With 40 seasons and counting under its belt, it's no wonder that Chopped is one of the
most popular shows on Food Network.
But, Chopped isn't as free-flowing as it seems - and a lot of the things that seem to make
it extra challenging don't happen that way at all.
Chopped is a TV show first and foremost.
The producers are looking for an angle that will play on TV.
When the contestants go into details about their lives, their stories are usually fairly
"I want to prove to my bosses that I can come up with my own ideas, suggest menu items.
I’m going to Chopped thinking, I want to show them what I can do."
That's not by accident.
The process of getting on the show includes filling out an application and sending in
some photos of yourself because the right look matters on a TV show.
If you make it to the next round, you get a video interview with the producers asking
Do you get nervous when someone you just met bombards you with personal questions?
You have anxiety, and your angle is you're going on the show to overcome it.
When they do find that good backstory, sometimes they play up part of it to tug on the sympathy
heartstrings a bit more, even if it involves making things more dramatic than they really
If the show was completely real as you see it, you'd have the reveal, the shocked look
of chefs trying to figure out how pasta and Kit Kats go together, and then a whole lot
“Andy, you look thrilled.”
"I'm, I'm thrilled to be here.”
If you have 30 minutes to cook, and you're baking and boiling, you're not going to stand
around watching and waiting.
To facilitate that, the ovens are set to 350 degrees and the water is boiling before the
baskets are even opened.
And those reaction shots - the stunned looks on chefs' faces - are semi-staged.
Yes, the looks are real, but they may do several takes to get the right angle.
Contestants might re-open the baskets a few times before getting to actually dig in and
“Oh, come on."
If you ever wondered how stuff can stay warm by the time it gets to the judges, wonder
Judges can get a sample early.
It's only logical because if you're making something crispy or a sauce that can congeal
and it sits around too long it won't be good eats.
The contestants are informed that nothing special needs to be done to assure the food
makes it to the judges at the right temperature.
Just watching Chopped can be a bit exhausting, especially when you start sympathizing with
the chefs on screen.
But it's even more intense than you think.
According to former contestant Kathy Fang, chefs are in for a non-stop, 14-hour day that
starts when they get to the set at 5:45 am.
They've already been up and at 'em for a while, too, as they have to be ready to go on camera
- there are no stylists waiting for them.
Of course, how long the day is depends on how far you make it.
If you're chopped early, you're still there until the afternoon.
Fang says those that make it to the final round are filming until around 8 or 9 p.m.,
and then, there are still those interview segments to film.
That can take another hour to an hour and a half, meaning there's a good reason they
might look exhausted.
Some of the critiques can be so brutal you're cringing from the safety of your couch, but
according to the judges themselves, it's not all hammer-of-judgement type stuff on set.
Judge Amanda Freitag told POPSUGAR:
"I get totally edited.
I'm funny behind the scenes.
I'm funny sometimes with the chefs.
I think they capture those moments when I'm being stern."
She says it's hard to keep a serious face on through the judging, and that side of her
is only about 20 percent of her personality.
"Do you make banh mi sandwiches often?"
“Yes, in fact my husband and I are looking to open a fusion banh mi restaurant.”
That's the power of television; 20 minutes of joking and fun narrowed down to the solitary,
30-second negative comment to build up the tension.
"The membrane on the exterior needs to be removed.
This little bit right here is really, really difficult to eat.”
There are two different ways contestants can play Chopped: They can concentrate strictly
on their own dish, or they can also sabotage their competitors.
According to contestant - and winner - Kathy Fang, contestants have equal access to the
There are tons of other ingredients, of course, but there's only a single jar of each seasoning.
That means not only are contestants under the gun to get in and get what they need before
someone else grabs it, but they don't want to ask for help in finding ingredients, either.
It would be completely legitimate for someone to hide a spice after you've asked for it,
and whether that's playing dirty or playing smart, well, that's all up for interpretation.
There would be no Chopped without the mystery baskets, and if you've wondered just how those
ingredients come together, you're not alone - the contestants are wondering that, too!
The genius behind those baskets is Sara Nahas-Hormi, and her official title is culinary producer.
"I wanna keep the chefs on their toes, and wow our viewers week after week."
Ingredients aren't random, and there are a few loose guidelines she works with.
According to her interview with Design Sponge, baskets are designed to include ingredients
whose flavor profiles work together, even if they seem completely unrelated.
There's also a 5-page document created for each basket, detailing things like the basket's
theme, backgrounds for the foods, and how they're usually used.
There's no way to watch Chopped without putting yourself in the contestants' shoes, and that's
especially true for the moment when they open their box.
Will it be something you have in your kitchen… or tongues?
“Really, an eyeball?"
That's the stuff you cringe at, and you're not alone.
Apparently host Ted Allen cringes, too.
He admitted on the Food Network's blog:
"Yea, there have been ingredients that freaked me out."
And if you've ever wondered if there's anything the chefs have refused to eat, there is.
It happened once, and while Food Network Executive Chef Rob Bleifer doesn't say what the ingredient
was, he does say that it was due to an allergy.
But hey, for a solidly rated show with low production costs, it's easy to see why Food
Network loves Chopped as much as you do.