By SHIRLEY PULAWSKI
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Many viewers tuned in to see Dunkirk native Kyle Bernstein compete on the Food Network's "Chopped" during the month of October ("A Very Piggy Halloween," season 12, episode 6). Now she's sharing her experiences from the show and recipes from her kitchen.
Kyle says she cooks what she calls "peasant fare" at home, typically vegetarian meals made with fresh ingredients.
"I love all things food. Most days and meals consist of colorful, healthy foods arranged in a beautiful manner," she says on her blog, The Obsessed Chef. She also likes to re-create traditional favorites in a more healthy manner. "I enjoy making healthy versions of cakes and cookies with a focus on heart health and low glycemic index," she explains.
"I'm on a one-woman crusade to make people's lives better through diet and exercise and will explore all avenues to spread my be-well message."
To that end, she's working toward establishing a mobile cooking school in which she might drive to areas with high incidences of disease.
"If my performance on 'Chopped' allows for any support in making of my goals come to life, all the better," she explained.
Performance was one of Kyle's early interests, and says she is "a true Dunkirk girl" because she was born at Brooks Memorial Hospital and went to local public schools. Starting in Dunkirk School 4, Kyle began acting in plays through high school. After graduation from Dunkirk Senior High School with a Regents diploma, Kyle attended SUNY Fredonia. She also continued to work at Burger King in Fredonia, which was her first entry into the culinary world during high school.
Once in college, Kyle began another kind of performing - this time as singer in a local punk band, D.I.E. (Death in Everyone) with Dunkirk natives Troy Mezzio and Tom Boorady along with Todd Larsen of Fredonia. The band enjoyed brief local success and appeared at the Sundowner Lounge, B.J.'s, and the Caboose. They played regularly at Buffalo area venues as well and did a mini East Coast tour, playing with acts such as the Goo Goo Dolls, Dag Nasty, Primal Scream, and Verbal Assault.
After her appearance on "Chopped" bandmate Mezzio, now of Buffalo, said, "It's no surprise to see Kyle going places. She is driven and really goal-oriented. For the short time our band was together, we had a relatively high degree of success, and that can be directly attributed to her organization, and 'get it done' attitude. She does what she wants, and achieves when she does."
After leaving the western New York, Kyle earned a grande diplome from the French Culinary Institute in New York City and worked at Le Cirque 2000 restaurant and the private dining club for Sony executives.
"There were years of applications and auditions leading up to this particular episode, but I feel they were necessary and readied me for the challenge," she said.
Kyle said she had been auditioning for cooking shows since she was working the line at restaurants and has long dreamed of having her own show.
"As much as my goal is to host a healthy cooking series and not be a contestant on a reality show, I persevered and applied for anything for which I thought I was suited," she explained. "Going in, I thought that being on this one-time show was a good litmus test to decide if I still want to pursue having my own show. I do. I really do."
Her experience on "Chopped" was very good from start to finish according to Kyle. "The entire process of applying, auditioning, and filming the background story and the episode was amazing. It was a fun day and I really enjoyed getting to know the other contestants."
While she began the show determined to win, Kyle was "chopped" before the dessert round, but harbors no ill will. She said the judges "did their job and made some tough decisions. As much as I wanted to stay for the dessert round, I don't resent them for sending me home if they thought it was the right thing to do. Nor do I hold it against Brittany that she got to stay.
"So I didn't become a Chopped Champion. I had a great time and a new experience and finally got some TV for my resume. Watching myself on television was fun and I feel the producers captured the real me."
The process of selection began last year after Kyle saw a casting call in her culinary school's newsletter. Once selected, representatives from the show came to Kyle's home.
"It was exciting. I mean, who gets to have The Food Network as a guest in their home? They like to get a glimpse of where the contestants live."
Kyle said the stage is impressive.
"It looked huge! I walked onto the set for the first time the morning of the shoot. They call it the arena and it really is," she shared, and said, "It was pretty magical, like being a kid opening presents on Christmas morning. I would love to be able to cook in that kitchen every day."
She enjoyed interacting with the chefs with whom she competed.
"The other contestants were awesome. We basically got to know each other a little bit and talked about food a lot," she explained, and said they spent a lot of time together between rounds. "Yes, it is a contest and everyone is there to win, but we're all in the same boat. It was a very friendly competition."
When asked what it was like to cook in an unfamiliar place with pressure to compete, she explained, "It stopped feeling like a set as soon as we started cooking."
Before the show, she said, "We were shown around and told what was expected of us. We had all seen the show, so we knew what to expect. Plus, most professional kitchens have similar set-ups, so you develop some intuition about where things are going to be."
The experience on stage translated to television in a genuine way, according to Kyle.
"People ask me if we're told to say anything or if everything they've seen on the show is real. It's real. None of it is scripted," although she said some editing is done for the sake of time, "but what you see is essentially what happened naturally."
Kyle's mom, Barb Bernstein of Dunkirk, agreed her daughter's appearance and portrayal on the show was natural.
"It was true to her. She is quite a young lady," she said, and added, "She's looking forward to a lot more of this, so it will be interesting."
When her dish was chopped, Kyle said, "I was surprised. I knew there was a 50-50 chance it was going to be mine, but I was pretty optimistic," but she has a positive impression from the show. "The Halloween episode was as much fun to shoot as it was to watch," she explained, and said anyone interested in being a contestant on such a show should follow their dream. "Do it! Don't pass up any opportunities or experiences. Be confident and be yourself. Most of all, have fun," she told the OBSERVER.
"This has all been an exciting ride and a fantastic learning experience. I am truly grateful for the overwhelming show love and support from my family, friends, and my hometown community," she said, and added, "I am proud of myself for getting on the show. It makes me feel validated as a chef. I learned that I can be competitive and still be nice and retain my dignity."
When she's not auditioning for television shows, teaching or blogging (www.theobsessedchef.com), Kyle is sales manager for gourmet food distributor Petrossian.
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