Basalt chef shows off chops on ‘Chopped’

Sallee Ann Ruibal
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Flip Wise will compete on national television during Tuesday's episode of "Chopped Grill Masters."
Sallee Ann Ruibal/Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Watch What: Free Range Kitchen executive chef Flip Wise on Food Network's "Chopped Grill Masters" When: 7 p.m., Tuesday, August 15 Where: Viewing party at Batch, Roaring Fork Beer Co.'s tasting room, in Carbondale

Flip Wise doesn’t see himself as just a chef.

“I’m really firm with my idea that to be a real chef you have to be a representative of your community, where you live and the season,” said Wise, executive chef at Free Range Kitchen in Basalt.

Wise will soon represent the Roaring Fork Valley as a contestant on Food Network’s “Chopped Grill Masters.”

The popular show features four chefs in each episode, competing in three rounds of appetizer, entree and dessert. In each round, the chefs must utilize four secret ingredients. In the “Grill Masters” version of the show, all cooking must be done on a grill.

“Eating good food shouldn’t be pretentious.” Flip Wise, executive chef at Free Range Kitchen in Basalt

Grilling is Flip’s element.

Last summer, before joining Free Range Kitchen, Flip and his wife drove an 8-foot smoker, along with a wood fire grill, on a 20-foot trailer as Open Fire Catering.

“The concept was simple: only cook with fire and only with what farms and ranches have,” Wise said.

Rather than Wise going to farmers and ranchers and saying what he needed for his menu, he said he would — and still does — ask them what they have, and then make the menu from there.

“I made really good relationships with the farming and ranching communities in this valley, and [Open Fire Catering] pushed myself out of my comfort zone because it was do or die,” Wise said.

To him, the term “farm to table” is gimmicky, but the concept of eating local, in-season ingredients is essential.

“I think it’s as important as algebra,” Wise said. “People should be aware of the differences between a farm carrot and jumbo tasteless carrot from the store. Or how to cook something, how to fry an egg, even. That kind of stuff is important.”

Wise said the presence of farmers markets and accessibility to local ingredients, makes the valley a great place for chefs.

“I really want to keep it a secret because I get first pickings, but this valley, we really have an untapped supply of super talented, young farmers,” he said. “This stuff I get is just incredible. I feel very fortunate.”

Open Fire was a success, Wise said, as people were really receptive to the concept and the food spoke for itself — even with a few misconceptions at first.

“People saw this huge smoker and thought American barbecue, but actually they were going to have smoked lamb shoulder ragu and they were like ‘What?'” Wise said with a laugh. “But then they’d eat it and be like, ‘Can I have another?'”

Wise uses his food to then start a conversation, as a representative of his community.

“Once you engage in conversation, then I got to talk about the talented farmers and ranchers I got the ingredients from and it really opened eyes,” Wise said.

It is through that conversation and valley networking that Wise believes Food Network heard of him and reached out, starting more than a year ago, to get him on “Chopped.”

“I did a lot of events and cooking for people in Aspen. I remember one woman told me, ‘You should be on TV,’ and I just kind of laughed,” Wise said. “I don’t know if it was her connection, but you never know who you’re going to meet in Aspen.”

As for those secret ingredients Wise had to incorporate on the show, it wasn’t the ingredients themselves that proved a challenge, he said, but rather needing to use all of them in one dish.

“And the time constraints,” he added.

He had 10 minutes for the appetizer round and 15 for entree and dessert.

“It would be announced that there’s two minutes left, and it’d be like, ‘Are you kidding me?'”

Fans in the Roaring Fork can watch Wise battle it out where part of his journey in the valley started. Roaring Fork Beer Co. — which hosted Open Fire Catering last summer and named its flagship IPA after Flip — will be hosting a viewing party at their Carbondale tasting room, Batch, on Tuesday.

“Flip is a super-humble guy, so we’re excited that he’ll be out here for us to all watch him compete,” said Aly Sanguily, marketing director for Roaring Fork Beer Co. “It’s a big moment.”

The Roaring Fork Valley may very well get some added attention from the show, but Wise isn’t putting on airs.

“Eating good food shouldn’t be pretentious,” he said.