FAIRFIELD, Conn. – It was a lively scene at The Chelsea restaurant on Dec. 18 when their very own head chef, Eric Felitto, was announced as the winner of the most recent episode of “Chopped” on the Food Network.

Mike Fedell, the general manager at The Chelsea for the past year-and-a-half, said that customers and attendees had booked reservations and were waiting in their spots almost three hours prior to the show’s 9 p.m. broadcast. A 100-inch HD television was brought in for the viewing party.

“In and out, there were probably around 100 people who attended,” Fedell said. “I was so excited and nervous leading up to it, but I had confidence in Eric and as we watched the episode, we all felt more and more confident.”

For Felitto, it was an 11-month wait from the taping of the show to the moment when he would actually bask in the victory of his achievement.

“It was horrible keeping that secret. Someone would ask me about when I would be on as we got closer and closer to the release,” Felitto said.

Felitto has worked at The Chelsea since July 2013, starting as sous chef and becoming head chef 11 months later. Felitto also is the co-owner of the Tasty Yolk food-cart business.

“Since it’s happened, my phone has been going off nonstop,” Felitto said. “It’s a little weird and especially with social media, I’ve had to put the phone away.”

Felitto still remembers the morning of Jan. 18, when he went to the Harlem section of New York for the taping of the show after an exhausting series of shifts. He and three other chefs were tasked with making three breakfast courses: appetizer, entree and dessert.

“I was so beat. It was early in the morning and I had just done three shifts until 5 a.m. each day,” Felitto said. “I got on the first round and I felt that all of my cooking was tired and I wasn’t sure where things in the kitchen were.”

As the competition progressed, however, Felitto began getting into the swing of things, his confidence buoying him.

The judges included big names like Martha Stewart, Marc Murphy and Amanda Freitag.

“I felt more comfortable because I started knowing where things were and talking to the judges. It felt better and the nerves were going away,” Felitto said.

When the judges announced their final decision, which included an award of $10,000, Felitto was stunned.

“It was surreal, it didn’t register at first at all and it felt amazing,” Felitto said.

Mike Bertanza, co-owner of Tasty Yolk, has known Felitto since their school days together at Stratfield Elementary.

“I’m so proud of him,” Bertanza said. “He has worked so hard to get where he is and I also know from hearing a few people say that his performance has inspired them.”

Bertanza said that the show’s popularity has helped boost the Tasty Yolk's notoriety in town. The duo recently opened their third food cart — and first in their hometown — on Nov. 1.

Keeping his victory secret from people was difficult, but Felitto has appreciated the way the television show has brought more attention to his food-cart business and The Chelsea.

For the foreseeable future, Felitto plans to stay where he said he belongs: cooking breakfast and American cuisine.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve always been doing,” Felitto said. “It’s funny how much a television competition can change things…and if that means people come try my food, that’s the goal.”

humberto.juarez@hearstmediact.com