There are plenty of ways to make pizza, but the ingredients Norma Knepp uses to make her pies at Root’s Country Market in East Hempfield Township stay the same — dough, cheese, tomato sauce and some toppings and spices.
As a contestant on an upcoming episode of “Chopped,” Knepp was handed a mystery basket of ingredients and asked to come up with something amazing. She can’t share much about the episode, which will air Dec. 4, but one thing is clear: She didn’t make pizza.
Her appearance on the popular Food Network show is the latest accomplishment for Knepp, who became a pizza celebrity when she won the USA Caputo Cup New York Style pizza championship in January 2016 in New York City. Knepp beat more than 100 other pizza chefs from across the country.
Since then, she’s appeared on Viceland’s “The Pizza Show” and collected fans through her social media accounts.
Another pizza chef who competed on “Chopped” pushed Knepp to apply for the show. Knepp says she is a “Chopped” fan, but had her doubts about appearing on the show.
“That’s too intense for me,” she says. “I’m not a chef.”
Someone with the show reached out, and she reconsidered. When Knepp was told the show was looking for grandmothers for a special holiday episode, she signed up.
“I’m old,” says Knepp, who will turn 72 the night the episode will air. “I might never have an experience like this in my life again. I thought, why not try, even to see how a TV show is done.”
She made the cut, and in the winter a camera crew filmed Knepp at Root’s on a nonmarket day. They also went to her granddaughter Andrea’s house and filmed Knepp making pizza with three of her six great-grandchildren, Ashanti, 8; Cataleya, 2; and Mia, 1.
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The actual filming of the show happened in April in New York City. Knepp might have gotten lost finding the hotel and forgot her toothbrush, but she was ready when the car picked her up at the hotel before 6 a.m. for the trip to the TV studio.
While she can’t share too much about the holiday episode, the online summary says the competitors needed to make appetizers with unusual candy canes. A “gilded surprise” is the centerpiece of the second basket. And the dessert involves holiday cookies.
“It was exciting, and the time goes so much faster than you’d ever think,” she says. “It’s a lot of filming, and they ask you a lot of questions. You get to meet the other contestants, which is really nice. They were all really nice, the other grandmothers.”
Knepp is curious about what will make it into the episode.
“I’ll be at Root’s that day (when the show airs),” she says. “It’s a Tuesday. I’ll just go home and watch it.”
Knepp announced in September that she plans to close Norma’s Pizza, her stand at Root’s. After complications from intestinal surgeries, it’s been difficult for her to do the heavy lifting and work at the stand on long market days. Her stand did close for a few months.
After her surgeon, however, gave her the go-ahead, she returned to the market and has been there for the past three weeks. She says she now asks others to lift some of the heavier items as she heals. She’s still making her pizzas.