Anyone who's ever watched "Chopped" knows what a challenging mix of ingredients participating chefs are expected to concoct dishes from-in a limited amount of time.

Three locals took part in a contest modeled after the Food Network show last week, hosted by Sprout in Little Falls. Called "Minced," the competition pitted three professional cooks against one another in three rounds of dishes, all incorporating a number of ingredients hidden from the contestants until just before the clock started.

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We promised we'd incorporate some of those mystery ingredients into recipes for you this week. Of course, we had the benefit of a week's contemplation time, and to heck if we were going to force ourselves to complete the dish in 30 minutes or less. This is our column after all-we make the rules!

To conceptualize this dish, I incorporated two of the same ingredients offered chefs in the entree round and one ingredient from the dessert round. For more or less winging it, I was pleasantly surprised how well the flavors came together. I've never cooked with any of the three ingredients before-papaya, yucca root or pork rinds. With the help of my fellow Mitt DeLynn Howard in the Brainerd Dispatch kitchen, we brought this surprisingly satisfying, Minced-inspired dish to life.

Although I would normally make a seasoning mixture from scratch for my columns, I used one of my favorite seasoning blends of all time here instead: McCormick Grill Mates Chipotle and Roasted Garlic seasoning. When I say I use it on almost everything, I'm not in the least bit exaggerating.

I won't even try to pretend I could have competed alongside the pros: Fred Stumbo of Sage on Laurel in Brainerd, Paul Ruszat of St. Cloud Hospital and CentraCare Health and Scotty Stocco of Iron Range Eatery in Crosby. But I can confidently say this dish is worth making in the home kitchen-if you've never had yucca fries, you're truly missing out. They are starchy, creamy and slightly sweet in comparison to potatoes. The pork rind breading offered a salty, savory counterpoint to the soft interior, a contrast of a textures and complementary to the fresh papaya salsa topping the pork chops.

Visit to read the original story about the Minced competition and learn what funds from the event supported. While you're at it, DeLynn and I made a video of our cooking challenge this week, available at What an entertaining event to cover, especially for a food nerd like me!



  • 4 pork chops, bone-in or boneless
  • Chipotle and roasted garlic grill seasoning, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or other cooking oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped papaya
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 jalapeno, seeds and ribs included, finely chopped
  • About 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, or to taste
  • Juice from 1/2 a lime
  • Salt to taste

Season the pork chops with the chipotle-roasted garlic seasoning, allowing the marinate for at least an hour if possible.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat olive or canola oil in an oven-safe saute pan over medium-high heat.

Sear both sides of the pork chops, cooking each side until nicely browned.

Place in oven, cooking about 15 minutes or until internal temperature has reached 145 degrees.

Meanwhile, combine papaya, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro and salt to taste in a medium bowl.

Taste for seasoning and set aside.

To serve, spoon desired serving of salsa over a pork chop and serve with a portion of yucca fries, the recipe for which also is found on this page.



  • 1 1/2 pounds yucca root, trimmed and cut into french fry sticks
  • 2-3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 1 3-ounce bag pork cracklings or pork rinds, crushed

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with salt.

Parboil yucca root until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes, checking with a fork.

Rinse under cold water until cool enough to handle, drain.

Place flour in one bowl, eggs in another bowl and pork rind crumbs in a third.

Dunk the yucca fries first in the flour, next in the egg and third in the crumbs, placing them on a greased baking sheet.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Serve with pork chops, fresh papaya salsa and a chipotle mayo dipping sauce.

-- Chelsey