions,’ I’d do that, but you aren’t going to see me on ‘Hell’s Kitchen’!”
Christina spent one day filming the episode that aired Tuesday on her three-day visit to Food Network studios in Manhattan in February. She said that her father is half-Spanish and half-Mexican and that her sous chef husband Armando from Joel Robuchon’s nearby Mansion at MGM Grand gave her practice sessions.
She explained, “On ‘Chopped,’ four chefs compete, and they are handed a black box for each of the appetizer, entree and dessert challenges. There are four ingredients. You get 20 minutes to figure out the first course: I got a duck heart, chocolate I would never use and cherries. Certainly not what I serve here in Diego!
“Then I had 30 minutes for the entree of a fine Chateaubriand steak with chocolate wine. There was another 30 for the dessert, more chocolate but in the shape of red lips, marzipan and a Quince paste. I turned that into a sorbet!
“So my husband and my own restaurant chefs would throw me random ingredients at unexpected times to practice. Then in the end, I worked through six or seven meals with their real oddball ingredients for practice.”
It paid off for the Culinary Institute of America graduate who has been at Diego for four years and started out as a sous chef.
“Since I was a little girl helping my great grandmother make tortillas, Mexican has been my favorite food. It didn’t help me one bit on ‘Chopped,’ though -- except I knew how to work with a chocolate sauce. But I’d never use the chocolate they gave us in our meals here; it was very strange!”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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