I was inspired by Matilda’s “Next Food Network Star” post, so I decided to do my own review on the cooking show I happen to watch on an almost nightly basis. I blame my husband for getting me started, but by now we’ve both found ourselves sucked into the “love to hate it” vortex that is the Food Network’s “Chopped”. If you are not familiar with the show, the gist is as follows:
Ted Allen, the food fashionista first made known by Queer Eye, hosts this hour long competition where four chefs vie to be the Chopped Champion and take home the glory and ten thousand smackaroos. There are three rounds, appetizers, entrees, and desserts, and one person is eliminated after every round. There is a panel of three judges, usually successful chefs (I guess) who I’ve never seen or heard of before Chopped (except for Aaron Sanchez, whom I’ve seen in commercials for queso fresco. I know it’s him because the way he says “QUE-so Frrrrrrrrrresco” is so unforgettable). They rate the dishes based on presentation, taste, and creativity. The clincher in Chopped is the basket. The Chopped basket holds the secret ingredients which each contestant must use successfully each round, and will contain anything from gummy worms to goat brains.
So that’s it essentially. They give four chefs some absurd ingredients and 20 mins to dazzle them with flavors. The parts that are so comically delicious about “Chopped” to my husband and I are the editing and the stereotypes. The “Chopped” producers seem to want to get across each chef’s unique culinary vision as well, as long as it can be neatly expressed in one or two sentences and repeated ad nauseum throughout the episode and at completely random times. Whether it’s “I studied in France” or “I used to be a drug addict” or “I’m a lesbian whose cousin has breast cancer”, you will hear nothing from the contestant that does not relate directly to this their relevant feature or their dish. It will come up when they are running out of time. “I waited to cook my fish til the very last minute, but I’m a recovering gambling addict so I love to take risks.” Ok, I made that up, but you get the idea, right? The best is during the judging panel.
Inevitably one or more of the judges will find fault with a chef’s dish. Either the execution was lacking or they didn’t adequately incorporate the jawbreakers and squid ink into the appetizer. The scene will often play out as follows:
Judge: “I found your use of citrus to be very overwhelming in this dish.”
Chef: “Well, after my grandmother was bludgeoned to death by a baby, excessive sourness seemed somehow appropriate.”
When it comes to reality shows, I tend to blame the producers for making the contestants seem totally unhinged and disassociated from what is going on around them. I imagine the heavy editing cut out the part where men in black suits encircled the contestant, shining maglites in her face and demanding to know why there’s sadness in her eyes. On the other hand, some of the chefs seem to embrace the “wear your life story like it’s going out of style” party line. The chefs that irk us the most are probably those from New Orleans, excuse me, NAH LINS. AND DON’T EVER SAY IT OTHERWISE, YANKEE SCUM!
I get it, they are from a beautiful, diverse, and culturally vibrant city that has experienced a great deal of hardship and obscurity. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in the place you are from and wanting to represent it. But it can make for shitty TV! It’s just so predictable. Stirring mascarpone into some almond butter? Please talk about how Katrina displaced your son’s family. It is sad, it was a terrible tragedy, but the way it is just hammered at you while the chefs are braising venison butt makes it feel more exploitative than poignant.”Chopped” would make for a sensational drinking game. Determine each contestant’s “identity” during the introduction section then drink every time they make reference to it. Heavy drinkers, keep your eye on the lesbians and former drug addicts.
And then there are the judges. Look, these folks obviously know what they are talking about. They know when meats are properly cooked, they know how to prepare all sorts of exotic fruits and grains, most of which I’ve never heard of, much less tasted. So, I must rely heavily on what the judges say about each meal to get a sense of what the chefs created. They usually seem pretty spot on, though they can differ wildly in their expectations and preferred treatments. One day, it’s a sign of the chef’s laziness to put an ingredient on the plate in its natural form. The next, it’s a sign of having confidence in the ingredient. If I were ever to compete on this show, I would be paralyzed by indecision, knowing too well it could go either direction. (Then again, I can barely make palatable food using mainstream ingredients, so who the hell would put me on “Chopped”?) Though, I would know to steer clear of lentils, because everybody fucks those up.
Overall, it’s a fun show that appeals both to the culinarily minded (my husband) and the not so much (me). He likes to watch to see what surprising food combinations will be concocted, and I like to watch to see what disgusting health violations contestants will make. (My favorite was the Israeli soldier who cut himself and was bleeding profusely but who continued to make tuna rolls without gloves.) We both like to watch to make fun of the absurd use of stereotypes.
Are you a fan? Do you disagree with my assessment? Any other observations I left out? Leave a comment! PLEASE! LEAVE A COMMENT! I’M NOT DESPERATE!