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Santa Fe chef competes on ‘Chopped’ TV show

SANTA FE, N.M. — An appetizer. An entree. And a dessert.

Those are the three courses that Fernando Ruiz had to complete during the taping of the TV series “Chopped” back in June.

And the chef at Santacafé is ready for the episode to air at 8 tonight on Food Network.

“I’m getting a little excited to watch the show,” he said. “When I was there, we filmed all day. And I couldn’t tell you what I said. It was all a blur.”

“Chopped,” hosted by Ted Allen, is in its eighth season on Food Network.

The series pits four chefs against one another as they compete for a chance to win $10,000.

Although Ruiz can’t talk about the outcome of the show, he says it was a great opportunity.

“I had never been to New York,” he said. “It was an experience, to see this melting pot of cultures. It was one of the best experiences that I’ve ever had while being one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

During filming, Ruiz had 20 minutes to make an appetizer.

“It felt like five,” he said with a laugh. “Then the entree portion, you got 30 minutes and it felt like an hour.”

Ruiz has been the chef at Santacafé for four years.

He fell in love with cooking while watching his mother and grandmother in the kitchen.

And though he had a rough upbringing – a former gang member who spent time in prison – Ruiz makes every moment count these days.

“I go out to the high schools in Pojoaque and Española to teach the kids,” he says. “You can always change your life around.”

About 14 years ago, Ruiz was going to hang it up in the kitchen. This is where his wife, Michelle Romero, stepped in and helped inspire him again.

“She’s responsible for everything that I do today,” he said. “When the shows come calling, she encourages me to take the chance.”

This isn’t Ruiz’s first time competing on a TV show. Last year, he competed on Food Network’s “Guy’s Grocery Games.”

Each episode features four chefs competing in a three-round elimination contest, cooking food with ingredients found in a supermarket grocery store as host and chef Guy Fieri poses unusual challenges to them.

The winning chef can collect up to $20,000 in a shopping spree bonus round.

Ruiz took home the top prize on his episode.

“Competing in these shows takes a lot of work,” he says. “I don’t know if I’ll do another one. I have an application for ‘Beat Bobby Flay’ that’s been sitting there for a month. I’ll wait to see this episode and decide. Being on TV is good for Santacafé. It’s good for Santa Fe. It’s good for New Mexico. These shows help showcase the talent in the state.”

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