First-Ever “Chopped” Teen Tournament Champion, Tommi Rae Fowler

This year, for the first time, the Food Network cooking competition show Chopped held a teen tournament--and a student from Anderson County not only competed but won the title of Teen Chopped Champion, $25,000, and a culinary school scholarship.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the competition features four contestants--usually professional chefs--who must use mystery basket ingredients to create three dishes, and after each round, one contestant is eliminated (or "chopped").

A flyer from Chopped calling for auditions was sent out to high school culinary programs, and it was received by the Anderson Career and Technology Center staff. Tommi Rae Fowler, a sophomore at the time in the introductory culinary class taught by chef instructor Chris Moree, completed the application process and was accepted as a competitor on the show.

Between the time she received the news and when she flew to New York for the filming of the show, Tommi Rae says, "Chef [Moree] let me come in after school for practice sessions"--covering the basics first, and then timed challenges with mystery basket ingredients.

"It was great practice," she says, "but being in the studio with judges and other competitors and lights was a whole different thing." She wasn't given octopus as an ingredient in the practice sessions, either, but she managed to pull off an appetizer of sauteed octopus with kumquat juice atop purple cauliflower soup.

Asked whether the octopus was the most challenging ingredient, Tommi Rae says with a laugh, "No--that was challenging, but it was the chocolate covered crickets" in the dessert round. She was brave enough to taste one, but it was clear from her reaction, caught on camera, that she wouldn't be having another one.

With two more years of high school left, Tommi Rae will continue on in the culinary program at the Anderson Career and Technology Center before mostly likely heading to the Art Institute of Charleston with her scholarship prize. "They're the ones who reached out to me after I won," she says.

The culinary program at Anderson CTC is one of about twenty career preparation programs offered to students from four high schools in Anderson County Districts 1 and 2, including Wren High School, where Tommi Rae is a student.

Moree, who is in his 5th year as the culinary instructor, says he's seeing more and more students who are serious about culinary careers. He uses ProStart, a national culinary curriculum that prepares students with not only classroom instruction, but real-world experience and a certificate of achievement that is helpful for securing future employment or getting into culinary school.

With that preparation while she's still in high school and the scholarship prize from Chopped, Tommi Rae is on her way to being the first in her family to go on to higher education--a fact that was noted by Chopped host Ted Allen:

"Tommi Rae put up an amazing fight against some very strong competition! We would have been thrilled if either she or Sequoia Pranger won, as they both will be among the first (if not the first) in their families to move on to higher education. And Tommi Rae did it! You could really see the pride in her father's face. We also have Tommi Rae and all of her competitors to thank for giving the network an incredible month-long performance--because of that, I strongly suspect that we will have another teen tournament in a future season. Wishing her the very best in culinary school, and down the line--we haven't seen the last of this gal!"

After she won the tournament, Tommi Rae says guest judge Alex Stupak was particularly encouraging, telling her, "Fortune favors the bold."

"I'll never forget that," she says. "I've thought of that quote so often since I won Chopped."

*Photos courtesy of Food Network

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at