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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eat Good Group executive chef Aaron Fish competes on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’

Longtime restauranteur Aaron Fish, seen inside Baba in Spokane on Wednesday. Fish was featured on the TV show "Chopped" and found the experience more challenging and tiring than he expected. Fish is a partner in the Eat Good Group chain of restaurants, which include Baba, Francaise and several other restaurants.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Local chef Aaron Fish appeared on an episode of the Food Network’s “Chopped” last month, coming in second in the competition that focuses on mystery baskets of ingredients that chefs must turn into a tasty meal.

Fish, who has worked in the food industry for 24 years, is the executive chef for the Eat Good Group in Spokane. He manages seven restaurants, a catering company and a brewery. He’s been known to leave his administrative duties behind to work in the kitchen, so other chefs can take time off.

“I go wherever I’m needed,” he said. “Every week is different. There’s never not something new to do.”

Competing on a cooking show was definitely something new to do. Fish said a “Chopped” producer first reached out about having him on an episode more than a year ago, but he couldn’t fit the filming into his schedule. Last December, it finally worked to film an episode that aired March 26.

Fish said he saw the show as an opportunity to grow his career and brand as well as publicizing the Eat Good Group.

“I was excited to represent Spokane,” he said. “I felt good about going on there to represent our culinary scene.”

Fish said he watched a few episodes to prepare and thought it would be easy. But it wasn’t as easy as it looked.

“It was one of the more difficult things I’ve done,” he said. “The real stress is the unknown about what you’re getting in your basket.”

Chefs must make an appetizer, entrée and dessert. Before each course they are given a basket of ingredients that they must use in some way.

“They always give one weird ingredient,” he said.

Contestants only have a couple minutes to take stock of the things in their basket, some of which don’t pair well together, and come up with what they’re doing to make. Fish said his goal is to create a balanced dish – a mix of sweet, salty and savory flavors along with differing textures.

“I feel like if you can balance a dish, you’re almost always going to get a good dish,” he said. “I tried to fall back on cooking styles and techniques I’m comfortable with.”

At the end of each course, the contestants must make four different plates. One is for pictures and the other three are for the judges to taste test.

In the first round, contestants were given a fruit parfait with whipped cream on top, pancake mix, bacon and green tomatoes. Fish made a savory pancake with bacon jam and green tomato salad. The first chef to be eliminated was ejected because he did not put a piece of bacon on one of his four plates.

Fish also made it through the second round, where he made deconstructed sweet potato hash with quail egg sauce. In the third round, he was up against one other chef – Jen Swan, head chef at the Brunch Apothecary in Dacula, Georgia – to make dessert. They were given scrapple, apples, hash browns and Durian coffee. Fish created scrapple and apple donuts with butterscotch sauce.

Fish said it was the instant Durian coffee that brought him down. It has a pungent smell, which Fish described as smelling “like farts.” He used it as an ingredient in his butterscotch sauce, which proved to be too overpowering.

“I think the sauce was fine,” he said. “I just put too much on the plate. But also, I’m not much of a dessert guy.”

Fish said he was a bit surprised that he came in second, given the praise the judges had been giving his food and plating. He said Swan is a wonderful person and he’s glad she won. The two became friends during filming and still talk.

“At the end of the day, I accept the decision,” he said. “I’m happy that she won. Second is still pretty dang good.”

Fish said he’s noticed an uptick in his social media followers since appearing on the show and said he was even recognized in the grocery store recently.

“It feels really good, the amount of positive support I’ve been getting,” he said. “It’s opened some opportunities and doors for me.”