“He liked our dish! It passed! So hey!”
That was Topekan Ambroja Watson’s recollection of her reaction to Chef Ludo Lefebvra’s thumbs-up given during the tasting of her fried chicken-wing dish on “Rat in the Kitchen.” The episode aired earlier this month on TBS.
The show brings together a mix of six professional chefs and home cooks to complete a series of cooking challenges, earning cash in their bank for every dish that impresses Ludo and his co-host, comedian Natasha Leggero.
Meanwhile, one member of the group is secretly trying to ruin the dishes and undermine his or her teammates’ chances at victory.
“We’re moving and we’re moving and we’re cooking,” said Watson. “And the only person who has this hidden agenda is the rat.
“Everyone else is trying to either figure out who the rat is or make sure that their dishes are done correctly so that we’re not losing any money during the judging.”
Besides giving money to dishes that meet with approval, episodes award cash prizes to rats who successfully sabotage dishes and teams that can reveal the rat’s identity at the end of the show.
Watson owns Soul Fire Food Co., which has a storefront at 2511 S.E. California Ave. and a traveling food truck. She was up for the challenge.
More:Increasingly popular Topeka food trucks offer an expanding variety of cuisines
‘The rat sabotaged our first dish’
Round one brought chaos to the kitchen.
“We had to follow a recipe that was given to us, but nothing was labeled,” Watson said. “Nothing in the pantry was label. None of the cheeses were labeled. None of the meats were labeled. You had to know your ingredients.”
Contestants could taste them or smell them to help identify what was needed.
“So you would go in the pantry looking for chili powder, and you had like three different types of paprika, chili powder and some others — you know, red seasonings,” she said.
The rat’s evil paw also created havoc.
“The rat sabotaged our first dish,” Watson said. “We had to work in pairs on both of our challenges. We were making a mashed potato. So he actually turned off our water during that piece of it.”
‘My little bossiness came out’
Round two found Watson at ease. The challenge was for the team to share a chicken, using its different parts to come up with dishes.
Watson already had her strategy ready.
“The first thing I’m going to do is grab the easiest thing I know how to cook, which is wings,” she said. “So I’m like, I’ll take the wings. You guys can fight over whatever you want to fight over, but I will definitely take the wings.
She fried them and served them on fry bread instead of waffles. Her teammate made a spicy honey sauce for dipping.
“At the end of the challenge, everybody as a group had to decide what plates to put on what dishes,” she said. “So there was a gold dish, a silver dish, a bronze finish and a paper plate. Each dish was worth a specific amount of money.
“At the very end of the challenge, the rat obviously, I didn’t know for sure he was the rat, but I had my suspicions, he attempted to put his dish on a ‘$5,000 plate.’ I was like, ‘No!’ I knew our dish was good. And I knew that other dishes were good. So I decided, ‘No, we’re not having it.’
“So I kind of stepped up a little bit. My little bossiness came out, and I was like: ‘No! You can put yours on the paper plate.'”
In the end Watson’s chicken was a success, and the team was able to identify the rat.
Trying out, shooting and waiting for results
Watson said she can’t remember how she found out about the show, but she is glad she did it.
“I somehow got ahold of this application, and I said, ‘You know what? Why not?’ And we had an interview, and they liked my personality. Once they selected me, you know, it was it was kind of greenlight go from there.”
The process of shooting the episode easily fit into her schedule.
“You’re there one day and that’s it,” she said. “It’s literally a full-day process. You wake up in the morning, and it’s time to go.
“You’re not laying your head down until midnight. You’re there all day long.”
Watson had to wait almost an entire year for her episode to air.
Ambroja Watson’s lasting impression
“I have to say I was very pleased with the outcome of our episode,” Watson said. “I’m a pretty easygoing, laid-back, social individual in most settings. Especially in a kitchen setting where I feel comfortable.
“I don’t second guess necessarily. What I’m doing more in that situation is second guessing what everyone else is doing. You’re mic’d up and you’re very comfortable … and in a space like in a kitchen. There was a couple times I thought: ‘Oh boy, what did they catch on the mic? What did they hear me say?”
Watson said she was curious to see the outcome of the show.
“I was pleased. I was able to be myself and so comfortable in that setting,” she said. “I thought the theme of the show is great. I thought the execution of how producers and whoever came up with the challenges on the show did an absolutely wonderful job of being innovative and kind of sneaky.
Where to get Soul Fire Food Co.’s chicken wings and fry bread
Watson’s restaurant opened a year ago, and her food truck opened in 2019. She serves smoked chicken wings, served plain, hot or barbecued, as well as several other smoked meats. A fried chicken sandwich, Indian tacos and dessert are also on the menu.
“We want to keep it simple,” Watson said.
Watson does cater. That is when she expresses her more creative side — until the next time she decides to enter a competition. She said she would actually enjoy being on another food show.
The restaurant’s hours of operation are 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
The truck also plans to park in NOTO Arts District on Friday in front of Compass Point: Home of Dirty Girls Adventures, 800 N. Kansas Ave.
Catheryn Hrenchir is a feature writer for The Topeka-Capital Journal. She can be reached at chrenchir.gannett.com or (785) 817-6383.