'Chopped' is a fun show, but you may find yourself wondering if the chefs have any clue what's in the baskets ahead of time. Or how do the judges really make their decision on who to chop? Actual contestants, judges and even Ted Allen himself dish out all the juicy secrets you've ever wanted to know.
Chefs Really Don’t Know What Is In The Basket Ahead Of Time.
“They do not know what the food is. We do, but they don’t. We want them to be shocked. We’ve set it up very carefully so that when they open the baskets, we have all 10 cameras right in their faces to catch reactions from every angle we can.” (Ted Allen).
Though Chefs Do Get A Little Help With Some Ingredients Ahead Of Time.
“They gave you about five or 10 minutes to walk around the pantry and familiarize yourself with everything. Actually they do this before each round, because the pantry ingredients change periodically between segments. Not totally, but some. They also show you how to use everything in case you don’t know, which surprised me. Like, ‘Here’s how you get ice cream out of the ice cream maker.'” (Josh Lewis).
As Well As Being Given A Station That Is Ready To Start Cooking In.
“If you’ve ever wondered how a contestant starts magically boiling potatoes as soon as the clock starts, that’s because the pot of water on each station’s stove is already boiling at the beginning of each round. The ovens are also preheated to 500°F so they can start cooking immediately.” (Source).
Planning Those Baskets May Be Just As Hard As Cooking With Them.
“They actually put a lot of work into figuring that out. They plan the baskets for a whole season, so that’s three baskets a day, times four ingredients, times thirty-nine episodes; and all the baskets have a riddle inside them. It’s hard work. And finding things we haven’t already used is harder and harder. I don’t want to be involved in that. I have enough problems just learning my lines. There’s a group of people run by the culinary department of Food Network who hashes that out.” (Ted Allen).
Filming Takes A Really, Really, Long Time.
“Contestants meet up at the set around 5:45 a.m. ready to film, which means you’re probably waking up early to do your own hair and makeup (no, there isn’t an artist on set to do it for you). Once you arrive, you’re pretty much filming nonstop until you’re eliminated. If that happens, you may get out in the afternoon. If you make it to the end, you’re filming until about 8 or 9 p.m. After you’ve been named the winner, there’s still an hour to an hour and a half of on-camera interviews to go through—those scenes where contestants explain what’s going through their minds at any given moment.” (Source).
The Food Provided At The Food Network Studio Isn’t Very Good.
“Not good, actually. Surprisingly. It wasn’t them; the network has some off-site catering company they use. I don’t know who it was, but it wasn’t good. We were all shocked. No one ate much of it. The network doesn’t actually own the studio, they rent it, so I think that’s why they weren’t fully set up to do something in it. Incidentally, the room where the contestants have their huddle, none of the equipment you see there works. None of it is hooked up.” (Josh Lewis).
There Is More Pressure Than You May Imagine While Cooking.
“Cooking for them is intimidating enough. But I’m not just cooking for them; I’m cooking to be judged by them. Even worse than that, I can hear them talking about me the entire time. Picture this?—?you’re at desk today doing your job, when suddenly your boss comes in with all the bigwigs in your company. They stand behind your desk, tell you to ignore them and continue going about your day as usual. And then, as you begin working, you hear things like: ‘Ooooooh, what do you think she’s going to do now?’ ‘It looks like he’s about to expense a client!’ ‘Oh my God, I can’t watch! This is brave stuff right here. Brave stuff.’ ‘I’m really scared for her right now. One wrong move and she’s out of here.’ ‘I don’t know if I’d do that if I was her. But there’s no turning back now?—?she just better pray that choice pans out.’ That’s exactly what it feels like to be on Chopped. It’s impossible to make a strong decision, or remember if you’re doing something correctly (regardless of the fact you’ve been doing those things professionally for over a decade), because under that sort of scrutiny, you’re constantly second-guessing yourself.” (Allison Robicelli).
What About Those Generic Labels?
“We make our own labels because we don’t want to give attention to products that aren’t advertising, I assume. We have a graphic designer who sits there right next to the ‘Chopped’ kitchen and prints out with this elaborate printer all of these crazy labels that she’s designed. Wouldn’t that be a fun job? She really gets into it. She makes the packaging look really fun.” (Ted Allen).
Something Viewers Definitely Don’t Know.
“The judges and I tell very risqué jokes, but you don’t see it because Food Network is very G-rated.” (Ted Allen).
The Actual Judging Takes Way Longer Than What You See On TV.
“It’s pretty nerve-wracking, even though I felt pretty good about all my dishes. The judges actually spend about 10 or 15 minutes on each person’s dish. It’s pretty in-depth, not just, ‘needs more salt.’ At first they tell you everything they think about the dish, but then you have an opportunity to speak back to them. You do have the opportunity to explain yourself if you leave an ingredient off or if something doesn’t come out the way you intended. Then, after they’ve said their piece and we’ve said ours, we go off into the side room for our huddle and the judges actually go inspect our work stations. They’re looking to see how clean we are, they make sure we flipped the cutting board if we used it after having raw meat on it, that kind of thing. If we made something that we didn’t end up putting on the plate then they’ll taste that, or they’ll taste the stuff we left in the pan, which could be burnt or whatever. All that can play into their decision, along with your explanation. You can’t convince someone that something tastes good if it doesn’t, but if they like you and you argue for your stuff, all that can help.” (Josh Lewis).
Culinary Producer Sara Hormi Is Very Specific In How She Crafts Each Basket.
She creates each basket so there is an inherent problem to solve—a protein that might not cook in time, a strong ingredient that could overpower the others or maybe one that is unfamiliar. Sara anticipates what the chefs might do and clues in the producers and judges so they’re prepared for whatever drama may ensue. (Source).
The Judges Look At A Lot, But Temperature Isn’t One Of Them.
“When you’re a judge on a competition show, you have to get accustomed to eating cold food. The way you deal with that is the minute we cut after a cooking round, the judges get up from the chopping block, and they go over to the stations and they taste things that are hot. You can taste to see whether something is crispy, whether something is cooked through, taste the sauce before it has congealed or anything. But these people know how to judge food. It’s something that really concerns the chefs, and we have to assure them, ‘Don’t worry about it. We’re not going to penalize you for that.'” (Ted Allen).
The Audition Process Can Take A Really Long Time.
“It actually took me about 2 years from when I first applied to when I got on. Basically I filled out an application with some background information, some photos, whatever fun things you can say about yourself to get the producers interested. If they are, they set up a video interview at their offices. They talked to me about some more personal things, because they’re trying to tell a story with each contestant and they want something that will appeal to the audience. I have some anxiety issues, and this is when that came up. When I eventually got on, that was kind of my story, that I was there to overcome my anxiety. Anyway, they didn’t pick me then, but I guess they liked me enough that they kept me on file.” (Josh Lewis).
Choosing Who To Chop Is Serious Business.
“The judges deliberations are ‘incredibly long deliberations where none of us agree on anything,’ and when it’s two against one, ‘usually when it comes down to the winner, those are the most heated deliberations. We try not to spend an hour, but there’s been times when there’s been at least 30 to 40 minutes. We really all have to be on the same page, and we really all feel strongly about that.'” (Amanda Freitag).
Those Surprise Baskets Are Just As Hard On The Judges.
“As to the show’s signature mystery baskets, Amanda said they’re a surprise to the judges, too, although many viewers think the ‘judges have something to do with the ingredients. We are pretty much as surprised as the contestants are and we are eating the ingredients, so it’s just as hard on us. I’m not asking for sympathy, but we’re at the hands of the contestants and producers.'” (Amanda Freitag).
Judging Begins With Observation First, Tasting Last.
“We definitely look at all the plates before we taste them so that way, the judges know how the sauce is supposed to have been and that sort of thing. If it’s a whipped cream that’s in a beautiful shape, we’re going to remember it that way. When we’re eating, we never stop to be as fair as we can.” (Amanda Freitag).
There’s Not A Ton Of Smack Talk For A Reason.
“Despite the competitive streak, there also is a code in the kitchen that you help one another. And while people who are competing don’t usually help each other, it’s just not cool to talk too much smack about someone. Most mature chefs aren’t going to do that on TV. We’ve tried for ages to get them to sabotage one another (laughs), and they just won’t do it. We put them in that sequester room for long periods of time, and while they’re in there, they bond.” (Ted Allen).