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6 Things You Didn't Know About The Food Network's 'Chopped'

6 Things You Didn't Know About The Food Network's 'Chopped'



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Chopped is one of the most popular shows on Food Network, with more than 320 episodes aired since it first premiered in 2009. Hosted by Ted Allen, the premise is simple and brilliant: four chefs are each given a small amount of time to create a dish that utilizes four surprise basket ingredients, and at the end of each round a panel of judges sends home the chef whose dish fares the worst. But even if you’re a loyal viewer, we bet that there are some things you don’t know about this hit show.

The Original Concept Was Insanely Elaborate and Really Weird
According to From Scratch: The Uncensored History of the Food Network, the original concept revolved around a mysterious “tycoon” planning to throw a dinner party at his castle. His butler’s role was to find four chefs who would compete for the right to cook the dinner. After each round, the losing dish would be scraped into a dog bowl by host Rocco DiSpirito and eaten by a Chihuahua named Pico, on camera. After the pilot was filmed the “tycoon” idea was scrapped so that the show could focus instead on the chefs.

The Judges Take a Long Time to Deliberate
While only a minute or so of deliberations between the judges per round makes it to air, judges have been known to take over an hour to decide which contestant is going home. They spend up to 15 minutes talking to the contestants about each of their dishes and inspecting each work station.

Aarón Sánchez Has an Unpleasant On-Set ‘Joke’
We’ll present this quote directly from From Scratch: “During the long taping days, a comradeship developed between [the judges]. Aarón’s flatulence, sometimes aimed directly at the stern Alex [Guarnaschelli], became a running joke on the set.” Sorry, what?

Each Contestant Needs a Story
According to a former contestant who spoke with A.V. Club, each contestant needs to have a story that emerges during the interview process, so they can have a “narrative” the producers play up. Whether it’s overcoming anxiety, winning the approval of parents, or needing the money to get out of debt, if you pay attention, you’ll notice that the show really plays up each competitor’s narrative in order to get you emotionally invested in him or her.

Contestants Aren’t Allowed to Make Bread Pudding
The judges have been served so much bread pudding in the dessert round that contestants are essentially banned from making it.

Filming an Episode Takes More Than 14 Hours
Contestants arrive at the studio at 6 a.m. and are usually there until after 8 at night. There’s a lot of set-up time in between rounds, and the contestants spend a lot of time hanging out in the “stew room” where they’re seen chatting on the show (incidentally, none of the equipment in that room is plugged in; it’s just a set piece).


Discovery+ Is Releasing 'Chopped 420' That Will Feature Cannabis In Every Dish

Update, April 20, 2021: If you've been out of tune with your dates for this month (don't worry, I never know the date either), you may have woken up today and forgotten that it is officially April 20. And just in case you didn't know what that means, today is the day that Chopped 420 airs on discovery+.

As a little refresher, the limited series will follow the same format as former Chopped episodes with four chefs competing through a three-course elimination for the chance to win $10,000. This time though, fans (and those who like to partake in recreational activities!) will see the contestants create marijuana-infused meals to be judged on. Is that the ideal job or what?

Haven't gotten discovery+ yet to check out the new show today? Don't worry, you still have time and it won't empty out your pockets either! Monthly subscriptions cost as little as $4.99 a month or $6.99 for the ad-free version and you'll be able to watch shows from Food Network. TLC, Disvoery, Magnolia Network, and more.

Original post, March 26, 2021: As marijuana becomes more widely legalized throughout the country, food cooking competitions are taking notice. Shows like Netflix's Cooked with Cannabis are proof of that, and now our beloved Chopped series is getting a pot-friendly episode with an all-new iteration called Chopped 420.

The series, which will premiere on the discovery+ streaming platform, follows the same set-up as the original Chopped show. Four chefs will compete through a three-course elimination and the winner will be rewarded with bragging rights and $10,000. The only difference is that every course will be infused with THC.

According to Food & Wine the series will also include a panel of judges perfect for the job. Comedian Ron Funches will be the host and the panel of judges will include chef Esther Choi, drag performer and cannabis activist Laganja Estranja, chef Luke Reyes, chef Sam Talbot, and comedian Tacarra Williams.

You'll be able to start streaming the limited-run show on April 20, so if still have time to sign up for discovery+ if you haven't already. The subscription costs as little as $4.99 a month or $6.99 for the ad-free version and includes shows from Food Network. TLC, Disvoery, Magnolia Network, and more.

If you're truly Chopped-obsessed, you should also know that on May 25 the show will be releasing yet another version on discovery+ called Chopped Next Gen which will feature up-and-coming competitors from Gen-Z. Basically, there is a lot to be excited about!!


A Make-A-Wish kid was turned down by Ina Garten. twice

Ina Garten, host of Food Network's Barefoot Contessa, comes off as the sweet grandmother everyone wishes they had. She revealed a not-so-nice side, however, in 2011 when a child requested to meet her through the Make-A-Wish program. Enzo Pereda, a 6-year-old battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia, watched Garten on TV while he was sick in bed, and had been dreaming of cooking a meal with her for years.

Pereda's family organized the request to meet Garten through Make-A-Wish, but was turned down because she was busy on the road, publicizing her new book. A year later, Pereda made the same request and was again tuned down due to Garten's busy schedule. His family wrote about the incident in a now-defunct blog, which is when the media picked up on the story.

After the news got out, Garten did some damage control, inviting Pereda onto her show. It was too little, too late. The Peredas rejected Garten's offer, saying that young Enzo had "moved on" and would instead fulfill his wish of swimming with dolphins.


10 Things You Didn’t Know About Mark McEwan

You know his face, you know his voice, you may even know the taste of his lobster poutine — but did you know that Mark McEwan adores his wife’s meatballs and Susur Lee’s jokes? Here are 10 fun facts about the newest Chopped Canada judge you’ve probably never heard before.

1. He Can’t Get Enough of Susur Lee

Mark McEwan enjoyed meeting new colleague Antonio Park, and catching up with old friends like Lynn Crawford and Michael Smith, but Susur Lee is the chef who knows how to best season McEwan’s funny bone. “Susur, we had a hilarious time together,” he says. “I had so much fun with Susur. It was just hysterical.”

2. He Suffers for His Art

Mark McEwan is an experienced judge, but Chopped Canada presented challenges that his previous gig on Top Chef Canada didn’t. He thanks the mystery basket for that. “Well, there was a lot of bad food,” he admits, “And that’s what happens when you give chefs peculiar ingredients they don’t have the experience with. You always try to put yourself in their shoes, but at the end of the day, I judge the plate on whether it tastes good or not.”

3. It’s Possible to Stump Him with a Mystery Basket

It’s rare for McEwan to come across an unfamiliar mystery basket ingredient, but it has happened. This season mochi, the sticky Japanese rice flour dessert, appeared in contestants’ baskets, and he admits it would’ve given him trouble. “If you had the advantage of [experience], sure, you’ll figure something out. But on the fly? Very, very challenging to turn it into anything.”

4. He Worked His Way Up

All great chefs have to start somewhere, but McEwan’s first job was one of the industry’s dirtiest. “I was 16 years old and I was a dishwasher in Buffalo, New York, at Mindy’s Wine Cellar,” he explains. “I made $1.60 an hour. That was the first restaurant job I ever had.” One day the restaurant needed a cook, “so they dragged me out of the dishroom.”

5. He’s Organized, Really Organized

An early mentor taught McEwan that organization is a key component in a chef’s toolkit. “How you set your station, how you put your tools away, how you cut your chives, your shallots, how often you clean your stove, how you keep your uniform,” he says. “It creates efficiency and lack of wasted movement. All those things that make for an efficient day.”

6. He’s got a Soft Spot for Bologna Sandwiches with Mustard

“My mom used to make it all the time when I was a kid,” says McEwan of the school lunch classic. “Good, simple working class family.”

7. He Loves Junk Food

“I fly a lot, and what do I buy when I fly the most often? I’ll buy a bag of Peanut M&M’s,” he says, adding that sweets aren’t his only temptation. “Who doesn’t like potato chips? If someone puts a jar of Heluva dip in front of you, are you going to not stick some potato chips in it? I have a hard time not eating the whole jar. I love it.”

8. His Wife is His Favourite Cook

“My wife just makes the most amazing spaghetti and meatballs,” he says. “She makes a perfect tomato sauce that any nonna would love. She knows how to cook pasta she makes perfectly tender, little veal ricotta meatballs that are to die for. Reggiano, olive oil, fresh basil… done. You put that in front of me any day and it puts a big smile on my face.”

9. Bugs Are Not the Weirdest Thing He’s Ever Eaten

“I’m not a big fan of the larvae group of bugs. Or eyeballs, or anything of that nature,” says Mark McEwan. But the weirdest food he’s ever eaten was raw chicken, in China. “Chicken sashimi I thought was really weird. I didn’t get that one at all.”

10. He’s Got a Solid Hangover Plan

“Generally I try not to have hangovers — they’re pretty difficult to handle at 58,” says McEwan. But when they do happen, he’s got a delicious cure for them. “Water and two Advil, and fatty foods,” he says. “I really like bacon. With extra bacon. And more bacon. A really wicked BLT with lots of mayonnaise on it. You get fat and salt and more fat.”

Chopped Canada returns with more high-stakes, heart-pumping competition on January 9 at 9 E/P. See schedule information here.


14 Things You Didn't Know About Anthony Bourdain

The life of this sharp-tongued, globetrotting chef was anything but dull.

Anthony Bourdain wasn't like most celebrity chefs and food personalities, with their neat and tidy studio kitchens. Sure, he had plenty of tips on how to cook a perfect steak, but he also traveled to the far corners of the world, fearlessly sampling out-there dishes with locals, President Obama, and everyone in between. His sudden death left fans and fellow chefs stunned. Here's a look back on things you may not have known about the inimitable chef.

Born in New York City, Bourdain spent many summers with his family in France while growing up, which is where he tried his first oyster. He later spent his vacations working in kitchens at various seafood restaurants in Provincetown, Massachusetts, which sparked his interest in becoming a chef.

After two years pursuing a degree at Vassar College, Bourdain called it quits, later continuing his education at the Culinary Institute of America instead. In his first book, he talks openly about his long-time addiction to cocaine and heroin, which he eventually recovered from.

"I understood that I got a pretty lucky break here, and that it was statistically unlikely to happen again," he told Men's Journal. "I've been pretty careful about not f*cking up the opportunities that have come since."

While Bourdain still drank alcohol, he quit smoking after becoming a father and stopped doing drugs before that. Of his former addiction, he wrote on Reddit: "Most people who kick heroin and cocaine have to give up on everything. Maybe &lsquocause my experiences were so awful in the end, I&rsquove never been tempted to relapse."

Bourdain doesn't exactly have the cheery disposition of most Food Network stars, but he did host a show called A Cook's Tour on the channel from 2002-2003. Travel Channel snatched him up next to host the extremely popular show, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and later, The Layover. Bourdain made the switch to CNN in 2013 to head up Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, which is still filming new episodes.

Bourdain's nonfiction book, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, stemmed from an article that was originally published in The New Yorker. After it landed on The New York Times bestseller list, he penned two more that also made the cut in 2001 and 2006. More recently, Bourdain co-wrote a graphic novel, Get Jiro!, as well as Appetites, a cookbook.

Make no mistake &mdash Bourdain could cook &mdash but he spent plenty of time eating out, too. Through his own travels and during filming, Bourdain circled the globe, slurping noodles in Hanoi, scarfing hummus in Beirut and drinking with the locals in Borneo. He was always the guy to ask for recommendations, no matter where you were vacationing.

After Bourdain mentioned chef Éric Ripert in Kitchen Confidential, he got a call from the Le Bernadin owner, inviting him to lunch. The two were best friends, and Ripert often traveled with Bourdain to China and beyond during filming. Ripert was in France with Bourdain when he passed away.

Bourdain's second wife, Ottavia, was a hostess at one of Ripert's restaurants when her whirlwind romance with Bourdain began. On their second date, the pair got matching tattoos of a chef's knife, and after their daughter Ariane born in 2007, they tied the knot within 11 days. The pair split in 2016, but remain on good terms, despite the new woman in Bourdain's life.

Bourdain and Ottavia had a child &mdash his first and only &mdash in 2007. After the birth of Ariane, now 11, Bourdain decided to live more cautiously, at least compared to his old daredevil ways. He told PEOPLE, "In retrospect, I don&rsquot know that I would do that today &mdash now that I&rsquom a dad or reasonably happy," when talking about jumping off cliffs into water for The Travel Channel.

Bourdain began dating actress and director Asia Argento in early 2017. In an interview with PEOPLE earlier this year, Bourdain said he was "happy in ways that I have not been in memory," and "happy in ways I didn&rsquot think I ever would be, for sure," in reference to Argento.

Bourdain's "bad-boy chef" image didn't just come from his past &mdash his sharp tongue and tatted-up skin added to it as well. In addition to the chef's knife, he had a skull on his right shoulder and an ouroboros &mdash a snake swallowing its tail &mdash on his left shoulder that he got while filming No Reservations in Malaysia. There was also one on his arm that reads "I am certain of nothing," in ancient Greek, and a scorpion tat that he got at a house party while filming Parts Unknown in Nashville.

Bourdain began hosting Parts Unknown in 2013 after leaving Travel Channel, but he wasn't just the star of the show. He was an active producer who wrote his own voiceovers, and helped select the music for each episode. He also had a hand in producing films including the documentaries Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent and Wasted!

In Bourdain's opinion, any human worth their salt is smart enough to throw some standard dishes together in the kitchen. "In an ideal society, everyone over 12 should be able to cook a few basic things reasonably well," he told Men's Journal. "Everyone should know how to make an omelet. Everyone should know how to roast a chicken, properly, how to grill a steak properly, how to make a basic &mdash very basic &mdash stew or soup, prepare basic vegetables and pasta."

"There's almost never a good reason to eat on a plane. You'll never feel better after airplane food than before it," Bourdain told Esquire. We can't argue that airline food generally sucks, so we love his tip for fueling up before flying. "If there's food available I'll load up on whatever the local specialty is. In Tokyo I'll get ramen, in Singapore I'll get something from the airport's hawker center. Shake Shack at Kennedy airport is the best."

When it comes to places he hasn't been (there aren't many), Bourdain had a clever way to get tips on the go-to food stops: "provoke nerd fury online," he told Esquire. "Go to a number of foodie websites with discussion boards. Let's say you're going to Kuala Lumpur &mdash just post on the Malaysia board that you recently returned and had the best rendang in the universe, and give the name of a place, and all these annoying foodies will bombard you with angry replies about how the place is bullsh*t, and give you a better place to go."


If you’re a pastry chef and you think you have what it takes to compete with the best of the best, the good news is that there is an open casting call for Chopped Sweets. It looks like the show is currently casting and applicants can submit there information through the JS Casting website.

Having the talent to make delicious desserts is one thing, but Chopped Sweets will rely on creativity just as much as it does talent. The chefs will have to step outside of their comfort zones in order to win. The themes will put even the most experienced pastry chefs to the test. On the bright side, viewers might get some new dessert ideas.


10 Things You Didn’t Know About Brad Smith

You may already know Brad Smith as a CFL star and a Bachelor, but the host of Chopped Canada is also a food lover who enjoys haute cuisine, fast food, and everything in between. We chatted with the Montreal native to talk about his palate – and his heart.

1. He wants to open a restaurant with Lynn Crawford
During a recent Facebook Live Q&A, Brad was asked which chef he’d love to team up with to open a restaurant. Brad says that hands down, he’d love to work with Chef Lynn Crawford and he’d name their restaurant Goofballs. “We’d specialize in rice balls or something like that!”

2. He loves Brunch in Toronto
Like many of us, Brad is a sucker for a good weekend brunch. He especially loves the indulgent offerings at Toronto restaurant Lisa Marie. “They do s’mores pancakes there,” he says, adding that Nutella is cooked inside the pancake and marshmallow fluff is toasted, and top with maple syrup. Brad recently appeared in an episode of Neighbourhood Eats and, of course, he stopped by Lisa Marie.

3. He loves cooking
Before he ever stepped foot on a Food Network Canada set, Brad was already a good cook. Still, working alongside Canada’s top chefs hasn’t hurt his kitchen skills. “It increased my ability to go from a pretty decent cook to actually being pretty proficient at it,” he says.

4. He puckers up before every meal
When Chopped Canada judge Susur Lee told contestants they all needed more acid in their dishes, the host listened. “My girlfriend will tell you this– she hates me for it—everywhere I go, no matter what I’m eating, I’ll always ask for a lime or lemon wedge just because Susur Lee said for everybody to add more acid. On everything! I learned that enough salt and enough acid makes anything good. So I literally squeeze lemon on everything.”

5. He’ll do anything for a good burger
After watching Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Brad needed to try the American chain’s burgers. It took him 16 hours to drive to Maryland but it was worth it.

6. He loves cooking for his parents
Cue the awwws: If Brad could cook for anyone, ever, he’d choose his mom and dad. “I think I just get the biggest enjoyment from when I go home and cook for my parents,” he says. “They’re the ones who’ve appreciated it the most in my entire life. They always look forward to when I’m back and I’m going to make food.”

7. He shares his stomach with Eden Grinshpan . . .
“Eden eats everything,” says Brad of Toronto-born Chopped Canada judge Eden Grinshpan. “Eden would eat out of a garbage can. She’s like my food sister. We have the exact same food taste.”

8. . . And his heart with Lynn Crawford
“She’s the nicest woman ever,” says Brad of Chopped Canada judge Lynn Crawford. “She has the most beautiful heart you’ll ever meet. She treats every single person like they’re the most important person at that time to her.”

9. He loves haute cuisine, but he’s not a food snob
Get Brad talking about food and he’ll rave about his favourite gnocchi, Montreal’s amazing food scene, Susur Lee’s famous slaw and his favourite dish . . . a Big Mac from McDonald’s.

10. The weirdest thing he’s ever eaten was . . .
You’ll have to stay tuned to Chopped Canada for this one. “I can’t say it until the show comes out because it’s in one of the episodes,” he reveals. “Roger [Mooking] threw up and Mark McEwan said it was the most disgusting thing he’s ever put in his mouth. It tasted like . . . it was disgusting.”

Chopped Canada returns with brand new specials starting with Chopped Canada Junior on Sunday, October 16 at 8 E/P. See schedule information here.


I Survived Three Rounds on ‘Chopped’

Last week, my gigantic head was plastered on televisions across the country when I appeared as a contestant on Food Network’s Chopped. I’m sure you’ve all seen the show at least once. You’ve said things like “Well, that’s not too bad! Surely I could do that!”

You poor bastards have absolutely no freaking idea how awful competing on that show is.

Chopped is not a “cooking competition.” Chopped is a game show. It doesn’t have as much to do with making good, or, hell, even edible food it has everything to do with navigating an obstacle course in a small amount of time, with unknown supplies and constant surprises. Chopped was, without question, one of the most physically and emotionally torturous experiences of my entire life. Yet, somehow, I managed to survive three rounds before losing in the final.

Now that my episode has aired, many months after I actually filmed the darn thing, I can finally tell the world all about what it’s like to be a contestant on Chopped — or, I can recount whatever few memories I have of the experience, since I pretty much committed myself to drinking heavily in the weeks afterwards so I’d black most of it out.

Obviously, if you’re making your national television debut, you want to look so hot that all the people at home are going to start licking their screens, and then Tweet you things like, “I can’t wait to buy thousands of copies of your cookbook you ravishing porcelain ginger goddess,” because oozing sex all over television so that one day you can sleep on a bed made of hundred-dollar bills and shove your success down the throats of your enemies are the two things that every red-blooded American girl dreams about.

I wake up to start making the magic happen at 3:30 am. You read that right: three thirty in the fucking morning. Know what I’m usually doing at that hour? I’m working, sleeping, or hiding under the covers playing The Simpsons: Tapped Out on my iPhone I am not giving my breasts their daily pep talk while accidentally stabbing myself in the eye with mascara.

Chopped, you see, has plenty of hair and makeup for the judges, but none for the sleep-deprived contestants who are being thrown into a hot kitchen. So while your average male chef can walk into a kitchen with a five o’clock shadow and a few wrinkles around his eyes, and come off like a rugged stallion, I, after ten minutes of cooking, will look like a drag version of Carrot Top on methamphetamines.

Craft Services

When we arrive at Food Network Studios, we’re given incredibly lousy coffee and very dry, rubbery eggs. For lunch, we’re served what is likely the worst salad I have ever had in my entire life. I am now cursed to have that fucking Alanis Morissette song stuck in my head all day. (Perhaps this is part of the game?)

It is important to know that I, on an average day, consume a minimum of six cups of coffee. Years ago, I gave up cigarettes and all other things I thought were “fun” in exchange for coffee, my secret lover. Considering the call time is super early, I know that I’m likely not the only person there operating on four hours of sleep, and the fact that I’ve seen the Chopped green room on television dozens of times and its a goddamn kitchen, I was anticipating having access to some sort of magical coffee urn that would flow freely during the day. This was not the case.

I’m sure many of you could give two craps about the coffee situation and you’re reading this article to find out what my opinions were of Ted Allen or what my favorite ingredient was, but seriously, this coffee shit is important. They knew how tired we were, and yet I had to order coffee through a PA, who radioed it into another PA, who finally procured the teensy little styrofoam cup of coffee after four hours (I’m a little hazy on the exact timing, but this feels like it could be accurate) — point is, it is a major victory that I did not actually physically attack Ted Allen and start eating him like a kalua pig. Because I may have thought about it at least twice.

Now enough with digression — back to Chopped.

Okay, I lied. At this moment, we’re going to have to take a quick little break from this riveting narrative, so that we may tell another story that non-foodies will not be aware of.

In early January, the following appeared on Craigslist:

This is just a screengrab — the entirety of this glorious post, which I encourage you to read in full, has been archived as a “Best of Craigslist” if you’re short on time, highlights include color coding his farts, and describing the types of foods he needed to eat to create this rainbow of flatulence.

Who was this chef? To this day the mystery remains unsolved and has been gathering dust in the cold-case files of internet gossip. The week before my episode taped, however, this was all the blogosphere could talk about. And based on the clues provided, it was generally assumed the serial farter in question was a chef by the name of Scott Conant.

Now, back to our narrative. I do my most serious walk down the hallway, make my grand entrance into the Chopped kitchen, and see before me Marcus Samuelsson, Alex Guarnachelli…

And I’m officially spending my entire day thinking of him farting all over Alex Guarnachelli.

The Non-Farting Judges

Marcus Samuelsson is intimidating, period. He was the first person I saw when I walked into the kitchen, and immediately my stomach dropped. For one thing, as I’m 50% Norwegian (thanks, Mom), I have long been a fan of his interpretations of modern Scandinavian cuisine, which, when I ate the classic version in my youth, seemed mostly like stewed fish balls with gelatinized fish sauce, covered with a robust fistful (or two) of dill. Second, the man was wearing an ascot, and not only that, he was actually pulling it off. Please name me another Ethiopian born Swede who can look good in a polka-dotted neckerchief. When you encounter something like that in person, your body physically does not know how to react. In my case, or in Scott Conant’s case, that reaction would be classified as “purple.”

And Alex Guarnachelli was just fine, I suppose. I’m sure she’s an amazing woman, but it’s really hard to find adjectives for someone who’s neither a candidate for New York City’s most famous serial farter, nor wearing an ascot. Maybe she’ll come on next season in a coconut bra and tiara, and then we’ll have something to talk about.

The Judging of the Judges

No matter what they were wearing, or doing, all three of them are incredible chefs who I’ve admired for a long time, and have the utmost respect for. 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.

The Competition

The most common question I’ve been asked since my appearance was “How could you think of something to make with ________ ingredient?” Honestly, that wasn’t the biggest problem. I develop recipes for a living— some with “crazy” ingredients— so it’s somewhat easy for me to come up with ideas for recipes, good recipes one that incorporate the four secret basket ingredients. What prevents the dishes from being successful, and. in my case, keeps them from coming remotely close to what I envisioned is:

First, the pantry. We were allowed to tour the kitchen facilities, pantry included, for about five minutes before shooting started. Most of that time was devoted to a producer, who gave us instructions on how to operate the most expensive equipment — the anti-griddle or sous vide, for example — without breaking them. (Of course, nobody uses these things.) We spent a few minutes trying to memorize everything that’s in stock. Contents range from staples, like flour, to more exotic ingredients, none of which I could remember, which is precisely why my three rounds on Chopped were a fucking shitshow. As the first round kicked off, I was doing fine. I’d designed a great dish in my head it hinged on a gastrique made from plum jam. Sounds like a solid plan, right? It would have been, if there had been a jar of plum jam anywhere on set. There wasn’t. As panic set in, lost every shred of professional competency my inner monologue quickly changed from quickly changed from “I am a great chef, and by golly, I can do this!” to “fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck!”

Next, the biggest issue, and the thing the judges admitted to us is the single greatest reason Chopped contestants fall— time. You are given twenty minutes for the appetizer round thirty for the entree and dessert face-offs. I didn’t see what the big deal was, as I was expecting each of these minutes to pass by the same way they do when I’m microwaving some leftover lo mein (by time it’s finally hot, I always feel like I probably could have walked to Chinatown and scored a bowl of freshly made noodles instead — maybe even taken in a movie, too).

You know how fast twenty minutes flies when you’re holding a rack of wild boar, having a panic attack, and listening to Marcus Samuelsson loudly question every single one of your choices while you have a half dozen television cameras in your face?

I very quickly got to a point where my goal was not to make the most outstanding dish in the competition, but merely to finish. The kitchen is gigantic, there’s tons of running around, and the process is both physically and mentally exhausting. While the judging and interviews all happen in TV time and something as simple as grabbing a fork can take all of twenty minutes before directors get “just the right shot,” the actual cooking takes place in real time — three rounds in eighty minutes. I arrived in the studio at 5 a.m. and didn’t leave until around 11 p.m. That’s exactly one thousand minutes of “standing around waiting” between full-fledged sprints.

And trust me, those thousand minutes were most definitely “lo mein minutes.”

The Shittalk

Regarding my episode, behind-the-scenes gossiping among the contestants has probably drawn the most comments. I, in particular, was called out for talking too much (nothing new), which I knew was going to happen when, in my off-camera interview , I was asked “Do you think you talk too much?” That sort of felt like a cheap shot, seeing as how I had been instructed to talk as much as possible in the green room so that they’d have interesting footage to edit. Nobody is tuning in to watch four people sit silently around a table, staring at each other, eating cold, rubbery eggs.

Then they asked me detailed questions about the other contestants, and tried to get me to say nasty things about my competitors. I do not fault the producers for this at all, because this is exactly why people watch reality TV — drama and conflict. They probably would have liked me a thousand times a thousand times more, if I’d sat there ripping everyone else to shreds, accusing my fellow sufferers all of farting excessively. But I refused to do it. It might not be the popular choice, or the one that gets the highest ratings, but I’d much rather try to get attention by making people laugh than by hurting others in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I stand by that choice. I have far too much respect for everyone in my business, which, outside of the glamour of television, is as low-paying as it is hard, to disparage anyone in that way. We are in different kitchens, but on the same team. End of story.

The Worst Part

I don’t think there’s ever been a contestant that has been happier about being Chopped than I was, because my loss in the final meant that I would not have to return for Chopped Champions (this was a very real and intense fear I had throughout each round of judging). The producers kept asking me how I felt about losing the $10,000 grand prize honestly, it was never even a thought.

Competing on this show is less like going on Wheel of Fortune and more like signing up for a marathon — it’s not as much about winning as it is about pushing and challenging yourself, and seeing what you’re capable of. I survived three rounds, and got my face on sixty minutes of television, which is a great commercial of sorts for my upcoming cookbook, which I haven’t mentioned for, like, six paragraphs now.

Lost money and thwarted victory aside, there was part of this day that broke my heart.

Another reason I keep mentioning my book is that I filmed Chopped this past winter, on the exact same day the first draft was due. This means the weeks prior were spent glued to my laptop for sixteen-plus hours each day, with no time for training or advanced preparation for Chopped, and worst of all, no time to spend with my children.

That morning, as I snuck out of the house at 4:30 am, my five year old son, Atticus, woke up and stopped me.

“You’re not going to take me to school.”

“Your Daddy will. I love you, baby. I do. I promise I’ll be home soon.”

“Promise me you’ll kiss me tonight at bedtime and we can snuggle. I miss you, Mommy.”

“I promise, Buddy. Super duper promise.”

I didn’t know what it took to film a reality show. I didn’t know that television crews put in hours that make those of us in the culinary profession look like wimps by comparison. I didn’t know that I would be there for eighteen hours when I promised to kiss him goodnight.

I should have been excited that I kept advancing, but I kept looking at the clock. When we began the dessert round, I knew that Atticus was already safely in bed that my husband had tucked him in and made up a bedtime story to explain where I was. All I wanted to do was go home.

How silly is that? To be invited to compete on one of the most popular cooking shows on television, and to have your thoughts consumed by tucking your son in? When I was a hotshot twenty-three year old line cook, I would have come in, guns blazing, ready to prove my mettle and take anyone down in the process. I would have been obsessed with walking out as nothing less than a champion. And now, as I stood at my station, setting up a shot for the beginning of the dessert round, I was overwhelmed by the knowledge that, at that moment, I was a failure, because I let my kid down. Atticus, however, more than likely felt like a success, since after this incident he got ice cream every day for two weeks.

Will I ever do a reality food competition again? Possibly, as it seems it’s the only type of food show anyone is producing anymore. But know, if you see me, I’m not there to be vicious or rude or controversial — I’m there to have fun. That is, until Food Network decides it’s finished with competition programming and finally starts producing some of my great, content-based ideas, like “Name That Soup,” “Cronuts Ahoy!”, or “Getting Wasted at an Airport with the Robicellis.”


11 amazing things you can do in a microwave

If your microwave is relegated to reheating leftovers and making porridge, then you&rsquore not using it to its full potential! Microwaves are the ultimate in cheat gadgetry, and open up a whole world of culinary possibilities for breakfast and lunch when you&rsquore at work, too.

Please note, our timings and settings are based on a 900W microwave. Models differ in power, so make sure you know what wattage yours is and follow the settings/timings below as a guide. Your machine may cook things faster or slower. And please read the guidelines at the end before attempting to make anything from this article.

Everything tastes better with (microwave) bacon

Forget scrubbing greasy frying pans &ndash use a microwave to cook bacon and minimise the clean-up. Take a large piece of kitchen paper, lay rashers of bacon in the centre and wrap the ends of the paper over the top to enclose the rashers. Turn the parcel over so the seam is on the bottom and put on a plate. Microwave for 3-4min on high, until the bacon is crispy. It really is that simple!

You can soften butter easily

If you&rsquove ever made a snap decision to whip-up a Viccy sponge, then struggled to cream fridge-cold butter to fluffy perfection, look no further than this trick. Weigh your butter on to a plate, then microwave on the defrost setting in 30sec bursts until soft. Tip into a mixing bowl and continue with your recipe.

Microwave crisps

Make yourself a bowl of fresh, crunchy crisps in less time than it takes to go to the shops. Slice a small potato as thinly as possible (use a mandolin if you have one), then toss the slices in a bowl with a drizzle of oil until coated. Lay slices in a single layer on a large baking parchment-covered plate, sprinkle with salt and microwave in 1min bursts on high until golden and crisp (ours took 4min).

No-sweat sweated onions

Instead of spending 15 minutes trying to soften onions in a pan (only to scorch them!), try this microwave method. Pop chopped or sliced onions in a bowl, add a spoonful of water, cover with a plate and microwave on high for 3-4min. Carefully remove (the bowl will be very hot) and uncover. Continue as per recipe, transferring onions to a pan with oil, if needed. Alternatively, make easy caramelised onions: heat oil in a frying pan over a high heat, add the softened onions plus a sprinkling of sugar, and fry until golden.

Microwave poached eggs

Poached eggs at work? Yes please! Fill a coffee mug one-third full with water, then microwave for 30sec on high. Remove mug, crack in an egg, then cover with a plate. Cook on low power for 1min. Carefully uncover and check to see how the cooked egg is &ndash if the white is not fully cooked, microwave for another 10sec at low power. Repeat in 10sec bursts until the egg is done to your liking. Use a spoon to carefully hold the egg in the cup while you drain and discard the water, then serve.

Make cakes in your microwave. In a mug.

Keep all the ingredients for this gooey chocolate cake in your store cupboard, and you&rsquoll be able to whip up a luxurious dessert in an instant. Perfect for when a friend pops round unexpectedly, or you&rsquore hankering for a sweet treat and the shops are shut.

No-curdle curds

Citrusy curds made on the hob can be finicky and prone to scrambling. Make our foolproof microwave lemon curd instead.

Microwave French toast

Okay, so this is a little more akin to a bread and butter pudding, but they&rsquore practically the same thing. Crack an egg into a mug, add a splash of milk, a teaspoon of sugar and 1/2tsp vanilla extract, then beat together with a fork. Tear a couple of slices of bread into pieces, add to the mug and stir until the bread is completely coated. Microwave on medium in 1min bursts until firm (ours took 3min) and serve topped with sliced banana or berries. You could even make the egg mixture in a flask at home and take it to the office to make breakfast there. Any excuse to have a bottle of syrup in your desk drawer.

Retro steamed puddings without hours of steaming

While many of us get the warm and fuzzies at the mere thought of treacle sponge, the fact that it has to rattle away on the hob for hours puts most people off making it. Enter the microwave. Just make sure to only use baking parchment to cover it, and you&rsquore a few minutes away from steamed sponge heaven. Our mash-up of two classic puds &ndash Upside Down Pineapple Pudding &ndash has microwave instructions.

Squeeze more out of your citrus

Popping lemons in the microwave for 20 seconds before cutting and squeezing makes them easier to squeeze and yields more juice!

Microwave meringues

Think meringues take ages to make? Think again! To make our speedy Microwavable Meringue, you simply stir egg white and icing sugar together. They&rsquore ideal when you need meringues for Eton mess, or to crumble over ice cream.

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