- I’m a Food Network “Chopped” champion, and I was surprised by a few things when I was on the show.
- Judging for the appetizer can take two hours, and there’s a legend of a cursed bowl on the board.
- Even though we were against the clock, I found a trick to gain more time before each lap.
Arguably one of the most successful cooking competition shows of all time, Food Network’s “Chopped” is a TV phenomenon – which is why I’m always surprised I won.
The episode I competed on (“Chocolate Obsession,” episode six of season 32) is about forty minutes of particularly dramatic entertainment.
Here are 10 things that surprised me about the “Chopped” competition that even hardcore fans don’t know about:
At no time during the casting does anyone ask you to cook
Casting for “Chopped” consists of three parts: an online application, an on-camera interview, and, if chosen, a get-to-know-you shoot day that’s used for introductions at the start of each episode. .
At no point in this process is anyone tasting your food or watching you cook, an oddity that I found disconcerting given that “Chopped” is a competition for chefs.
5 chefs show up for the shoot, but only 4 compete
While only four chefs compete on the show, five arrive on the set. The fifth leader is a backup in case someone withdraws at the last minute.
Given that call time is around 5am, I imagine it’s a bit of a shame to get to the studio before dawn, only to be told to go home.
But we’ve been told that replacements usually end up on the show at a later date, which is kind of a consolation.
Leader stations are numbered and each has its own pros and cons
At the start of filming, each chef is assigned a number, from one to four.
These numbers help the crew stay organized throughout the day and are linked to the chefs cooking stations, one being to the right of your TV screen and four to the left. While leaders are randomly assigned numbers, there are pros and cons to each station.
The first station, where I was assigned, is closest to the pantry, so you can easily ping pong from your area to the refrigerator, spices, dry goods, and equipment.
This is particularly advantageous because the “Chopped” set is gigantic and going back and forth takes up valuable time. The seconds saved by not having to dodge other competitors on their way to the pantry can make or break a trick.
The fourth station, on the other hand, is furthest from the pantry but closest to the judges. Therefore, Chef #4 needs to plan because too many pantry visits mean you spend more time running than cooking.
But the fourth station has the advantage of being within earshot of the judges, who often discuss clues on how to handle the mysterious ingredients. For particularly delicate basket items, being able to hear these tips can be a game-changer.
The ‘Chopped’ clock is real – but there’s a hidden time before it starts
There’s no cheat time on “Chopped” because, just as the show claims, contestants have 20 minutes to prep and plate the appetizer and 30 minutes for the entree and dessert.
But just before the countdown begins, a few precious minutes can be put to good use by the chefs.
After opening the basket, the chefs are filmed taking out each ingredient and placing it in front of them. Since the clock doesn’t start until the crew takes their hit, it gives the leaders a few moments to come up with a plan.
I learned after the first round that the faster I put the mystery objects in front of the basket, the less time I had to think. In the second round, I took the items out of the basket at my leisure, making sure to scrutinize each ingredient for as long as possible to save time.
This nifty trick may have only given me about a minute of strategy, but it was enough time to formulate a plan and get to work as soon as the timer started.
There’s apparently a cursed bowl on the board
Although a shooting day lasts about 15 hours, recording the actual competition only takes about an hour and 20 minutes. So, there’s a ton of downtime to shoot the breeze with the producers and learn more about the show, like how there’s a cursed bowl on set.
As the legend says, there is a bowl in the kitchen “Chopped” which means the death of the chef who uses it.
The producers didn’t tell me which bowl it was, only that I didn’t use it and every time a poor chef does, it always gets chopped.
Although the judges and host Ted Allen wear their hair and makeup, the contestants do not
The lights are bright and the kitchen is hot, but the chefs have to fend for themselves when it comes to hair and makeup.
The men didn’t seem to care, but I would have appreciated a professional touch-up here and there after sweating my face early in the morning.
Each dish is discussed for approximately 30 minutes
Although the judging of each round is reduced to a few seconds, in reality, this process is long. Each dish is discussed for about half an hour, which means that judging for the appetizer can take two hours.
Judges have plenty of time to talk about each dish and ask questions about the chefs’ creations. As a chef, it’s extremely frustrating to watch the judges perform in front of the cameras – it’s entertainment first and cooking second.
Instead of talking about your dish like two co-workers learning from each other, you end up spending most of the time in front of the judges getting scolded for choices you’d never make in the real world.
It’s the nature of the show, but I wish there was a bit more acknowledgment of the absurdity of the situation, given that the chefs are putting their reputations on the line.
You can’t taste other contestants’ dishes – or your own, for that matter
Once the clock hits zero and the camera crew have their picture taken, the chefs are immediately kicked off the set, so there’s never a chance to try your fellow contestants’ dishes.
Because finishing each round comes down to the last second, it’s also likely that you won’t be able to taste your own dishes in their entirety, which makes judging all the more mysterious.
All interviews are done after the end of the competition
Whether you get chopped after the appetizer or win the whole thing, all “talking head” interviews on “Chopped” are filmed after your competition ends.
The further you go in the competition, the longer your exit interview is because you have to go back to each round and talk about it as if it were happening in real time.
For me, the challenge was trying to wipe the smile off my face by talking about how sure I was to be chopped after the first round.
I imagine the finalist had the opposite challenge. After just losing $10,000, he had to look back on his day and look hopeful despite a disappointing outcome.
The winner does not keep the chef’s jacket
And I’m still salty about it.