Ladies and gentlemen, your new Chopped “Taco Brawl” champ… Kiersten Gormeley!
After living in Hawaii for seven months with her sister, Krista, Kiersten Gormeley returned to New Jersey in 2015, bringing with her the aloha spirit and an interest in a healthier lifestyle. In turn, the sisters opened Shaka, a restaurant where health meets happiness.
With a menu ranging from açaí and poké bowls to smoothies and juices, Shaka caught on in Hoboken, launching Gormeley to new heights. In May, she beat out three other chefs to win “Taco Brawl,” an episode of Food Network’s Chopped.
“I really feel like I portrayed my personality throughout the whole show,” Gormeley says. “I believe the food I made really expresses who I am as a chef and individual.”(This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.)
Table Hopping: Did you always dream of becoming a chef?
Kiersten Gormeley: I always knew I wanted to be in the culinary industry. My sister and I lived in Hawaii back in 2013, and when we were younger we had a “cafe” called Café Croissant. It was our make-believe cafe that we would play on vacation and make people things like croissants with melted cheese. We think of Shaka as our real-life Café Croissant.
TH: What was the idea behind Shaka?
KG: We are a chef-driven, health-conscious restaurant. We’re gluten- and dairy-free, allergen-conscious and vegan-friendly. I try to adapt the Hawaiian lifestyle and aloha spirit to my food, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we serve Hawaiian food. It’s food that makes you happy and feel good—that’s how we felt while we were there.
TH: What do you offer at Shaka?
KG: We have toasts, açaí bowls, salads, yogurt and oatmeal bowls, poké bowls—and we have tacos, which we’re pretty famous for at this point. We have Buffalo Shrimp tacos topped with strawberries, Lava Rock Shrimp tacos and battered Coconut Shrimp tacos with grilled mango slaw.
TH: What is it like partnering with your sister?
KG: We balance each other out, for sure. If I’m having 30-second dance parties, she’s holding down the fort. We have different roles and duties. My brother is also a silent partner in our business and helped us start it, and then my older sister, Lauren, helps with accounting and things like that. It’s a big family affair.
TH: What made you want to go on Chopped?
KG: I really just loved the show. My expertise is being able to create just from looking at ingredients and things, so I thought, “Hey, I’d be good at this.” I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew it would be hard.
TH: And you came out victorious! What was your toughest challenge on the show?
KG: It really is the time because by the time you figure out what you want to make, you’re already down like four minutes. Other than that, I’m pretty focused when I cook, so I don’t really pay mind to what’s going on.
TH: Of all the ingredients in the episode, did you have a favorite?
KG: I was definitely excited about the dessert round. It was fun to use those ingredients. I don’t plan to feature anything I made on the show at Shaka, but I plan to keep livening up my menu for sure. I usually have limited-time offers every season, and I have a specials menu. I’m currently working on a dessert right now, which will be a new baked good.
TH: Now that you’re a Chopped champ, what’s next?
KG: I’m really looking forward to how this will help my business and how it will help it expand. We’re starting to franchise our stores in the next month or so. Maybe more cooking shows or even my own cooking show. That’d be fun.