Phoenix Chef Sasha Raj Won Guy's Grocery Games on Food Network | Phoenix New Times

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Chef Sasha Raj Shares Her Experience of Winning Guy's Grocery Games

Local Chef Sasha Raj won Guy's Grocery Games on Food Network. She shares what it was like to compete.
Chef Sasha Raj impressed the judges on Guy's Grocery Games with her blackening technique on faux salmon.
Chef Sasha Raj impressed the judges on Guy's Grocery Games with her blackening technique on faux salmon. Food Network
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Local chef Sasha Raj caught the attention of a Food Network producer with her vegetarian cooking, landing her a chance to compete on celebrity chef Guy Fieri's competition show Guy's Grocery Games. And for Raj, the call to compete came at exactly the right time.

In late 2021, the landlord of her Tempe restaurant 24 Carrots Natural Cafe decided not to renew the lease for the location. So after 13 years, the restaurant closed. Suddenly, Raj had time to dedicate to another endeavor.

"Four hours after I turned in the keys to my restaurant, the producer of Grocery Games called me and asked if I would appear on the show," Raj says. She admits, initially, even after more than a decade in the industry, she felt some impostor syndrome.

"It still feels like a dream, to be honest," she says.

The premise of the show is simple — competitors race through host Guy Fieri's "grocery store" and pick ingredients to create a winning dish. Either three or four chefs then compete to create the best dish. The challenge for Raj's episode was "Beat the Judges: The Vegetarian Episode."

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Phoenix chef Sasha Raj won $20,000 on Guy Fieri's Grocery Games.
Food Network
The judges participating included chefs Damaris Phillips, Bryan Voltaggio, Michael Voltaggio, and Justin Warner. Raj says that even though she was competing, she made lifelong friendships and expanded her community of chefs.

When the competition began, Raj didn't have every ingredient at her disposal. Competitors were given two thin bags and were faced with running up and down the grocery aisles through a fake store that they were unfamiliar with.

"You're trying to build a dish in your mind and you're doing this in real-time," Raj says. The time allotment is 30 minutes from start to finish.

Pulling from her Indian heritage, Raj decided to make a jackfruit shawarma dish for the first round.

"I could hear my heartbeat in my ears and I think when you work in the restaurant industry you're also used to working under a lot of pressure," she says.

She quickly moved past the first round, eliminated her competitors, and won $10,000. She then moved to the next round, where she got the choice of which judge to compete against. Raj picked Damaris Phillips, a chef from Kentucky who is married to a vegetarian.

Raj says she was immediately drawn to her "kind, sweet, bubbly and welcoming personality," and her Kentucky roots. The parameters of the competition involved a "5-star vegetarian dinner showdown." For this dish, Raj had to include a cracker component, use a juicer, and incorporate a blackening technique.

She chose to make a blackened "salmon" from papaya and laid it on top of rice noodles. For her juicer component, she created a sauce that she describes as "fresh ginger married with several spices creating a salty, sweet mixture." She crumbled peanuts to make a crispy topping.

As she was making her dish, she recalls, "I didn't have the guts to look at the clock." With the little time remaining, she created her own version of a cracker.

The judges were especially impressed with her blackening technique, leading her to win an additional $10,000. Raj's skills, earned from years of running her restaurant, took her all the way to the top. She won the competition in January and took home $20,000 as her bounty.

Raj is grateful she had the experience to appear on the show.

Chef Sasha Raj ran 24 Carrots Natural Cafe for 13 years.
Sasha Raj
"I had gone on the show saying I'm just going to do the very best that I can and hopefully it will resonate," she says. And she's grateful that the funds will help her continue the philanthropic efforts she spearheaded when she owned 24 Carrots.

"One of the things that I missed and mourn about 24 Carrots is the work we did with the community," she says. During the pandemic, she supported nonprofits that aligned with causes dedicated to food insecurity.

"It was hard to think about all of those efforts coming to an end. Even when we were wrapping up, we did our best to make sure that we could spread the love and donated our equipment to nonprofits," Raj says.

She plans to take a portion of the proceeds to donate to various community organizations that are supporting conversations around food security and nutrition access. As far as opening a restaurant in the future, she hasn't ruled out the possibility.

"I think the biggest gift that this experience gave me is it showed that [there] was still a way forward," Raj says, "to do what made my heart sing."
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