BRIDGEWATER, NJ – It’s deja vu, in the best way possible, for Bridgewater-Raritan High School graduate Dave Hadley, who won a second cooking competition on the Food Network after he took the top prize on Supermarket Stakeout.
The episode, which aired Feb. 9, featured Hadley competing with three other chefs for the top prize on the cooking show that sees them paying shoppers for the items they purchased at the grocery store, and then using whatever they find to cook a dish.
Hadley won the top $10,000 prize, four years after he also won the top $10,000 prize on an episode of Chopped on the network.
“I was very excited to be on the show, I was very excited to win,” he said. “For me, competition is what I like the most, it’s just in my blood. I was really happy with winning only because I want to put the money to good use.”
Hadley said the producers reached out to him before COVID hit, and he was doing interviews while trying to figure out how the shooting would be possible.
“I was at the time a culinary director for a hospitality group here in Denver,” he said. “I was traveling between Chicago and Denver, training and opening fast casual concepts, and it was so much fun. I loved it, I thought for a time that that was what I was going to do for a while.”
And then, Hadley said, the pandemic hit, and he lost his job as the restaurant industry began to spiral.
“I was lucky to just get on the show,” he said.
Hadley said that being part of the show was great, especially during COVID.
“We were tested every other day,” he said. “And it felt nice being with a group of people who were awesome and really just vibed the whole time.”
The show, Hadley said, sees four contestants competing in a parking lot in front of a grocery store. The idea, he said, is that each contestant starts with $500, and they need to buy groceries from the shoppers walking out of the store.
“You need to create a dish that represents the theme that is given to you before each round starts,” he said. “You will bid against other contestants to get groceries from shoppers. The first round is as many customers as you can get without looking inside their bags.”
Hadley found himself the lucky one in his episode, with its Italian theme in the first round, when he was the only one of the four contestants to purchase grocery bags with pasta inside them.
The second round, Hadley said, says that chefs can buy from only one shopper, but they can look through their bags, and the third round requires chefs to buy only five ingredients from any random number of shoppers.
“The judges decide each round if the dish is close to the theme, and how it tastes and looks,” he said.
In addition to the competition, Hadley said he enjoys cooking with random ingredients.
“I think I’m pretty good at that,” he said. “When I was younger, I would raid all my friends’ pantries and make dishes out of whatever they had, including leftovers.”
Hadley said he enjoyed everything about the competition.
“I’m obviously a competitive person, and I love just having a challenge,” he said. “I want to keep doing these shows and proving to myself and others that I can cook.”
“This is also helping me get better on TV, better for camera,” he added. “I really enjoy it, and I think I want to connect to my guests no matter what, in person or on TV.”
Aside from his work on the show, Hadley has been working on a new project, called Samosa Shop. The money from his win on the show will help fund the project, he said.
“It’s an ode to my family’s culture,” he said, “the blend of South Indian and the West Indies.”
Hadley said they take a dish that is recognizable, for example bacon, egg and cheese. Then, he said, they make that the filling to their samosas, which are normally just potato and pea.
“We serve Indian/Caribbean street food made with love,” he said.
Hadley said he will have them available for online ordering and delivery around the United States.
“I’m really excited and nervous about it,” he said. “It’s my first business.”
Right now, Hadley said, he does a lot of outdoor markets, kitchen and bar takeovers and pop ups around Colorado, where he lives. He said he will be looking for a location closer to summer 2021.
In the meantime, Hadley said, he is planning a pop up in New Jersey in the spring, probably end of March or early April, where people can see him takeover a kitchen from his hometown.
The plan, Hadley said, is for it to be at Lombardi Pizza Co., in Martinsville, where he will feature his samosas for a night, and also maybe have a collaborative pizza or dish together.
“It’s just merging the two worlds,” he said. “We have Indian food and Italian, which tandoori chicken pizza comes to mind right away.”
Hadley cultivated his love of food back home in Bridgewater, where his family settled from Jersey City when he was in third grade.
He graduated from the high school in 2010. He did an independent study during his senior year to focus on his culinary passions, and it helped him land a spot after graduation at the Culinary Institute of America.
Part of his college degree included a six-month internship in the culinary field, and he chose to go to Colorado. He got his bachelor’s degree in hospitality and management, and then moved back to Denver.
But he said he is excited to come back to Bridgewater for the pop up.
“[The restaurant] happens to be close to my heart because of a family connection, and it’s down the street from where I live,” he said. “This will be a fun thing because I’ll be coming back home to show what I’ve been doing in Denver for a couple years. It will be great to see old friends and fans I’ve gained.”