Patrons order food and pick up take-out at Figgy’s Takeout & Catering in Portland. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

Natalie DiBenedetto, owner of Figgy’s Takeout and Catering at 722 Congress St. in Portland, won $10,000 Tuesday night on the Food Network show “Chopped.”

Skillet fried chicken is the anchor of the Figgy’s menu, so DiBenedetto was happy to discover that one of the mystery ingredients she had too cook with on the show was – drum roll – chicken. It “wasn’t that exciting,” she said, “but I knew exactly what I was doing.”

The episode, titled “Dollar Dishes,” was taped in February 2018, so DiBenedetto had to keep the fact that she won secret for over a year. Her husband and her 12-year-old son were the only ones who knew that she was the champion, she said; they figured it out because contestants are allowed to call home after they are eliminated, and she never made that call. When her friends and other members of her family asked if she’d won, she told them she couldn’t say.

“It was rather difficult for someone like myself, who has no filter,” DiBenedetto joked.

The chef viewed the show Tuesday night at the Portland Club, where about 100 family and friends gathered to cheer her on. After the show, she went to a favorite bar, Ruski’s, and bought everyone a round. Her cellphone, she said, “blew up” with 103 text messages congratulating her, many of them from her hometown of Jefferson City, Missouri.

In “Chopped,” four chefs are given three mystery baskets containing surprise ingredients that they have to use to prepare an appetizer, entree or dessert within a set time. After each basket, one chef is eliminated from the competition by a panel of three judges, until just one person is left standing. Many Maine chefs have appeared on the show in recent years. DiBenedetto, the sixth Maine chef to win, said the show was “the hardest thing I ever signed up to do.”

“It’s legit,” she said. “You open the basket, and that’s it. That’s when you know. You’ve got maybe 30 seconds before you start cooking, and you’re off. I’m a nervous person to begin with, so putting me under pressure, it was very, very difficult.”

DiBenedetto, whose nickname is Figgy, said that shortly before the show began taping, she went to the restroom to compose herself because she was starting to panic. She gave herself a little pep talk, she recalled, as she tried to regain her composure: “C’mon, Fig, get it together. You signed up for this. You’re better than this.”

A producer came in and calmed her down, then informed her that her microphone had been on the whole time, and that the judges and other contestants could hear everything she’d been saying behind closed doors.

“I was so embarrassed,” she said, laughing.

DiBenedetto plans to use her winnings to pay her family’s taxes.

Occasionally chefs are asked to return to the show to compete against other past winners. Given her level of anxiety at the taping, would DiBenedetto do it again?

“I think I’d kind of have to, not so much for me but for my family and friends,” she said. “If it were just up to me, I don’t know. It was so nerve-racking, I don’t know if I would want to go through that again.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad


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