There were cheers and tears as the crowd gathered around Texas Lutheran University’s executive Chef Ernest Servantes; winner of Food Network’s Chopped Grill Masters. The viewing party served as a reminder to Servantes that he had arrived. With close friends and family by his side, everyone watched as he took home the win and $50,000.
“Having everybody there to watch me win and to see their reactions was amazing,” Servantes said. “The whole place went crazy and when I saw how proud my family was, especially my kids, it was the greatest part. It was a humbling experience and at the end of the day it wasn’t about winning the money. It was about gaining respect as a chef.”
While Chef Servantes, a Texas State University graduate, has taken his credentials to another level, there are many people who have respected his talent for quite some time. Sodexo sous chef and best friend Anthony Hernandez was happy to share the moment with his long-time pal.
“It was very emotional for everyone,” Hernandez said. “Ernie is my best friend and a great chef. I’ve known him for eight years, five of which we’ve been together at TLU. He’s awesome at improvising and coming up with the weirdest, best-tasting food. I knew he’d do well on Chopped.”
Hernandez and Servantes also work together on the New Braunfels, Texas- based Burnt Bean BBQ Company. As both colleague and friend, Hernandez says Chef Servantes has always and continues to push him toward becoming great.
“I’m always learning from him,” Hernandez said. “He tells me to work hard and pushing me is the best thing he’s ever done. He’s a wonderful teacher. Although now, we joke I’ll have to take a ticket number to talk to my famous best friend.”
Kim Smith, operations manager for Sodexo at TLU, was also confident Servantes would come out victorious.
“After six years of working together, his creativity and ability to create dishes on the fly are very impressive,” Smith said. “Sodexo is very proud of him. At TLU, every day is a different adventure in Hein Dining Hall. It’s extremely rewarding to see students congratulating him because he has developed relationships with them. We’re lucky to have him.”
Although Chef Servantes can now tout that he is the Chopped Grill Master, he says this opportunity was only the beginning. His triumph opened doors for him to continue excelling in the culinary world.
“Besides winning, I wanted to show viewers that I’m just a hometown boy with a passion for cooking,” Servantes said. “I was just me on camera and I hope that came across. As for my plans now, I made a promise to my kids and my nephew that if I won we’d go to Disney World. This opportunity changed my life and I’m very blessed.”