Chef Jen Swan watches the premiere of the "Chopped" show she competed in at a viewing party at the Tannery Row Ale House. Photo by Alicia Payne

A local chef got a chance of a lifetime after being accepted to compete on the Food Network series “Chopped.” 

Chef Jen Swan, a Buford resident and head chef of The Brunch Apothecary in Dacula, saw an open casting call on the Food Network’s website for the series Chopped and decided to send in her application. 

Family and friends of Chef Jen Swan watch the premiere of the “Chopped” episode that Swan competed in at a viewing party at the Tannery Row Ale House on March 26, 2024. Photo by Alicia Payne

Swan got the callback and she was invited to compete in an episode called “Breakfast Baskets” that first aired on March 26. Family and friends gathered for a viewing party at the Tannery Row Ale House to watch the episode premiere on the big screen. 

The episode centered around breakfast and each chef had to prepare dishes using the ingredients they were given in a basket. The chefs could use additional ingredients in their dishes but had to use the ingredients in the baskets in some way in their dishes. There were three rounds including appetizer, main course and dessert. After each round, a competitor was eliminated by the judges.

During the episode, the competitors have to create dishes using the special ingredients in their baskets. Photo by Alicia Payne.

In the first round, the ingredients in the basket included pancake mix, green tomatoes, thick-cut bacon and a fruit parfait. Swan said she knew right away that she was going to fry the green tomatoes so she used the pancake mix with cornmeal and spices to bread the tomatoes for frying. She ended up making a fried green tomato stack with bacon and a fried egg and topped it with hot sauce-infused strawberries. 

In the main course round, the competitors’ basket ingredients were breakfast sausage links, old-fashioned oatmeal, red grapes and canned quail eggs. 

“In this basket, the worst thing for me was the quail eggs, I had never used those before,” Swan said. “My plan going into this round was to patty out the sausage, coat it in the oatmeal and build a sandwich stack. I ended up making a gribiche (think loose egg salad)  to top the patty and pickling the grapes and tossing it with arugula.”

Swan made it to the final round, dessert and was given red apples, scrapple, hash brown patties and what Swan described as “the worst thing on the planet,” durian instant coffee as the basket ingredients. She decided to make a durian-infused cake with a durian simple syrup on top of a scrap-apple hash with fresh whipped cream.

After sampling her competitor, Aaron Fish’s dish, Swan felt pretty confident with her final dish of the competition. 

The crowd celebrates Chef Jen Swan’s victory at her viewing party on March 26, 2024. Photo by Alicia Payne.

Fast forward to the viewing party at Tannery Row, the suspense was thick on who would win the episode as Swan was not allowed to reveal the outcome of the competition. Swan’s 60 guests were filled with anticipation and they erupted into applause and cheers the moment Swan was announced as the winner. 

When asked what went through her head when she was announced as the winner, she said, “I almost couldn’t believe it, Aaron made such pretty plates, but I do feel like my flavors were on point the whole day, and at the end when we tried each other’s desserts I knew mine was better there. So it was a surprise but it wasn’t super shocking. I was very thankful and felt validated, I would love to compete again!”

How it all began

Swan was born in a small town on the border of Vermont and New Hampshire called Woodsville, New Hampshire. She started working in the food industry in college as a waitress and she also did food prep in the kitchen of a local truck stop. She graduated from the Maine College of Art in Portland with a Bachelor’s degree in graphic design with a minor in illustration.

Over the years, Swan developed a love of cooking and picked up skills from her various jobs. She also took culinary classes at Southern Maine Community College.

“I, unfortunately, didn’t get to finish the program, but I like to say I learned the ‘how not to kill anyone classes’ which were serve-safe, inventory management, culinary math, etc,” said Swan.

After Jen Swan and her husband moved to Louisiana, she became the chef on this vessel owned by Edison Chouest Offshore in Cutoff, Louisiana. Photo courtesy of Jen Swan.

Swan and her husband, who she grew up with and dated in college, came to a crossroads in their careers due to the economy crashing. Her husband’s sister, a merchant marine in Louisana told her husband, Matt that the company she worked for was hiring. Not wanting to be left behind, Swan followed her husband south and both began working for Edison Chouest Offshore in Cutoff, Louisiana. 

Jen Swan grills up a meal on board the Edison Chouest Offshore vessel. Photo courtesy of Jen Swan.

She said the interview for the job was the most awkward of her life as she was simply asked if she could cook spaghetti and after learning that she could cook in bulk, she was hired. 

“I was quickly thrown into the deep end on an anchor-boat cooking for 35 people and then it quickly jumped to 50 people…on my very first hitch,” said Swan. “It was overwhelming to say the least, but because of this environment, where you are all by yourself cooking three meals a day plus being the morale of the vessel you learn to run really quick!”

The job taught Swan how to be self-sufficient as she had no one else to depend on and the meals had to get made no matter what. She was able to be as creative as she wanted and got a firm grasp of the basics.

Chef Jen Swan with her boss, Rico Cunnington, his wife and his mother at the viewing party at the Tannery Row Ale House on March 26, 2024. Photo by Alicia Payne.

After five years, Swan and her husband landed in Georgia and she continued working in the food industry with jobs at Antebellum in Flowery Branch and Cotton Calf Kitchens in Braselton. After leaving Cotton Calf Kitchens, Swan interviewed with Rico Cunnington, the owner of Rico’s World Kitchen in Buford, who was looking for help at his new restaurant, The Brunch Apothecary in Dacula. Swan has been at The Brunch Apothecary for eight years and has been the head chef for five of those eight years.

The future

Swan has applied to compete on other Food Network shows and is waiting to hear back to see if she has been accepted. In addition to working at The Brunch Apothecary, Swan has her own business, as a private chef. She offers her culinary services for dinner parties and small catering jobs. She recently launched her new website for her catering business

“My next goals are to level up the Brunch (Apothecary) to bring it the attention it deserves as the best brunch spot around and I hope to continue expanding my own business,” she said.

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