When Oscar Padilla — Chef and Founder of Arvada’s Gaucho Parilla (“Cowboy Barbeque,” translated) — won the Feb. 7 episode of the popular Food Network cooking competition "Chopped," he knew exactly what he would do with the $10,000 prize money: give it to his wife.
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“My wife at some point, she put on hold her career,” Padilla said. “She’s sacrificed her dreams to bring me support and help with my dreams and my career. It’s time to pay it back. I want to bring that opportunity to her equal to the opportunity she’s brought to me. It’s so important to me that she continues learning and growing in her career.”
Padilla was born in Los Angeles and has Mexican heritage, which he says inspires his cooking. He and his wife have two children, and the wood fire chef has made a name for himself in the Colorado culinary scene through gigs at Toro and Hotel CLIO.
He opened Gaucho Parilla last month at Freedom Street Social in West Arvada to rave reviews. The restaurant is a spin-off of his wood fire catering business; A Fuego. Padilla’s experience working with a variety of meat and open flames helped him greatly on "Chopped" — the theme of which, for his episode, was “Pig Candy.”
Padilla said that he’s been approached to appear on "Chopped" before, but scheduling issues made an appearance unfeasible.
He let the Arvada Press into a little production secret: the chefs who are invited to appear are often given the option between multiple episode themes. Padilla’s episode was filmed in New York in October.
“When they contacted me, I’m so proud to receive that invitation,” Padilla said. “They offered me the opportunity to participate in two different episodes. That one I feel is better for me right now, because I’m an expert in open fire; wood fire is my heritage from my family, is the cuisine I want to do. Playing and working with fire is my passion.”
Padilla’s passion carried him through the first two rounds of a competition, where he skillfully made an appetizer and an entree from a limited basket of ingredients, wowing the celebrity guest judges both times.
The third and final challenge of the episode — the dessert challenge — was uniquely difficult for Padilla, who says he prefers to eat sweets than make them. He says he was planning on making churros or a donut, but that plan fell apart when the basket he was given contained premade donuts.
Improvising on the spot, Padilla explained in a frustrated confessional, “I’m not a pastry chef; I’m a wood fire chef.”
The momentary discouragement did not go to his head, however. Padilla got to work deconstructing the donuts and fashioning them into Banuelos, a Latin American fried dough fritter.
“I love desserts, I’m amazing with dessert — eating, not making or prepping,” Padilla said. “Sweetness and desserts, I have a lot of respect for pastry chefs; it’s a challenge for me. It’s a lot of technique; cake, ganache, to work with chocolate, to work with sugar or caramels. I prefer the fire, the meat, the steam. that is my art. That’s why I’m not touching a lot of the sweetness.”
Despite the curveball, Padilla’s Banuelos won over the judges. He won the competition handily and accepted the prize money in an emotional scene while holding one of his daughter’s stuffed animals — a pig named Pancho, naturally.
“I feel like my family will be so proud of me,” Padilla said as credits rolled. “Thank you, Pancho.”
Pancho now has a home at Gaucho Parilla in a miniature pigpen, next to a chalkboard celebrating Padilla’s ‘Chopped’ win.
“The last 48 hours have been crazy,” Padilla said days after his episode aired. “Everybody’s seen you on TV; I’m so excited and so impressed about the reaction of the people. “
In addition to supporting his family, Padilla wants to share the cuisine of his culture with Coloradans across the state, which he says has given himself and his family an amazing life.
“One of my priorities is celebrating wood fire, the tradition of Latin America — or why not, North America with the traditional barbecue,” Padilla said. “Whatever people want with wood fire or smoke, it’s awesome. Bringing cuisine from Mexico, from Latin America; that is my heritage."
Padilla continued that that is why he wants to share it with everybody.
“Latin American cuisine I feel is a beautiful world of opportunities to share with Colorado," he said.
Gaucho Parilla is part of Freedom Street Social, located at 15177 Candelas Parkway in Arvada.
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