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John Schopp during the competition!
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Center Stage Catering's John Schopp
Local pastry chef John Schopp will have one spooky tale to tell this October.
As owner and chef of Center Stage Catering, Schopp is no stranger to pressure, thanks to years of catering for weddings and other events. Schopp is also a faculty member in the Al Pollard Culinary Arts Program at Virginia Western, specializing in baking and pastries. His work is inspiring and beautiful, bringing his visions to life in the form of sugar and flour (and probably a few more ingredients, but you get the sweet idea).
However, the pressure is a little more intense these days, thanks to Schopp's upcoming appearance on television as he fights for his chance to be a Food Network champ. Schopp will be one of seven competitors in the Food Network’s Halloween Baking Championship. The first episode premieres on Monday, October 3rd at 9 p.m. at 9 p.m., with the winner of the 5 week competition taking home a grand prize of $25,000.
Learn more about John Schopp with our interview below–and root for him with us on October 3rd!
Tell us a little about your background?
The short story is not so short – I wanted to be a chef since I was 7 years old. I started apprenticing in kitchens when I turned 16, outside of Louisville KY. I went to University of KY; while I was there working in restaurants, I had a fabulous opportunity to open a French restaurant. Chefs came from all over (Brazil, France). I sort of lived with these guys for two years, them speaking no English and my wife and I not speaking French; but to me it was about being immersed in real French food. After I did that, I took country club and pastry chef jobs. I started teaching at VWCC, and tested out of the Associate's Degree for a culinary degree which came after the fact.
Why did you want to participate in this?
It was strange, actually – I grew up with Julia Child, etc. When Food Network came along, I thought I'd be good at it. I got approached about 10 years back from a talent scout casting for Hell's Kitchen but it didn't work out; I was tired of TV drama, and I wanted to see a happy, supportive show for chefs. Segue way to this last year, I received an inquiry from a colleague in Texas. I eventually got connected with their agents.
The process went pretty fast. We talked, I got moved up to sending pictures and bios, and Skype interviews. It fired back up again after they went through a bunch of inquiries; once the casting agency thought I'd be a good potential candidate, it went up to the next level and the interview process started all over. It took place over the course of maybe 2 months and I was offered a contestant role.
Food Network, it's like a gateway to the initial exposure of my wanting to be a chef. It's two completely different things being in a kitchen and then on food TV. I'm not getting any younger, but this is a great opportunity to have fun and see what happens.
What gives you an edge on your competitors?
Going into and coming out of it was like 2 different things. I went in thinking I've been doing this since I was 16, I have experience with savory and pastry, I'm involved in national certifications, so I see the testing thing and following colleagues around with their competitions. But I just thought I'm as good as the next guy, I'm comfortable creating in the moment because I'm not shy, and I'm comfortable in front of people. I've been practicing for it my whole life!
What was your experience like?
It was marvelous, surreal. I experienced emotional highs and lows. I had substantial introspective growth. You're putting yourself out there. The fun of the program is, it's done really nicely. It's not a knock down drag out, “be mean to people” experience. There were 6 other great contestants with me and we formed a bond that I think will last the rest of our lives.
You go out there and you've got a lot of people supporting you, putting yourself out there, so you want to do your best work. The Food Network were fabulous to work with and took care of us, but it's a competition. They give you everything you need with ingredients and equipment, but not the time. I kinda knew that going in, and thought I was used to it, but it's a real thing! The challenges are challenging!
There's the sense that even if your plate looks good, you think it's not your best work and you could've done better. I think all my competitors experienced that, too. After we do show them to the judges and head back into the green room, we're all beating ourselves up. But I wouldn't change a thing; I had a tremendous experience, met fabulous people and it's a neat thing to bring back and share with students and coworkers.
What would you like to say to family and friends here in Roanoke?
When I talk about this kind of emotional experience, it's self introspect; really my whole life I've pushed and pushed. Being there competing and having that solitude time to think about how many people have supported me for so long – my wife, father, children, coworkers, students I'm with, the whole city of Roanoke and Rocky Mount, I've got a tremendous support base. I'm really thankful for that; it's a beautiful thing. It's really important to pass on. The marker of my life at hitting 50 years old, is just focusing more on giving back and supporting people around me and lift them up and helping them achieve their dreams.
What do you hope for your business after your return to your kitchen?
I have great employees and students. I'm very lucky with that energizing environment. I'm hoping that I continue to have healthy, happy employees, that we do work we're proud of together, grow and learn and take in on the business and personal side. We just want to be attached to the right thing, the right way. It needs to be a good experience for all involved, and the clients too. I want to harbor that environment and that's all I can hope for.
What are your hobbies and interests outside of cooking?
I love to hike and be outdoors. I love to cook over open fires. I went to a secondhand shop in Ferrum the other day and got this cool antique shovel I'm going to turn into a fire-cooking surface. I want irons and shovels and pitchforks in my cooking, a real Appalachian feel!
More from Food Network:
Zombies, mummies and monsters galore get in on the action on the return of the spookiest baking competition on Food Network, where seven terrifyingly-talented bakers compete to create the most hauntingly delicious desserts on Halloween Baking Championship, premiering Monday, October 3rd at 9:00pm ET/PT.
Throughout the five-week competition, comedian and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham and his sidekick, Walter, challenge the bakers’ abilities to create creepy crawly confections for judges Damiano Carrara, Carla Hall and Sandra Lee. Only one baker with the most impressive treats will win the title of Halloween Baking Champion and take home the grand prize of $25,000.
Each week on Halloween Baking Championship, the bakers face tough challenges from making bite-sized monster morsels, to wickedly-decadent desserts stuffed with trick-or- treat candies, as well as creepy clown cake-pops and goodies of ghostly graveyards. The last three bakers who impress the judges with their spellbinding sweets will face the ultimate challenge in the grand finale – baking, designing and decorating a haunted “gingerdead” house. Fans can go behind the scenes of this spooky competition and see the creepy creations up close at FoodNetwork.com/BakingChampionship, and they can join the confectionary conversation on Twitter using #BakingChampionship.
Don’t miss all the dreadfully delicious action this October! Halloween Baking Championship is produced by Triage Entertainment.