At the start of Tuesday’s episode of Food Network’s “Chopped Grill Masters,” Richard “Fergie” Fergola looked ready to smoke his competition.
The barbecue pro from Gardner flexed for the cameras and said he expected to win.
“No one’s gonna stand in my way,” said Fergola, a special education teacher at Olathe East High School.
But when he opened his first basket of mystery ingredients, which held razor clams, fennel, smoked water and stuffed trotters — aka pig feet — Fergola freaked.
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“I went into panic mode,” he said in a phone interview on Wednesday morning.
Within 20 minutes, he had whipped up a barbecue salad topped with the trotter, smoked razor clams dusted with hot paprika and vinaigrette laced with smoke water. The judges complimented the clams but said that Fergola’s fennel needed more flavor and that his vinaigrette fell flat. He was chopped in the first round.
“I’m feeling a little disappointed,” Fergola said on the show. “But the smoke will keep rolling in Kansas City.”
Joe Johnson, chef at Charcoal Venice in California, went on to win the episode. Johnson will compete against Megan Day of Lee’s Summit in the “Chopped Grill Masters” finale, which airs at 9 p.m. Aug. 29. At stake is $50,000, a trip to Napa Valley and barbecue glory.
Fergola watched his episode with around 150 friends at Austins Bar & Grill in Gardner. He said if he could do it all over again, he’d skip the salad and stick with his original plan to make tacos. But he doesn’t fault himself for the snap decision.
“That 20 minutes felt like 20 seconds,” he said. “It just flew by.”
Fergola has plenty more competitions on the horizon. His team, Fergolicious BBQ, is currently ranked 15th in the nation overall and fifth in the ribs category by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, the world’s largest organization of barbecue and grilling enthusiasts.
“We go out and cook at the toughest barbecue competitions in the nation and win ’em,” Fergola said, adding that being on “Chopped” was a “humbling experience because it’s a totally different ballgame.”
The barbecue pro, who also appeared on the Destination America show “BBQ Pitmasters” in 2014, said being on “Chopped” was an “awesome experience.”
He added that while he was in New York in April to shoot the show, he picked up a tattoo souvenir: “I got the ‘Chopped’ cleaver on my left arm.”