Jillian Moskites, the co-owner of the Whey Station grilled-cheese truck, successfully kept a secret from her six children for five months.
On Tuesday night, they found out, along with viewers across the country, that their mom was the newest champion of “Chopped,” their favorite Food Network chef competition show.
“Watching it with them was so much fun,” she says by phone Thursday. “It’s a good experience for them to see. I want them to put themselves out there and try new things.”
Moskites appeared on Tuesday’s “Epic Eats” episode, in which “the chefs find that every basket contains at least one epic ingredient — an extreme example of something completely crave-able.” Facing a private chef from Brooklyn and two restaurant chefs from Arizona, she moved skillfully through three rounds of competition to win the episode and a $10,000 prize.
Moskites’ older children convinced her to submit an application to the show last year. She didn’t expect to hear back from the Food Network, she told The Courant in February, but a few months later, the network called as she was making dinner. Her episode taped in September.
“I would never do this without my kids pushing me to be here,” she said during an on-camera interview. “I have to win. They’re never going to let me live it down if I don’t win, so I have to; it’s a necessity.”
The basket ingredients were particularly over-the-top, with the first containing a cheeseburger using deep-fried discs of mac and cheese as “buns.” Moskites deconstructed the burger and served up a cheeseburger mac and cheese croquette, using buffalo chicken-flavored soda and bleu cheese to enhance a side of Brussels sprouts.
In the second round, the basket presented a savory cornbread cake “frosted” with mashed potatoes, topped with gravy and fried chicken drumsticks. Other ingredients included red noodle beans, cold-brew ice pops and bone-in tomahawk steaks. Moskites said the normalcy of the steaks surprised her more than the more extreme selections.
“I ended up just staring at it, thinking, ‘if I cut it, [the judges are] going to yell at me for cutting it. If I don’t cut it, it’s not going to cook and I’ll get in trouble for not cooking it enough,’” she said Thursday, laughing.
She presented the grilled steak with a coffee-based spice rub and a gravy with the melted-down coffee ice pops, laced with cognac and cream. On the side, she included mashed potatoes loaded with Gruyere and goat cheese, exhibiting her knowledge of cheese.
As one of the final two chefs in the dessert round, she opened the basket to find an oversized gummy worm, an ice cream sundae in a chocolate chip cookie “bowl,” finger grapes and huitlacoche — an earthy fungus that grows inside of corn. She transformed the unlikely ingredients into a vanilla huitlacoche pudding, converting the grapes into a fruit salad with citrus, honey and mint.
“I want to win for my kids,” she said on the episode, before her victory was announced. “I want to show them that you can be a mom, you can be a chef, you can be a little bit of everything. That’s why I did this.”
Moskites says her prize money will go toward the food-truck business. Since an October accident left their original truck totaled, Moskites and her husband Josh have been using two trailers for catering jobs, vending appearances at Connecticut breweries and weekly stops by the Wesleyan campus. They’ve purchased a minibus-type vehicle to transform into a food truck, she says, hoping to get it on the road by mid-spring.
The Whey Station, known for its indulgent grilled cheeses, will appear weekly at the Coventry Farmers’ Market this season starting in June, along with scheduled dates at Hartford’s XFINITY Theatre and a few dates at the Bozrah Farmers’ Market. The truck has traditionally parked regularly at Bushnell Park, and Moskites says she’d like to continue having a presence in Hartford if scheduling permits.