The chef uses his knowledge of the industry to teach students the latest culinary trends.
Second place wasn’t good enough for Tim Witcher. The chef had been inspired by his fellow culinary friends to compete on the popular Food Network show “Chopped” in a 2015 episode, and while he made it all the way to the final round, he walked away disappointed.
“I wanted to win,” Witcher said. “It made me want to work harder.”
So when he got his shot at redemption, he knew it was an opportunity he could not refuse.
Witcher returned to the show a few months later. He said he felt much calmer the second time since he knew more of what to expect, after much praying and practicing.
“It wasn’t me against the other competitors,” he said. “It was me against the basket [of ingredients], and that was it.”
Each episode features four chefs facing off to impress a panel of celebrity chefs with their dishes. The twist: each contestant is given four ingredients they must use in their dishes, which often make for some very unusual combinations.
“I had fava beans, pig snouts, teething biscuits and strawberry margarita jam,” Witcher said about the second episode. The first time he competed, Witcher said he prepared the beans incorrectly.
Witcher emerged from the challenge victorious and joined the ranks of other “Chopped” champions.
The redemption episode aired in February 2016, but Witcher hasn’t slowed down since.
He serves as a culinary arts teacher at Camden County Technical School, where he has taught high school students for two years. Overall, he has taught for 12 years.
Witcher teaches healthy recipes and helps to prepare students for working in a kitchen in a real-life food service setting. During the week of March 10, both of his classes were in charge of running a cafeteria at the school.
“You want to keep it current,” Witcher said. “Coming from the industry, it’s good for me to be able to keep up with the trends in the field.”
Witcher isn’t the only chef in Sicklerville to collect trophies. This year, students in his class have participated in several competitions.
They competed in a SkillsUSA contest that placed them in a field and challenged them to prepare delicious meals out of MREs-Meals Ready to Eat — which are packets used for nourishment in the military.
“They were terrible,” Witcher said, recalling eating them as a child.
Given next to no resources, the school won second place after preparing six meals. They had to heat ingredients by setting napkins on fire.
The students continued their winning streak at the Camden County Barbeque Challenge, where they won for the third year in a row. They prepared potato pancake sliders, shrimp jambalaya fritters, ribs and jalapeno poppers.
Jamir Wimberly-Cole, one of Witcher’s students, made it to the state level of a SkillsUSA competition. He prepared a complex stuffed chicken dish “a lot” of times in preparation.
Though he did not place in the top three, he still has next year to try again, just as Witcher did.
Witcher was inspired to be a chef by his grandfather, who introduced him to culinary arts. He grew up watching cooking competition shows.
Previously, Witcher worked as an executive chef at the Wachovia Center- now the Wells Fargo Center — in Philadelphia and at the Wyndham Hotel in Mt. Laurel, and was an executive sous chef at the former Hilton Hotel in Cherry Hill.
He said the transition from chef to teacher was a natural one.
“When you’re a chef somewhere, you’re a teacher anyway,” he said. “You have to teach someone to make your dishes, and build off their strengths and work on their weaknesses.”
When he’s not in the kitchen, the Burlington resident spends time with his family. He is married with a boy and a girl, who participate in football and cheerleading. He also serves as a wrestling coach at Overbrook High School.