Next Level Chef winner Gabi Chappel relied on cooking confidently, interview

Next Level Chef Season 3 winner Gabi Chappel with Nyesha Arrington, Gordon Ramsay and Richard Blais
Next Level Chef Season 3 winner Gabi Chappel with Nyesha Arrington, Gordon Ramsay and Richard Blais / FOX

After the confetti settled, Next Level Chef winner Gabi Chappel reflected on the one aspect that allowed her to earn her top spot in the FOX culinary competition. While there was always joy surrounding her passion for cooking, it was finding her confidence along the way which allowed her to succeed.

Even before she participated in Next Level Chef, many people watched Gabi Chappel on Epicurious. While she might have been a level 2 chef on that  pro versus rookies series, the talented and curious chef had gone to culinary school and worked in many prestigious restaurants. With that experience, she might have had a little leg up on the competition. As many chefs have said, cooking in a competition, on camera, is not part of normal life.

During a recent conversation with FoodSided, Gabi recalled how the experience unfolded. She mentioned that, at first, she “just wanted to hang” with everyone. But, overtime her perspective changed. It all had to do with her confidence.

While she admitted that there is no “getting used to” the whole experience, she did feel a change during the season. Gabi said, “my confidence built over time. Then, I allowed myself to have more fun with the dishes. Once we hit about halfway through the competition, that is when I started to believe in myself.”

Many chefs would agree that cooking confidently is vital to any success. With the unique scenario of cooking in a competition, on camera, having that little extra in her back pocket was vital.

Although Gabi had on camera experience, she believes that it was another aspect that helped her more. Given that the Next Level Chef platform impacts a dish’s success, Gabi believes that having experience “doing things that I have never done before” made it feel less dauting. No one was ever going to totally forget that a camera was hovering nearby, but not being afraid to step out of the comfort zone can become more familiar.

Next Level Chef winner Gabi Chappel reveals her biggest strength

As the competition progressed, it was clear that Gabi was ready to grasp success. All the other chefs were accomplished and knowledgeable, but Gabi believes one attribute set her apart from her competitors.

Gabi said, “my biggest strength is this immense depth of knowledge of what flavors work together.” Since she prefers to cook plant-based, that appreciation for bountiful produce and the complexity of flavors set her apart. While the protein might always be the focal point, it is nothing without all the other components on the plate.

As seen throughout Next Level Chef, Gabi used purple daikon radish, heirloom tomatoes, and a variety of mushrooms. Through her years of cooking, she learned to not only perfect ingredient combinations but also to highlight the best of seasonal ingredients.

Gabi explained, “peaches and pork taste delicious together because there are notes of sweet and savory. Being able to understand and implement those subtitles is important. It applies even more to produce. There were a couple of times where Richard Blais would call me out and ask if all the produce outshined the protein. Honestly, I think that it’s a good problem to have.”

Gabi might make produce a priority in her own cooking, but it is more than just delighting people with profound flavor. She wants to inspire and teach home cooks to be able to apply these concepts. One way is to step into the farmers market to explore.

“My goal is to help encourage people to feel comfortable and want to explore. Years ago, I would sign up for a farm box. Every month I got the abundance of the season and had to figure out what to do with it. That experience is almost like a Next Level Chef platform grab. Honestly, it was the best way to figure out how to use all that food. I spent money on it, and I wanted to do it justice.”

“I really loved it. Adding together all the elements, creating sauces, understanding flavors. The produce speaks for itself and these bright, vibrant, beautiful flavors taste so good because it is the local farmers who are bringing it to the table.”

Since she never wanted to overshadow those ingredients, it taught an element that earned her the title of Next Level Chef winner. Gabi’s cooking celebrates restraint.

As she mentioned, “leaning restraint has come from all those times where I tried, tasted, and explored flavor because it is not something that you can nail the first time. It is about letting the ingredients shine.”

“For me, when you have a food that is balanced, it takes you on a journey. I want to put that intention into my food. I want it to build up to something with a little more depth. I want to make your palate dance and sing at every turn.”

While food fans will get a taste of her cooking on Gabi’s Next Bite, she hosts a variety of pop-ups and other food events where people can sit at her table. Once they get an opportunity to enjoy that plate, they will be inspired by her creativity and hopefully start their own food flavor journey.

Gabi can be seen on the YouTube series Gabi’s Next Bite and does periodic restaurant pop-ups.

Want to catch up on Next Level Chef Season 3? All episodes can be streamed on Hulu.