After opening earlier this year, Montclair’s Mish Mish Cafe has quickly gained popularity, largely due to the efforts of its chef and owner Meny Veknin who has established himself as a master of his craft. This was recently solidified by Veknin’s success on the Food Network show Chopped. Veknin won the competition, beating out three other highly esteemed chefs, and was awarded a $10,000 prize.
“Chopped is always looking for new chefs because it is such a successful show” says Veknin, “I went on casting and thought I was ready to compete for the first time in my life in such a setting.” After attending casting, Veknin was called back and booked for the show.
The theme of the episode was spiciness. The chefs were put to the test, having to concoct dishes with a mixture of spicy ingredients in a short time frame. Veknin admits that spicy food however is not his specialty. “I think they did it on purpose” says Veknin, “beforehand I kept saying ‘I don’t like spicy food, I don’t like spicy food.'”
Veknin faced off against chefs Andrew Garrett, Denzil Richards, and Mei Chau in the episode, all of whom are very successful and decorated chefs. “I was a little nervous at the beginning” admits Veknin, “my main concern was not getting chopped in the first round.”
When the timer started however Veknin was able to shake his anxiety. “Once you start cooking you are really in the zone, it was the fastest 20 minutes of my life.” He adds, “When the time ends you put your head up and see cameras in front of you, you forget that for 20 minutes because you are so busy.”
Veknin’s creativity and execution really impressed the panel of judges on the show.”I was very pleased (with the dishes),” says Veknin. Although the experience was at times nerve-wracking, in the end Veknin went home a winner.
“It felt amazing, it’s one of my best achievements in life.” The victory was truly validating for Veknin, who spends so much of his time in the kitchen.”It shows that all the hard work you are doing is for something. It shows me that I have evolved as a chef and that all the work and time I put in is really worth it.”
Veknin’s passion and skill were clearly shown in the episode. These same qualities he has brought to his restaurant, and is why it has been such a success. Veknin’s victory adds his name to a star studded list of local celebrated chefs who call this area their home, including Michael Carrino, now chef/owner at Pig & Prince, who previously won Chopped.