Olympia Chef Tastes Victory on National Stage

Scorpion powder isn’t the first seasoning you might think of when cooking, but that was one ingredient that challenged Elise Landry, chef at Chicory Restaurant in Olympia, and three other young chefs competing on a recent episode of the Food Network’s Chopped Next Gen streaming on discovery+.

“Trying to incorporate that was tricky,” Landry said in a telephone interview Wednesday, a day after the episode began streaming and the rest of us learned she was the episode’s champion and winner of $10,000.

Landry, 29, who co-owns Chicory with her husband, Adam Wagner, knew in February that she won the cooking contest filmed then at La Quinta Resort & Club — a Waldorf Astoria property in La Quinta, California. She had to keep her victory quiet until June 1, when streaming began.

She was ecstatic with the response from the community, and from friends and family across the country when she and Wagner were able to announce she would be on the show, which included a post on Chicory’s Facebook page May 24.

“Now that the word is out that I’ve actually won, I am getting like, in a good way, bombarded with interviews and people wanting to write articles about me, or be on the news or whatever,” Landry said.

That’s why she chose to compete on the show: to help spread the word about Chicory, which she and Wagner opened last July.

“We don’t have a PR agency or anything like that that is putting us on the map,” Landry said. “It’s all been from our own efforts. This morning I woke up and I had like 30 text messages. I had to dedicate a part of my morning just responding to people and getting back on e-mails and all of that stuff. So it’s been better than expected,” she said of the reaction.

She and Wagner have invested her winnings into the restaurant, complementing funds received from the federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund program issued as part of COVID-19 relief.

That, combined with attention from the show, and improving conditions related to the pandemic, have Landry and Wagner feeling upbeat.

“Everything feels like it’s in the upswing, for not just our restaurant, but just like our community in general and everyone is excited to go back to some sense of normalcy, right?” she said.

Asked if the scorpion powder was really from scorpions, Landry said she’s pretty sure it’s ground scorpions.

“It’s almost like lemony flavored and it’s really gritty. The texture is not great,” she said/

She first thought the powder might be from scorpion peppers, like an intensely spicy chili flake, “but no, I’m pretty sure it’s actually ground scorpion.”

Landry incorporated the powder in her scungilli, also known as conch, in her fritters, and also added it to her accompanying gremolata.

Another challenging set of ingredients: a plant-based charcuterie board.

“All of us … took the dried fruit off the charcuterie board and used that,” not the plant-based meat, which was allowed by the rules, she said.

“Those two ingredients were definitely the hardest to work with,” Landry said.

Landry was pleased with how the episode turned out, the staff cameos, and the messages she conveyed.

“I got to kind of share the story about Chicory a little bit and the fact that Next Gen doesn’t just mean that you’re being cutting edge within just the culinary scene; it’s like having mindfulness for the restaurant industry and just trying to make it better all the time,” she said.

She’s happy that was conveyed on the episode given Chopped‘s national recognition.

“A lot of people who don’t work in restaurants are gonna watch that and it’ll hopefully spark something in them where they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s a good thing; let’s support our local businesses because places like Chicory are trying to make the industry a better place.’ ”

Chicory, at 111 Columbia St. NW, is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday with casual fine dining. Wagner described the menu as drawing inspiration from Landry family members from Southern Louisiana — tapping those traditions and flavors while also focusing on produce and seasonal ingredients from the Pacific Northwest and local farms.

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