SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- If the contestant on the Food Network's Chopped Sweets! episode on Monday, Feb. 24, looks familiar to you, there's a good reason: you might have run into him in your local travels. 

Scotch Plains resident Joe Murphy, a corporate pastry chef for the legendary restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten, founder of the Jean-Georges Restaurant Group, competes on the Food Network program, hosted by Chopped! judge and Best Bakers in America host Scott Conant, airing at 10:00 p.m. 

On the show, four bold pastry artists take on one of the toughest tests of their lives, according to the Food Network website. The "sugar-savvy chefs" must use a "baffling basket of ingredients" and race against an unrelenting clock to demonstrate their skill and imagination as they compete for a $10,000 prize.

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In Monday's episode, Conant challenges the chefs to create miniature treats that are "delectable little works of art." In the first basket, one of the ingredients is a savory spread. In round two, they must use a "peculiar powder" into their creations. The two finalists must figure out what to do with the final basket that included an ingredient "that goes pop."

Murphy, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) with a degree in baking and pastry, has worked at many of the top eateries in New York City, including the Symphony Café, La Côte Basque, and Park Avenue Café. In 1997, he became the executive pastry chef at the renowned Gotham Bar and Grill with famed chef Alfred Portale. Later, he oversaw the dessert menu at Bluefin in the W Times Square Hotel and then for Jean-Georges's stable of restaurants that include Vong, V Steak, Mercer Kitchen and JoJo.

A native of Brooklyn, Murphy and his wife moved to Scotch Plains 19 years ago, and the couple has raised their family here. It's not easy since the NYC restaurant business is known for its long hours.

"Many nights, I get home after most of the town has gone to bed," Murphy said in a telephone interview from South Beach, where he was preparing desserts for a food event with Jean-Georges on Tuesday. "This morning, I was on a 6:30 a.m. flight and will probably finish tonight at 10:00 p.m."

Murphy, who has also taught classes at CIA and the French Culinary Institute and helped produce recipes for Gourmet and Food & Wine magazines and The New York Times, says that his favorite dessert to make is... donuts!

"I love making donuts, believe it or not," said Murphy, who was named one of the top ten pastry chefs in America in 2006. "I started making donuts for friends in town, and they told me I should open my own shop. Maybe that's something I'll do in the future."

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