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Behind the scenes with Belmont Butchery’s Tanya Cauthen on Food Network’s “Chopped”

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Tanya Cauthen says she was the quiet one on the set.

For those who visit her shop or see her at events, it seems almost impossible to imagine the gregarious Cauthen receding into the background. She likes to talk — about her products, about the farms they come from, her nieces and her goats. And as one of the few women butchers in the country, she's known nationally.

But when it came to a television appearance on Food Network's "Chopped," it was a whole different story.
The other chefs competing were brash, funny, loud — extraverts supercharged on adrenalin. "In that kind of crowd," she says, "I just sat back and listened."

The network contacted Cauthen on April Fool's Day last year to see of she'd be interested in applying for a spot. Food Network also was considering other Richmond chefs. The spotlight that the national press has aimed at our local food scene in the last few years caught its attention, and Cauthen says the casting director told her the show wanted to make sure someone from the city was included.
Cauthen wasn't sure if she was up to it. She hadn't cooked professionally in 15 years. She's not a chef anymore, she says — she's a butcher.

"I told them I didn't want to go up against someone like Joe Sparatta [of Heritage and Southbound], for instance." But Metzger Butchery & Bar's Brittanny Anderson, who competed on the show a few years ago, encouraged Cauthen to do it. "She told me that I'd never do anything like it. Go for it — just go."

When she arrived at the studio in New York, she handed over her watch and phone — and was confronted with indoor grilling equipment: no oven, no fryer, just a couple of grill pans and a pot of boiling water. Although she'd watched a few episodes of the show and had vaguely brainstormed and tested a few dish ideas before she arrived, at that moment, any preparation she'd done went out the window.

"How do you grill dessert?" she says.

It was a long, grueling day, although Cauthen says about 90 percent of the time, the chefs were waiting for the crew to reset the kitchen. And they did most shots three times to make sure the production had what it needed for the show.

As for the baskets? Cauthen sighs heavily. "You don't know what's in it — you truly don't," she says. "For each basket, there's one ingredient that's cool and one ingredient [that makes you say], 'Ah, shit!'" And that's about all Cauthen can say until the episode airs on Tuesday, May 23.

"I don't care how much preparation you do," she says, "with the limitations of this particular episode and this show, at the end of the day, you can either cook or you can't."

A viewing party will be held at Branch & Vine at 2001 1/2 W. Main St. (the former Olio) starting at 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 23. The episode will air at 10 p.m. on Food Network.

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