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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Jan 31, 2019

RECAP: Local Chef Competes on Food Network’s Chopped

By Shanna O’Mara

Chopped Scuba and the Beast Stephen Hayek

A recent episode of Food Network’s hit show Chopped featured a local chef battling three other contestants for a $10,000 prize.

Stephen Hayek, the executive chef from Scuba and the Beast in Highlands, competed on the Tuesday, Jan. 29 episode, working with obscure ingredients to compose refined game-day dishes within a constrained time. Network judges then evaluated each dish and sent chefs home each after of the three rounds – appetizer, entrée and dessert – to whittle the crew down to one champion.

“We want you to take typical sports fan food and make it spectacular,” host Ted Allen said of the episode’s theme.

The first three contestants introduced said they run kitchens in Baltimore, Dallas and Edgewater. Cut to black, and familiar scenes popped on screen. Hayek’s name was announced.

“Some parts were filmed in Highlands like the previews and certain snippets,” Hayek said during an interview with The Journal.

The restaurant’s logo of a bull’s horns interlocking with a lobster’s claws is shown stamped onto the side of a large, black food truck.

Chopped Scuba and the Beast Stephen Hayek 2“My business partner is my fraternity brother,” Hayek says on camera, noting that he met his colleague while attending Johnson & Wales University. “After running the food truck, we decided to open up Scuba and the Beast restaurant.”

Scuba and the Beast is located at 409 Bay Ave. in Highlands. It is an upscale but casual surf and turf restaurant with multiple bars.

Throughout the competition, the competitors faced puzzling ingredients, including pickled avocados, nacho cheesecake, jalapeño jelly shots and beer sangria.

Hayek received high praise from the judges throughout the appetizer and entrée rounds, and he advanced to the final dessert round. After baking cream-filled doughnuts and creating a delectable jam on the side, judge Scott Conant called Hayek’s dessert “so creative, out of the box and beautiful.”

The stakes were high, but the skill level was higher. Hayek was down to the final two and looking ahead to accepting the win.

“It is super stressful opening my first restaurant, so I really want to buy a dirt bike,” Hayek candidly said of his plans to spend the coveted prize money. “But my wife would absolutely kill me.”

Ultimately, the Baltimore native captured the victory, and Hayek graciously accepted defeat. Hugging his competitor and shaking each judge’s hand, Hayek left the studio kitchen with his head held high and his goals set straight.

“I got chopped, but I still believe that I can do anything under the sun,” Hayek said. “I didn’t win this big game, but [it’s] definitely not the last game I’m going to play.”

Lucky for locals, the game clock starts again this spring when Scuba and the Beast opens for the season. But this time, Hayek gets to play by his own rules.