Local chef wins network cook-off show

Meghan Cooper

WINCHESTER — When some folks get their 15 minutes in the spotlight, they’ll do anything to make it a half an hour. Meghan Cooper is not one of those folks.

Cooper, who is a chef at the Butcher’s Station in Kernstown, appeared on Guy’s Grocery Games on Sunday, winning $12,000. The show, referred to as Triple G, features Food Network personality Guy Ferrari and has four contestants shop and cook four meals in under half an hour. As Cooper put it, the show’s format is a cross between Iron Chef and Supermarket Sweep.

Newly engaged, an expecting mother and freshly minted local celebrity, Cooper said it all started in Lovettsville, when she picked up washing dishes at Bonnie’s Country Kitchen, a little diner in town where her mother waited tables.

“From 14 to 24, 25, I worked there on and off, waiting tables, washing dishes, cooking food, whatever they needed,” Cooper said. “So that’s where I got my exposure.”

While in high school, Cooper attended C.S Monroe Technical School in Leesburg.

“I didn’t have my head in a book, it was very hands on, which was good because I’m that kind of person,” Cooper said. “While I was at Vo Tech, some people from Johnson and Wales came, so I applied at the beginning of senior year and got accepted.”

That’s Johnson and Wales University, a culinary institute in Charlotte, North Carolina. Even though she learned to cook hearty duck and lamb dinners, she never lost her down home, comfort food roots, Cooper said.

“Being trained more in the fine dining aspects means you can cover all of your bases,” Cooper said. “I can do the blue plate stuff just as easy … growing up, that’s what my mom cooked, that’s what I grew up eating, so that’s a realm I fall back into easily.”

After graduating, Cooper bounced around the East Coast, cooking in Rhode Island and North Carolina before returning home to work at the Butcher’s Station. After living a few years with her mother in Bunker Hill, West Virginia, Cooper flew the nest and moved to Front Royal with her fiancé.

On the show, Cooper competed against three other contestants from varying backgrounds and with more experience. One was a culinary nutritionist, another owned a catering business and the last one owned a string of restaurants from France to San Francisco. Cooper said her background in different cooking styles gave her an edge.

“They all had at least 10 years more experience than me, but I didn’t have time to be intimidated,” Cooper said. “Me cooking at all those different places gave me an advantage, because I was not just fine dining or just comfort food, so I had done all of that … it helped open my mind up more when I was given the challenges.”

For instance, in the third round all the contestants had to cook a lunch for the judges using one item from each aisle of the store. Cooper made a “crazy, off the wall” open-faced sandwich, with sourdough, blue cheese, pickled jalapenos, salami and a “baby food mayonnaise.”

“It was ridiculous, but that’s what got me to win,” Cooper said.

Since filming the show in October, Cooper had to keep the fact she won a secret from everyone except those closest to her until Sunday.

“I was allowed to tell my family, I was allowed to tell my bosses, but other than that, nobody was allowed to know I won, so I had to keep my big mouth shut for a really long time,” Cooper said, with a laugh.

Cooper said she is excited to show her child, who is due in October, the show when he or she is of the age to understand.

“I plan on buying the season so I can show my kids and my nieces and nephews and say, ‘Look at me, I was on TV like 20 years ago when I looked good,'” she said.

Before debuting on Triple G, Cooper also applied to be a contestant on Cutthroat Kitchen, but was declined. Since the show, she said she has received no phone calls for other appearances.

“I would love to have my own Food Network show, like ‘Cooking with Coop’ or something like that,” she said. “I’ll probably apply for more shows after I have the baby.”

Cooper added, “This was a once in a lifetime experience I may never do again, and I’m cool with that. But if it happens again, hell yeah, but if it doesn’t, at least I won the show.”

For now, Cooper is just focused on taking care of herself, cooking spaghetti with her fiancé and whipping up farm to table dishes at the Butcher’s Station. The Butcher’s Station is located at 3107 Valley Avenue Suite 106 in Creekside Station in Kernstown.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com