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The Chopping Block: Michael and Panya


Craigslist is responsible for more than housing swaps and random hook-ups. For engaged couple Michael Holmes and Panya Rice it was the gateway to their television debut on the new NBC show, “The Chopping Block,” as they compete with other teams aspiring to be restaurant owners. The foodies and parents of two met eight years ago when they both worked in a Washington, DC restaurant and have continued to make a good team as Holmes cooks and Rice plays host and organizer. They share details on their new show and their lives in the kitchen.

ESSENCE.com: You guys are hilarious on the show. As the chef in the relationship, Michael, when did you realize you had a knack for cooking?
(laughs) Me and my best friend were just talking about this! He told me he knew I was going to be a chef back when we worked together at McDonalds in high school. I use to have what I called commercial burgers and wanted mine to look exactly like they did on TV with the cheese in the corner. I use to take pride in that and you have to always take pride in your food.
PANYA  RICE: He’s still very meticulous with his sandwiches. Peanut butter and jelly take forever. 

ESSENCE.com: (laughs) So, how was the competition and dealing with the other teams?
I wasn’t focused on anyone there. I just focused on getting down in the kitchen. I honestly thought I would go in and be a character and maybe get a spinoff. I was thinking a ghetto gourmet angle(laughs). It didn’t quite work out for me because when I got in that kitchen, I was all business and focused on my performance.

ESSENCE.com: And with so many food reality shows, how is this one different?
A lot of the shows, you go in and just have to cook. On this one, we start from the ground up and have to do everything from marketing to décor to menu to door service. It’s going to show people who want to start a restaurant it’s not a cake walk. We have been in this business for years and know it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears, so it definitely wasn’t a surprise to us. The competitive part was something new to me though, and that was difficult.

ESSENCE.com: Definitely. What tips do you have for people who are just finding their way around the kitchen, and any for parents for good food on the go?
Play with food. That’s how I got into this. Don’t be scared to go in the kitchen. You’re going to make mistakes and all chefs still do.  But if you make the food, it’s going to be healthier because you know exactly what’s in it. The more you do it, the quicker it is. For parents, my kids love glazed carrots. They are a little sweet and still give them a lot of vitamins. Balance the sugar with the healthy stuff and try things like celery and peanut butter.
RICE: Also make it fun for the kids and incorporate them into the cooking process. And let the kids know the health benefits of different dishes like how the carrots make them see better.

ESSENCE.com: So for you Panya, is the stomach the way to a woman’s heart as well?
Oh yes. He use to flirt with me with chicken parmesan at our job. Mine was extra special and he amazed me. The first time I went over his house, he cooked tuna steak, scallops basil, grilled asparagus and jasmine rice. For him to take such pride over his work and his home really impressed me. Him being a short chef didn’t matter!

 Catch “The Chopping Block” Wednesdays on NBC at 8pm EST.