Tastemakers: Christian Petroni on What Makes 'Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge' Special

Emily Aslanian
Q&A Food Network

“It never, ever, ever, in a million years, ends,” Bronx-raised Italian chef Christian Petroni says with a laugh.

The owner of five Fortina restaurants across the Northeast has just paused this interview after a barrage of phone calls from his mom. There was no literal fire to put out, but she did inform him that the fire department was dealing with a false alarm at one of the locations.

The busy 2018 Food Network Star winner and new dad also joins Alex Guarnaschelli and Carla Hall to judge this year’s Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge. 

What got you into this field?

Christian Petroni: My love of cooking really sprung from television. I would always go to Channel 20 [Discovery] in the hopes that Great Chefs would be on. It was a really fantastic series, taking place in hotel kitchens and five-star restaurants, that showed an appetizer, entrée and dessert. 

When did you move from the couch to the kitchen?

I was 12. On weekends, my parents would drop me and my older brother off at this catering hall. I started off as a busboy, became a bar runner, then I got to bake cookies. I was exposed to such mayhem. That’s where I learned that I felt the most comfortable in the kitchen.

Is there a cooking tool you find essential?

A proper Microplane turns a cold piece of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano into this cloud that melts into pasta, and you can never have too much of it.

Tell us about the Brussels sprouts recipe you gave us.

It’s got that crispy, salty, Brussels sprout that everyone loves, coated in an almost acidic and sweet apple reduction. And then the candied pumpkin seeds… What’s more right when you’re looking for some crunch on top of crunch? 

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Do you have a favorite dish at Thanksgiving?

My mother’s sweet potatoes. She boils them and cuts them into thick discs, and my job as a kid was to put a perfect square of butter on each one, [plus] brown sugar, store-bought pancake syrup, salt and pepper. Then she would roast it. You get this incredibly sweet, tugs-at-the-heartstrings delicious, chewy-gooey sweet potato. 

What makes Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge special to you?

Thanksgiving is one day, one meal. I see [this four-part series] as an opportunity for people to take that Thanksgiving mentality and spread it out just a little bit longer. 

Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge, Season Premiere  Sunday, November 3, 9/8c, Food Network

Tastemakers: Giada De Laurentiis on Italian Holiday Foods and Entertaining Dos & Don'ts

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Fried Brussels Sprouts 

With Apple Reduction and Candied Pumpkin Seeds

Serves 4–6

Ingredients

Apple reduction

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots 

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar  

1/4 cup honey  

1/4 cup apple cider  

Candied pumpkin seeds

1 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds 

Neutral oil or nonstick spray

1 cup granulated sugar  

1 cup water  

1/2 teaspoon sea salt  

Freshly cracked black pepper  

Brussels sprouts

1 pound Brussels sprouts 

Neutral oil, for frying  

Kosher salt  

Directions

Apple reduction: In a small sauce pot over medium heat, combine shallots, vinegar and honey. Simmer, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add apple cider and cook until syrupy, 5 to 10 more minutes.

Pumpkin seeds: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread seeds on baking sheet and bake, stirring once, until toasted, about 10 minutes. Set aside. Keep oven on. Heavily grease another baking sheet with neutral oil or nonstick spray. Combine sugar and water in medium sauce pot and cook on medium, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Add seeds to syrup and simmer on low for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using a slotted spoon, drain seeds, spread on greased baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toast in oven for about 15 minutes or until very crunchy. Let cool.

Brussels sprouts: Trim stem ends and cut a cross about 1/4-inch deep in top of sprouts. In a sauce pot, heat oil to 315–325 degrees. Working in batches, fry sprouts until dark golden brown and crispy, 5 to 8 minutes per batch. Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with salt. Put sprouts in large bowl with apple reduction and toss till well coated. Transfer to serving platter or large bowl; add pumpkin seeds, crushed or chopped, as garnish.