TEXAS CITY — It’s a long way from Po-Folks in Texas City to cooking award-winning dishes in New York.
Texas City native Wade Burch made that journey, out chopping other chefs to win a Food Network contest.
Burch, a 1984 Texas City High School graduate, won a $10,000 prize after he out-cooked three other chefs on a holiday-themed episode of Food Network’s “Chopped.”
The contestants had to create an appetizer, entree and dessert using the same ingredients. One of the contestants was eliminated after each course.
The prize money will help get Burch’s three daughters, Haley, 6, Brie, 4, and Addison, 3, through school. But Burch already spent some of his winnings throwing a birthday bash for his wife, Lisa, and bought the newest iMac.
Burch started his cooking career working at Po-Folks restaurant in Texas City when he was in high school.
“I was 14 to 15 years old, barely old enough to work,” Burch said.
He had just gotten his driver’s license. He drove down the street to Po-Folks one day, applied and got the job — even though he had no cooking experience.
Burch credited a can-do attitude for getting the job. Soon after Burch became a commissary chef, working 30 to 40 hours a week while still in high school and in the Stingaree marching band.
Burch worked his way from Texas to New York, eventually landing the executive chef job for Merchant Hospitality and SouthWest NY restaurant. Ever since he started working in New York, Burch’s variety and range in people’s taste in food has grown to leaps and bounds, he said.
“It was very different from growing up in Texas, at that time, compared to New York’s melting pot of people from all over the world,” Burch said. He worked at numerous high-level spots such as the famed Plaza Hotel in New York with big-name chefs such as Larry Forgione.
One of the biggest highlights in Burch’s cooking career happened closer to home in 1985. That’s when he shucked and prepared half a dozen oysters in front of boxing great Muhammad Ali at the Sand Bill restaurant at the San Luis Resort in Galveston.
Last year, a show executive approached Burch at a trade show and asked if he was interested in being part of the show “Chopped.” The initial response was “probably not,” Burch said.
But when he was told of the $10,000 prize, Burch was all-ears. The show took about eight months to shoot, produce and edit.
Taping for the show that aired a couple of weeks ago ended in March.
His neighbors, good friends, and his family helped prepare Burch for the show practicing about 10 times trying to use the same scenario as on the show of being thrown crazy ingredients and being timed. The practice paid off and helped take any fears and nerves away, especially with the time crunch, Burch said.
The hardest thing for Burch was keeping his success hush-hush for eight months even from his family because he was under a million-dollar confidentiality contract.
On the show, Burch made an oyster dish, a goose with Irish cream liqueur and a holiday themed dessert with peppermint patties and pasilla chilies.
Burch said his most popular dish, though, is a turkey flatbread that he serves up at the SouthWest NY restaurant. It’s a simple dish with turkey, cheese, bacon and chipotle, but “its all about selling food and giving people what they like. Everyone has their most popular dishes. People like to stick with what they’re comfortable with,” he said.
Even after winning, Burch admits his cooking takes a back seat to at least one other chef.
“The way my mom makes that chicken fried steak — as a cook — I can’t make it as good as her,” Burch said.
His mother, Nancy, lives in Texas City.
Despite his win, Burch has no plans of becoming a TV chef. He is helping to open a restaurant with Pat and Gina Neely — stars from the Food Network show “Down Home with the Neely’s” — called Neely’s Barbeque Parlor in New York.