Dustin Gauvain doesn’t serve slop at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. And he tried to prove that when he went on Chopped.
The 29-year-old Austin man was recently a contestant on the Food Network’s cooking competition, which pits four chefs from across the country against each other for a prize of $10,000. Most contestants work at restaurants or run their own catering businesses. But every now and then, a chef from a nonprofit shows up.
Did Gauvain win? You’ll have to watch the show because he’s keeping mum. His episode airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. on the Food Network.
Gauvain says Chopped contacted him earlier this year via email, asking him if he’d be interested in applying for the show. He’s not sure how the casting folks found him, he said, but he decided to give it a shot. It was a lengthy process. Among other things, he had to write several essays and had about four phone interviews before being accepted for the show.
Gauvain liked the idea of competing for the challenge, the personal recognition and the chance to talk up the city’s homeless shelter.
"People are under the impression that shelters are soup kitchens," said Gauvain, 29. "We put our hearts on the plates.
Here’s how Chopped works. Chefs are given a picnic basket of four ingredients chosen by the show. The ingredients are usually incongruous (think Sno Balls paired with salmon). The chefs compete in three timed rounds in which they must cook an appetizer, entree and desert. Depending on the category, contestants have 20-30 minutes to prepare their dishes.
At the end of each round, judges "chop" the chef with the least appealing dish.
"The 20 minutes and the 30 minutes is all absolutely real," Gauvain said. "You don’t get to see the basket beforehand. It’s realistic and you just have to start going."
Gauvain got into the restaurant business when he was 12 years old after he walked into a local eatery and asked for a job as a dishwasher. Nine years ago, he found his calling working at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless. Each night, the shelter feeds about 100 men. Dishes include Philly cheesesteaks, French fries, chicken Wellington, tacos and enchiladas.
"Pretty much everything we make is from scratch," Gauvain said.
The show, he says, was a lot of fun. And if he could share with the community one message about homeless people, it’s that they shouldn’t be written off.
"There are a lot of really good people who have had misfortunes in their lives," he said. "I think showing kindness and giving back is something they need."