- After winning Food Network’s “Chopped,” fans often ask me questions about the cooking competition.
- By the time the judges get to actually eating the food, it’s probably going to be room temperature.
- I ended up on the show after meeting the casting director at a party for our physical therapist.
With a combination of mystery, speed, and drama, Food Network’s “Chopped” is arguably the best cooking competition of all time.
A win on the show doesn’t launch you into culinary fame — which is totally fine with me — but it does make for excellent get-to-know-you banter. And in 2017, I competed on the show’s “Chocolate Obsession” installment, episode six of season 32.
Here are answers to the most common questions people ask me about being on the show:
Is ‘Chopped’ real?
Yes. Just like viewers see at home, contestants have a limited amount of time to create a dish from mystery ingredients.
All three rounds are as advertised: 20 minutes for the appetizer and half an hour each for the entrée and dessert. There’s a giant countdown clock in the kitchen and the producers periodically yell out how much time you have left.
The time limit creates a huge amount of tension and frenzy, so all that chaos you see onscreen — especially at the end — is accurate. On my episode, we were all scrambling to get something on the plate down to the last possible second, so we never even had time to taste our finished dishes.
But once the clock stops, things slow down. Judging and deliberation take far longer than it does on TV, but the actual competition time is accurate.
Are the basket ingredients really a mystery?
Yes, but on my episode, we had a hint.
Though the producers go to great lengths to keep the basket ingredients hidden from contestants, the camera crew needs to get certain shots for the show. For example, the editors want a shot of each contestant getting a first look at the ingredients, so we opened our baskets multiple times to ensure that there was usable footage of all of us.
To keep the contestants from seeing the basket items too early, the producers pack a checkered cloth on top of the ingredients to hide them from the chef’s view. So, when the camera crew asked us to open our baskets so they could get that key shot, all we saw was the cloth.
Then, when it came time to open the basket “for real,” the producers had us turn around so our backs were to them. The cloth was removed and the next time we opened our baskets, we started the competition.
The only caveat to this is themed episodes, including the “Chocolate Obsession” installment I was on. The producers called us a few weeks before filming to tell us some sort of chocolate would be in every basket. Apparently, it’s rare for them to give the contestants any kind of heads-up, but for whatever reason, they let us know.
Regardless, it didn’t make the baskets any less of a mystery. Even though I knew chocolate would be in every basket, I’d never heard of most of the items on my episode. Who knew chocolate olive oil was a thing?
Is the food cold by the time the judges taste it?
The dishes end up at room temperature by the time the judges get a bite. Dishes with frozen items are the only exception and they’re stored in the freezer until judging.
Who were your judges?
Because I was on a chocolate-themed episode, most of my judges weren’t part of the usual “Chopped” crew. Maneet Chauhan was the only regular, and she did a fantastic job of reminding us that we couldn’t slack off just because the usual judging bulldogs weren’t around.
Chauhan is a flavor expert so I’m most proud of impressing her with my smoked pork from the entrée round. Of course, I also undercooked my potatoes in that dish and got a stern talking to about it. To this day, people still look me in the eye and remind me of Chauhan’s infamous critique: “There’s no such thing as al-dente potatoes.”
My episode also featured Zac Young, a pastry chef who appears on some dessert-themed cooking competitions. Young was quick-witted yet tough and incorporated a lot of humor into judging. I think we would have gotten along well outside of filming, but there wasn’t any opportunity to interact with the judges outside of actual shooting.
The final judge was Katrina Markoff, CEO of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, which was very appropriate for a chocolate-themed episode. As a one-time judge, she was quite quiet — but she might have just been tired given the 5 a.m. call time.
What’s Ted Allen like?
Ted Allen is as kind and warm as he is on camera, and one of my great regrets in life is that there wasn’t enough time on set to invite him to my house for dinner.
I think he was having a bit of an off day when we filmed — nothing major, just flubbing up his lines here and there.
Before the dessert round, he was getting so tongue-tied that the whole set was cracking up. It was a nice, human moment that really lightened the mood.
Why are the voice-overs in the present tense?
Voice-overs and “talking head” shots are actually filmed after each contestant’s day is done, but the crew wants to make it seem like everything is happening in real-time. The difficult part is speaking in the present tense and making it seem like you don’t know the outcome of the round, though you obviously know what happened.
It is extremely awkward to go over your day in the present tense, and as soon as you say, “I was whisking the sauce,” a producer interrupts and reminds you to say, “I’m whisking the sauce.” Eventually, they get the right soundbite.
How did you get on the show?
I lived in Manhattan at the time, and I randomly met the casting director at a party for our mutual physical therapist.
She told me “Chopped” was always looking for contestants, especially both local and female chefs. Local, because contestants have to pay their own way so it’s easier to get people already in the city, and female, because there are so few in the industry.
After thinking about it for a few days, I shot the casting director an email and she sent me a written application. After that, I was called to do an on-camera interview and from there, I was chosen to compete. Curiously, at no point during the casting process did anyone actually ask me to cook.
Would you do it again?
I would love to compete on “Chopped” again and am disappointed that I’ve never been called for a “Chopped Champions” tournament — maybe it’s because I don’t live in New York anymore, but who knows.
If I competed again, I’m sure I would enter the competition with much more levity. Not only am I a much better chef than I was when I competed, but also having been through it means I wouldn’t take the whole thing as seriously. I’d still compete to win, of course, but I’d try to have more fun with it.
I tried to apply for “Guy’s Grocery Games” because that show seems like a riot, but I was told that the franchise doesn’t allow applicants who have appeared on “Chopped.” Womp womp.