D.C. chef and Virginia native Jonathan Dearden was recently named the East Coast champion of a nationwide cooking competition hosted by “The Chew,” a daytime cooking program on ABC.
Dearden, the executive chef at the 14th Street cocktail bar “Radiator,” won the East Coast battle with a paella that was inspired by the food he ate as a child. Dearden then went on to compete against the West Coast champion, Alex Padilla, who won the overall competition.
“To have the chance to be on a national platform was just phenomenal, so that’s what really got me excited about it,” Dearden said. “Like, oh this is actually a chance to do something bigger.”
The competition featured multiple stages, beginning with a local competition against other D.C. chefs. Dearden won a live cook-off against two other area chefs to create the dish that best represented the District. He chose to make a classic crab cake, with each part of the dish representing an element of the DMV.
“I actually didn’t want to do it at first,” Dearden said. “But I was like, you know I think I’ve got to keep it simple. And so the inspiration of the dish was a crab cake to represent Maryland, half-smoke to represent D.C., and then an apple and potato hash to represent Virginia. And then I did an Old Bay remoulade to kind of tie it together, like how the Beltway ties everything together.”
After winning that round, Dearden competed on “The Chew” against chefs from Chicago and Atlanta to be named the East Coast champion. He chose to create a paella inspired by the dish that his nanny made him as a child. Dearden said the paella was always a treat compared to the pre-prepared food that he often had when he was young.
“She made a paella for us every Sunday that we absolutely loved,” Dearden said. “It was our favorite thing to eat. This dish felt special and I had no idea what it truly was until I became a chef. So I chose to do a paella – risotto style – with chorizo, shrimp, calamari, mussels, green peas and curry butter.”
The paella won Dearden the East Coast title, allowing him to advance to the final round of the competition, where he had 20 minutes to create five plates of a single recipe. He chose to make a seared cod with an avocado mousse and a brussels sprout orange salad.
“That day in New York, the day before it was like literally 75 degrees,” Dearden said. “So I’m like great, this is spring, we’re going to do a nice, light dish. So that’s why I chose the fish and the avocado mousse.”
Although Dearden ultimately lost that final, he said he wants to take part in another television competition.
“For some reason I do really well on TV and in competitions. Some people get scared… and like I was a little nervous, but when I got there, I felt good.” Dearden said. “If the opportunity presents itself again, I’m absolutely going to jump on it.”