Everett native Dan Rassi had his knives sharpened and the ovens warmed up this week as he prepared to compete on the Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ television show – a show that premiered Tuesday night after Independent deadlines.
A 2001 Everett High graduate who played football and basement – and also took classes for two years in the Everett High Culinary Program – Rassi now operates two restaurants in North Conway, NH with his brother-in-law Marc Iannuzzi, also from Everett.
“There’s a lot at stake on the show – a lot of bragging rights, of course the prize money and the notoriety for my restaurants,” he said. “They found me and emailed me. When I first saw the email I didn’t believe it because it didn’t come directly from them, but from a casting agent. I was like, ‘Yea, right.’ But then I saw that it was correct and gladly accepted. I am grateful for the opportunity.”
The family is no stranger to culinary TV, though, as his sister, Kathy Iannuzzi, won the Cupcake Wars competition on the Food Network a few years back, helping her to launch a successful cupcake shop in New Hampshire.
Kathy had spent four years in the EHS Culinary Program and was a great mentor to Rassi, he said. He said he loved growing up in Everett and learned his initial passion for great food there in the Culinary Program and in other restaurants and sandwich shops.
“My parents still live in Everett,” he said. “I have a lot of friends there still. Everett provided me a great upbringing and great friends. My first job was at the Silver Fox, where my brother in law got me a job washing dishes at the age of 13. I worked at Antonetta’s and DiBlasi’s and then R. Wesley’s on Broadway…I worked at R. Wesley’s for six years and learned the high end of food. I’ve always been around restaurants, but it took me awhile to realize I wanted to be a chef.”
After high school, Rassi said college didn’t work out for him, and he “floated” around Everett for a while, being a “knucklehead.” Finally, he said, he decided to clean up his act and moved to Florida with Marc and Kathy for a fresh start. Getting a job in a restaurant there, he said he learned important skills and developed a passion for making great food.
After working in the restaurant at a top golf course in Florida, and a couple of other places, he decided to follow his sister to North Conway, NH, to open her shop on the heels of her Cupcake Wars win. However, he said while cooking sweets is fun, he was made to be a chef.
“I finally said enough with the sugar, I need some salt,” he said. “I’m a chef and I needed to cook again.”
After working under Chef Theresa Stearns in North Conway, he said he became very serious about his food and his abilities in the kitchen. That helped him to partner with Marc Iannuzzi to open Wicked Fresh Craft Burgers, which also spawned Fire by Fresh, a new brick-oven pizzeria.
“We put together the burger joint and it just blew up,” he said. “There are no burger joints up here and there was a need. Three years later we’re at 250,000 burgers sold. My dining room is closed now because of COVID, but we just came off our best summer. Fire by Fresh is doing okay, but has had some trouble because of location, but maybe that will all change after ‘Chopped.’”
The show was filmed last summer in Kennebunkport, Maine, Rassi said. The set-up was an outdoor kitchen with a stove, grill, griddle, blender and mixer. The title of the show is ‘Comfort Food Feuds,’ and the specialty competition focused on burgers. The show brings in four chefs in four rounds of competition and whittles it down to two through challenges of making the burgers, but with odd ingredients like pigs feet and chocolate crickets or other oddities.
Rassi couldn’t reveal how he did on the show, but hosted a watch part online at his restaurant Tuesday night. He said in the past, chefs spent all their time in the kitchen and weren’t on TV. Now, with celebrity chefs and cooking shows like ‘Chopped,’ it opens up a world of notoriety. He said he hopes the show will propel the North Conway dining scene and his restaurants too.
“I hope the show sheds a little light onto North Conway and specifically our restaurants,” he said. “With COVID, we were closed three months in one restaurant and two months at the other one. It was a big hit. It would be nice to get that notoriety and have people come in because they saw the show and what I can do. That’s not just for myself, but for the staff. It’s also confirmation for me that all the hard work I put in – the thankless jobs over the years and all the holidays I missed with my kids – it was all worth it.”
Meanwhile, Rassi, 37, said he is proud to be from Everett and makes mention of it all the time even though he’s up in North Conway.
“I loved growing up in Everett and I’m proud to be from Everett and to say I am from Everett,” he said. “I’ve lived in Canada, Puerto Rico, New Hampshire and Maine, and there is no place like Everett to get the community feeling I had there.”
Rassi is the son of Rafael and Iraida Gonzalez, who still live on Hospital Hill. His wife is Angelys Rassi and they have four kids and live in Fryeburg, Maine.