BOW — Ryan Ross scooped out the soft innards of a sweet potato while standing at her kitchen counter last week. She was in the middle of crafting her take on stuffed twice-baked potatoes.
“It’s so pretty, isn’t it?” she said of the vegetable’s opaque purple flesh.
It was a typical day for the 30-year-old Ross, a freelance chef who runs Supper Corps, a community dining program that typically draws 40 or more.
Ross recently gained a bit of fame after her victory on the Food Network show “Chopped,” an elimination cooking competition. Ross battled three other chefs for a $10,000 prize during a health-focused episode called “Light is Right” that aired in October.
She said she plans to use her winnings as seed money for a commercial kitchen for Supper Corps.
Ross, a Virginia native who graduated from the National Gourmet Institute in New York in 2009, started Supper Corps five years ago in New York. She’s kept it going since moving to Bow two years ago.
Through the program, Ross organizes large community dinners, mostly during warmer months, and invites community members to sign up. She doesn’t charge for the dinners, instead taking donations.
Venues vary depending on the season. Ross said her favorite one was held at Bow Hill Blueberries.
She describes the events as welcoming, laid-back, multi-course meals.
“It doesn’t have the white-linen look, but the food will make you feel like you’re at a white-linen place,” she said.
As for appearing on “Chopped,” Ross said she wanted to add it to her list of adventures. Before moving to Skagit County, she helped open a restaurant on a tiny Nicaraguan island.
The show’s format includes three elimination rounds: an appetizer, entree and dessert. The ingredients of each round are kept secret from the chefs until each timed round starts
“You really don’t know what’s in those baskets, so the pressure is on,” she said.
The cameras weren’t too distracting for Ross, who spent time on stage while studying performing arts in college before attending the culinary school.
“I was hoping to stay calm,” she said. “In every reality television show, you are very aware of how people are watching you. I was happy with how it turned out.”
The theme — healthy eating — was a pleasant yet scary surprise for Ross because her definition of healthy eating isn’t mainstream, she said.
Ross said many see eating light as having to do with minimal food and flavors, while she sees it as balanced eating using healthy ingredients.
“Once they announced the health-supportive theme, my brain went, ‘Oh no. It’s going to be lowfat, SnackWells stuff,’” Ross said.
She quickly began formulating her game plan.
“How do I get across that balanced eating really is healthy and functional?” she remembered thinking when learning of the show’s theme.
She was pleased with her performance and got the chance to explain to one of the judges her take on healthy food after being criticized for making salmon cakes during the appetizer round.
“It came across quite well, I thought,” she said. “The other guys I competed with made bunless burgers, no honey, salt or anything.”
Now Ross can turn her attention to expanding Supper Corps.
She said she hasn’t decided on a location for the commercial space, but that Skagit County is definitely on her radar.
“The view and the food here would be pretty hard to leave,” she said.