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Chef's creativity curries 'Chopped' honor, cash

In a hard-fought battle, Portland food cart chef Nong Poonsukwattanawon won bragging rights and $10,000 in Tuesday night's episode of the popular cooking show "Chopped" on the Food Network.

Poonsukwattanawon owns Nong's Khao Man Gai, a food cart with a cult-like following at its locations downtown and at Portland State University, as well as a brick and mortar restaurant in Southeast Portland.

The food cart features chicken and rice prepared like it is in her native Bangkok, with a spicy sauce that she also sells bottled.

Wearing a bright orange stocking cap and frequently citing her mother in Thailand as her biggest inspiration, Poonsukwattanawon beat out three other food cart chefs with her innovative creations, including another from Portland.

Han Ly Hwang, owner of Kim Jong Grillin', a Korean barbecue food cart on Southeast Division Street, was the second of the four chefs to be "chopped," sent home for failing to put a serving of his fiddlehead fern kimchi on one of the judge's plates.

In the final round of the Aug. 19 show, Poonsukwattanawon made a coconut ice cream with pickled mangos and a crispy won ton with sauce made from flan and Vietnamese coffee. Apparently she had an edge with that surprise ingredient, since she says she drinks two of those every day.

Judges praised Poonsukwattanawon for being the first contestant on the show to make a curry from scratch, to which she added suckling pig and pork skin. Judges said the latter wasn't crispy enough and nearly sent her home, but were wowed by her creativity and variety of textures in her dishes.