SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – On the Food Network series Chopped, four professional chefs must put their culinary skills to the test as they face off against one another to prepare a three-course meal that wows judges with the use of supplied and sometimes unusual ingredients.
Earlier this month, South Plainfield native and current Houston, TX resident Shannen Tune was declared winner on Chopped,’ and can now add the honor to an already prestigious culinary resumé that includes executive chef and, most recently, food truck entrepreneur. Additionally, Tune now has bragging rights as the first Houstonian – and South Plainfielder – to win on the Food Network series.
“It feels awesome,” said Tune, who earlier this year quit his job as an executive chef to launch the Houston-based Craft Burger Food Truck. “I was underestimated by the judges as soon as they heard I was a food truck chef. They didn't know I worked at some of the best hotels in country.”
Tune first auditioned for Chopped four years ago but, despite getting to the final round, wasn't picked to appear on the show. Over the years, the chef received emails requesting he reapply but Tune said he typically would just delete them. Then, last fall, he received yet another email announcing that casting was taking place in Houston.
“A local food writer I knew also got the notice and suggested I give it another shot,” Tune said, adding that at the time, he was still working as an executive chef at Houston’s Hotel Derek but had given his notice with plans to open his food truck business in the upcoming months. “At that point I thought ‘why not.’ I figured whatever PR I could get was worth it so I searched for the old email and two weeks later was filming in New York City.”
Tune filmed the March 8 episode of Chopped, entitled ‘Beg, Borrow or Eel,’ back in September and during his trip had the opportunity to spend a few extra days on the east coast. “It was the first time in nine years that I had been back to South Plainfield,” Tune said, adding that he was thankful to a good friend who let him crash on his couch.
Although the second time was charm for Tune, it was months before he could share his good news. “The hardest part was not telling people I was on the show. I was extremely excited and wanted to share it,” Tune said. “Then, a month before it was to air - on Feb. 8 to be exact – I still couldn't tell them that I won and the funny thing about it was that most people, because you won’t tell them the outcome, just assume you lost.”
On Chopped, Tune was required to prepare an appetizer, entrée and dessert. For his appetizer, he made a raviolo (ravioli with egg yolk) with a garlic butter sauce and sautéed eel and, for the entrée round, prepared a chicken-fried Cornish hen with maple bourbon syrup. Tune then went on to dominate the dessert round with his Texas fair-inspired beer battered chocolate moon pie.
One of the first jobs Tune, a 1998 graduate of South Plainfield High School, had was at the Holiday Inn on Stelton Road. He first started in customer service and over his time there worked up to restaurant manager but could often be found in the kitchen. “I spent a lot of time in the kitchen and learned a lot from the cooks there. I made my first omelet and learned how to properly make a steak while working there,” he said, adding that it was his co-workers at the hotel who convinced him to go to college.
Tune attended Middlesex Community College for a year and then transferred to Johnson and Wales University in Norfolk, VA before earning his degree in applied science of culinary arts at the university’s Miami, FL campus. His first ‘real’ cooking job was at the Mandarin Oriental in Miami; there he worked through the ranks, starting at the very bottom as a line cook.
Over the past 17 years, Tune moved up the ranks and has worked in and run the kitchens of some of the best hotels in country. In addition to the Mandarin Oriental in both Miami and New York City, he has cooked up cuisine at a variety of places on the Las Vegas strip, including Caesar’s Palace, MGM Grand, Platinum Hotel and The Luxor. He spent time California at the Terrenea Resort and, after relocating to Texas, worked at Hotel Icon – Houston, the Driskill Hotel and, for over three years, served as executive chef at the Hotel Derek’s Revolve Kitchen + Bar. In early 2015, he made the decision to leave the hotel industry to behind and launch the Craft Burger Food Truck with his business partner Shadi Ardekani.
Craft Burger specializes in unique burgers made from all natural, locally sourced beef and produce, as well as specialty sandwiches, salads, milkshakes and sides. Among the menu items is Chef Tune’s signature ‘The Morning After’ burger, which features a grilled, all natural black angus parry, smoked gouda, crisp potato hash, brown sugar-rubbed bacon and a free-range sunny side up egg on a cheddar-bacon waffle.
And, unlike typical food trucks, which usually pick a spot and set up shop at that very same location daily, Craft Burger Food Truck is a true mobile eatery. Customers can follow Craft Burger on social media to find out where the eatery will be that day and at what time.
According to Tune, a big factor in his decision to start his own business stemmed from his desire to make his own rules and spend more time with his family.
“I had spent my entire career in a hotel and I was always racing and running and rushing to get to be an executive chef. I wanted to be that guy in charge and then once I was I realized I really wasn't – there was always someone above you and you don't have as much say as you think you do. I wanted to do more and couldn't,” said Tune, adding that spending an average of 14 to 16 hours a day in the kitchen didn't leave him much time to spend with his wife, Stacey, who is also a chef, and their two children, Shannen Jr., 10 and Sofia, 4.
“I was missing out on too much,” he said. “As a chef, you are the one people are coming for - you and your food – so I thought why do it for someone else when I can do it for myself.”
For his success on Chopped, Tune received $10,000 and has already invested his winning in Craft Burger with he and Ardekani looking to purchase another food truck in the near future.
“Our goal is to franchise and hopefully soon they will be everywhere. Maybe one day, there will be one in South Plainfield,” he said.
You can follow Craft Burger Food Truck on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/craftburgerfoodtruck/ or on Instagram by searching ‘CraftBurgerFoodTruck.’ You can also follow Shannen Tune on Instagram by searching ‘ChefTune.’ For additional information, visit www.craftburgerfoodtruck.com.
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