Ren Fredeking had half a stick of celery and half a carrot to work with.
“If I mess that up, I’m kind of screwed,” Fredeking said.
From home chef to a winning contestant, the Little Elm resident rose to compete on Netflix’s “Best Leftovers Ever,” a show that requires contestants to transform leftover food into new dishes for judges David So, a YouTuber and comedian, and celebrity chef Rosemary Shrager.
Fredeking is a self-taught home chef who designs his own menus for his family each week. As a child, Fredeking cooked meals for his brother and himself. As he attended college, Fredeking learned how to make different meals from chefs at the different restaurants at which he waited.
“Knowing that I was a struggling college kid, I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford to learn how to do that, so I tried to recreate some of those dishes at home to feed myself,” Fredeking said.
Recently, Fredeking took in his granddaughters and began adjusting his menu for them. Each night throughout the week, Fredeking cycles through different cuisines including Asian, Mexican, Italian and Indian using leftover meat that he smoked over the weekend. On Fridays, Fredeking will also make pizza and ice cream with his granddaughters. Fredeking said he tries to expand their palettes while practicing his cooking.
“Those girls are sort of my test palette,” Fredeking said. “Sometimes it’s a victory, sometimes it’s not. I’ll tell you, though – a 4-year-old and 5-year-old will tell you whether or not they like something.”
Before contending on “Best Leftovers Ever,” Fredeking applied to other cooking shows, one of which being “Master Chef.” After a few attempts, Fredeking earned a spot on the Netflix show.
“Cooking food on camera and doing TV are two different things,” Fredeking said. “It takes some practice to sit in front of a screen and give them enough that they want to use you. Several failures in the past finally got me here.”
The show features two challenges where contestants must turn fridge leftovers into new, vibrant dishes for the panel of judges within 30 minutes. Contestants were also provided a stocked pantry and fridge staples to give flavor to their dishes.
Fredeking said using leftovers to cook with was something that he was used to already since he used his leftover smoked meat for dishes throughout the week.
“I didn’t realize how important that would be in 2020, but a lot of folks have leftovers and to-go orders, so it brought me back to the reality of the situation this past year,” Fredeking said. “I think the idea and execution of the show might help those who don’t cook as much.”
Fredeking noted that some of the challenge was orienting one’s self to a new kitchen while talking through your dish to the camera and judges under a tight time constraint.
“I also got to the set late, so I didn’t get a tour of the kitchen, I didn’t get a look in the pantry,” Fredeking said. “It was almost to where I just came in dropped my bag, put my apron on, and started shooting and cooking.”
The first challenge involved turning bacon-wrapped brats and blueberry cobbler into a late-night snack. Fredeking’s dish featured Asian meatballs using the cobbler as a sauce and a side- salad of celery and carrots.
After 30 minutes, the three contestants must present their dishes to the judges for tasting.
Fredeking said another challenge was making sure things tasted OK and making adjustments while preparing a full dish under the time constraints.
“Everything’s going through my head,” Fredeking said. “I’m like, ‘oh my god, did I do that right, what did I miss, how’s it going to taste?’”
The second challenge required Fredeking to convert a duck confit into an entirely new dish. Fredeking chose to make a Persian Dutch baby accompanied by cardamom-lemon ice cream. Fredeking said while he was more familiar with the kitchen, the round was equally stressful as he tried to catch up from the first round.
“I had to kind of relax myself and focus on creating a good dish – try to harness my inner iron chef to make that savory ice cream on the plate,” Fredeking said. “I figured I had nothing to lose, and making ice cream on Friday nights made it an easy deal for me.”
After the second round, Fredeking won the cash prize.
“It was a good victory for us and our family,” Fredeking said. “We had a couple of bad things happen to us over the month on that day of shooting, so it was a good victory. It helped me reaffirm a lot of what I do with the girls and just kind of the whole journey.”
Fredeking said after winning the challenges on “Best Leftovers Ever” he plans to contend on other cooking shows.