‘Pork on the Brain’ pays off for Yarmouth chef

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YARMOUTH — Christian Hayes said if he had been asked a year ago if he ever imagined competing on The Food Network’s “Chopped,” he would have laughed.

But on March 20, three pork-centric dishes won Hayes the title of “Chopped” champion. His prize: $10,000 and “bragging rights.”

“The celebrity-centric culture of cooking nowadays puts me off, so I’m surprised that I did it,” Hayes said last week in an interview. “I don’t crave plaudits or recognition, I just would rather cook in the back.”

Hayes said cooking has been his passion for a long time. He started at a young age, quickly realizing how much he loved it while helping around the house after his single mother was diagnosed with cancer.

“Food is definitely a conduit to memories,” Hayes said March 22. “It’s what happens around that meal that you remember. It needs to be honest and true with no performance. I want to cook food for people who don’t give a damn about whether or not they are using the right fork … Food needs to be enjoyed. Refinement is subjective.”

Getting Hayes to New York took some convincing. Reluctant at first, his team at his Bridge Street business, Dandelion Catering Co., finally convinced him to fill out an application.

The episode, titled “Pork on the Brain,” was filmed in a nondescript building in Harlem over a 16-hour day.

To Hayes, the “Chopped” kitchen was like any other “culinary atmosphere.”

Cooking along three chefs from across the country before celebrity judges with the sound of a giant clock ticking on the wall and the commotion of 20 cameramen bustling around, Hayes said, made for a “super stressful” environment.

Especially the first round.

“You have to open a basket and just go. It’s jarring and intense,” Hayes said. “You sort of just grab an onion and start cutting, yet you have no idea what you’re making.”

It was the second round, when Hayes made “brain cream” out of canned pig brain in milk gravy, that really caught the judges’ attention.

His favorite dish, however, came afterward during the dessert round.

“I made tiger fig and raspberry crumble with pig’s blood chocolate sauce and a peppermint brittle. The bacon fat was in the crumble,” Hayes said. ” It was cohesive and actually really tasty, which is funny because I never do desserts.”

Desserts are generally the expertise of his wife and co-owner of Dandelion, Christine. She worked at Standard Baking Co. in Portland for six years before catering became the couple’s full-time gig in 2013.

“We worked incredibly hard to get Dandelion to the point where it wouldn’t just be a side hustle, but a full-time business,” Hayes said. “It took a few years of that, and then shortly after buying our house in Yarmouth, we found the space in Yarmouth to move the operation up here. It was a dream come true.”

Another dream of theirs, Hayes said, would be to open a small restaurant. For now, they plan to put most of the prize money towards some finances and their business.

Aside from the money, Hayes said the effect the show had on business was instantaneous.

“The major reason to do these types of things is because the PR effect is astronomical,” he said. “It has been insane since the show.”

Would he ever do it again? It’s tough to say.

“I would say absolutely not, but I’m such a sucker for a challenge,” Hayes said. “Who knows.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Christian Hayes back at work in Yarmouth Monday, March 26, after being crowned “Chopped” champion on The Food Network.

Christian Hayes and his wife, Christine, opened Dandelion Catering Co. out of a community kitchen in Portland nine years ago. A few years later, they found permanent space in Yarmouth at the old Sparhawk Mill.

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