If you’re a regular “Chopped” viewer, you know of Lance Nitahara, who lost a show to perhaps the best competitor ever, won a second episode, and then joined his former adversary as a sous chef on Iron Chef America, which they won.
He’s incredible. He’s also a camp cook — or was.
Lance was the executive chef for the Purdy Center at Camp-of-the-Woods, a Christian camp about 45 miles north, who puts my kitchen, knowledge, spirituality and ability to shame. He cooks with grace, and even writes with flair. His menus were creative, and the stuff he cranked out on television is the food of every camp cook’s dream. He’s a role model for any camp cook.
And now he’s out.
Lance last month became a culinary arts instructor at Flint Hills Technical College in Kansas. And for the first time, a newspaper was able to talk to him (my newspaper’s calls and emails went unanswered over the last year or so) and capture a little bit of what makes Lance tick.
This passage had me nodding my head in agreement:
“Every summer I would get a new batch of cooks that would work for me. A lot of them didn’t even know how to hold a knife before. I had about a week to train them, to learn my menu and do 21 meals a week — breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was awesome to be able to teach them and impart knowledge on them. To see them really take that knowledge and do something with it.”
And this part had me smiling in appreciation:
“I love the science behind cooking. The food science club at the CIA, their motto was ‘why is better than how.’ They are absolutely right. When you know why, then you can know how and you can know how to change how. But a lot of Chefs don’t know why, they just do it, and they just do what they’ve been taught. The idea is to learn why certain things do certain things, so you can put out the best food you possibly can.”
Check out Lance making ice cream in the Camp-of-the-Woods kitchen: