Seadrift chef competes in national kitchen

Amber Aldaco By Amber Aldaco

Aug. 9, 2017 at 9:30 p.m.

Chef Jerry Pizzitola, 55, of Seadrift, carries a pan of chicken spaghetti sauce to mix with noodles at the Pecan House.

Chef Jerry Pizzitola, 55, of Seadrift, carries a pan of chicken spaghetti sauce to mix with noodles at the Pecan House.   Angela Piazza for The Victoria Advocate

SEADRIFT - A few blanched, slightly overcooked asparagus stalks stood between Jerry Pizzitola and a cash award of up to $20,000.

It was the final round of Guy's Grocery Games, and Pizzitola had spent hours cooking and competing against several contestants on the Food Network Show. Dressed in a sky blue button-down shirt and a cowboy hat, Pizzitola received the final verdict from the three judges.

"It was the asparagus that got me," Pizzitola said with a chuckle.

Pizzitola, a Houston-born chef working in the Crossroads, was featured on the July 16 episode of Guy's Grocery Games, a show hosted by chef Guy Fieri. The game has four talented chefs running through market aisles in a high-skilled grocery store cooking competition.

Contestants face challenges such as being given limited time to either pick out ingredients and cook or create a food masterpiece using only a few items.

A chef of more than 25 years, Pizzitola's cooking experience began when he was 11. He grew up in Houston in a Italian family, where food was central to life.

"I spent a lot of time in the kitchen cooking with my parents," Pizzitola, 55, said.

With this homemade skills, Pizzitola has been a chef on several television and film sets in the past, such as "Walker, Texas Ranger." Pizzitola has also taught cooking classes throughout the country for several years, teaching beginner chefs how to make noodles and meals such as paella.

Pizzitola divides his time between his business in Seadrift - First Cast Lodge - and the Cooking Depot in Cuero, where he is a weekly guest chef. Pizzitola enjoys teaching classes and preparing meals in front of his clients and considers himself an entertainer chef. This time, though, Pizzitola's cooking skills were broadcasted nationally.

"It was definitely a once- in-a-lifetime experience," Pizzitola said.

The episode was filmed in Santa Rosa, Calif., in November, he said. The three judges for the show were Joseph Simmons, also known as "Rev Run," a rapper for the hip hop group Run DMC; Damaris Phillips, a chef and Food Network host; and Marc Summers, a food television host.

The set was exciting and intense, Pizzitola said, and at one point, there were seven cameras on him as he raced through grocery market aisles and cooked under deadline pressure. Even though the competition was nerve-wracking, Fieri was a great show host, Pizzitola said.

"Guy is just an awesome person. He's a kitchen angel," Pizzitola said about the famous show host. "He's really a nice guy."

An Air Force veteran, Pizzitola was chosen to be featured on the episode titled "American Heroes," where he competed against a New York City police officer, an EMT and a firefighter. In the three rounds of competition, the contestants had to create a "hearty crew meal," a "hero's sandwich" and a meal that one would enjoy on their day off.

Though Pizzitola lost in the final round, he did not leave empty-handed. While the chef's had a few critiques for Pizzitola, in general, he seemed to have fared well.

"This tastes amazing ... it reminds me of something my mother used to make. You just sent me home, so I'm happy," Simmons told Pizzitola during the first round.

Phillips pointed out the overcooked asparagus in Pizzitola's final meal but also complimented Pizzitola on his cooking skills.

"There were a couple of things you did that I absolutely will never forget," Phillips said.

Annette Rath, the co-owner of the Cooking Depot in Cuero, said Pizzitola has been a guest chef for several years at the Cuero Pecan House. She said she felt he did "very well" on the show.

"I was very excited for him, and I was impressed. Jerry did a great job," Rath said.

Pizzitola said the opportunity to be on the Food Network and to cook alongside talented chefs was exciting.

"It was an awesome experience and definitely a 'bucket list' item as a chef," Pizzitola said.



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