HAMPTON DRIVE ‚Äî What can you make with barbecue sauce in a squirt bottle, pattypan squash, ground pork and a can of chicken noodle soup?
That‚Äôs one of the answers television audiences will find out when they see St. Joseph Center‚Äôs Chef D. Brandon Walker appears on the popular show “Chopped” on the Food Network Tuesday night.
The ingredients are all part of the appetizer portion of the competition where contestants have 20 minutes to whip up a dish. Four contestants compete in three rounds that consist of making an appetizer, entree and dessert with various “mystery” ingredients.
Walker is in charge of the culinary training program at the center as well as chef of Bread and Roses Cafe, which provides meals to the less fortunate in a comfortable and clean setting.
The Food Network got in touch with Walker a year after the executive director of the center recommended his name for something else on the channel.
Walker will appear on a special episode called “Hero Chefs,” or chefs who have served their communities with their culinary talents.
The Santa Monican remained mum on how he did in the competition, but said the show, which was filmed in February, is “completely authentic.”
“It‚Äôs an absolute surprise what‚Äôs in the mystery basket,” Walker said. “It‚Äôs a long, grueling day, 16 hours in the studio.”
Walker said he was proud to represent the West Coast, and Santa Monica in particular, alongside chefs from New York and Philadelphia.
Before he was on the show, he said his co-workers were providing him with suggestions on what to make.
“I‚Äôve taught over 500 students so it‚Äôs kind of an army of people who are watching me and rooting me on,” Walker said.
With a background in fine dining and a culinary school education,¬† Walker runs seven classes per year in the free program, which last for 10 weeks. There are an average of 105 students enrolled a year, he said.
Katty Salinas, who runs Katty‚Äôs Pupusas at the YWCA on 14th Street twice a week, was one of Walker‚Äôs former students from the culinary program. After getting laid off as a pre-school teacher, she wanted to do something else and turned to the program to get another skill under her belt.
“He‚Äôs a great teacher. He‚Äôs really tough, but he‚Äôs fair and he definitely gives you the skills you need,” Salinas said. “And how far you want to develop the skills he gives you is up to you.”
She learned knife skills from him as well as different techniques to cut vegetables and fruits. Walker also helped her re-create a traditional El Salvadorian pupusa with mango habanero salsa and red pickled cabbage.
“He puts colors into food and you look at it and you think ‚Äòthe colors look so amazing,‚Äô” Salinas said. “He says, ‚Äòthe food has to dance in your mouth.‚Äô”
Walker didn‚Äôt always know he wanted to make food dance. He initially worked in public relations and started hanging around event planners and catering chefs. He became inspired to go to culinary school and in 2003, began working in fine dining. But the long hours took a toll and he decided to make a transition into teaching, finding himself at St. Joseph Center revamping its culinary program in 2007.
“I said, ‚ÄòI was your guy. I‚Äôm from the neighborhood and I understand the people,” Walker said. “I was trained very well with all my culinary skills.”
He ended up designing a whole new course that focused on farm to table, seasonal and classical cooking techniques so students were prepared to get higher paying jobs at nicer restaurants. He also has a high-end catering business on the side.
At St. Joseph, he relies on French technique but his flavor profiles include Asian/Latin fusion cooking, he said.
Walker is one of the most skilled chefs St. Joseph has had, Va Lecia Adams Kellum, executive director, said.
She said he‚Äôs brought higher level skills to the cooking at the cafe and the culinary training students. Walker is known for his sauces and dressings, among other things, she said.
“We can‚Äôt wait to see how it all turns out,” Kellum said.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet rely on the old Scripture that deals with teaching people how to fish.
“I hope that when people see we are not only doing great work of serving and helping people deal with issues around hunger and homelessness, but also teaching people to help themselves,” Kellum said.
Walker said he feels “privileged” to work for St. Joseph and teach folks who are unemployed or underemployed.
“I have three daughters and I think I‚Äôm a great example to them, they know their dad is a chef and a teacher and I‚Äôm always helping the less fortunate,” Walker said. “Everybody is so excited about the show premiering on Tuesday. There‚Äôs a buzz on the street.”