The new season of Chopped debuts on Food Network next week, and if you haven’t seen this culinary competition before, despite its short comings it is fine entertainment on most nights. The premise of the show is intriguing; hosted by uber-nerd Ted Allen, Chopped has four chefs competing for $10,000 by having what is in essence a cook-off in three rounds, appetizer, entrée and dessert. The contestants are usually pretty skilled and handle themselves well. Occasionally one of the typical emotional basket cases that seem to populate reality TV sneaks in, but overall I have been impressed with the caliber of the contestants. This is mostly because the trick of the show is that in each round a basket is presented with ingredients that must be used in the dish. This can be great fun, watching some obsessive-compulsive chef who is used to running a restaurant try to make an appetizer out of unsweetened chocolate, jumbo prawns, and clamato never loses its appeal.
What makes Chopped annoying is the judges. Each one tends to be overly dramatic in their criticism, and their outrage is usually disproportionate to the crime. They have the same level of anger towards someone who double dips their finger in the sauce or serves a dangerously undercooked turkey dish as they do the person who fails to coherently make gummy bear encrusted chicken. A typical comment will be something like this: “I would be ashamed to serve this gummy bear encrusted chicken if it were my restaurant.” You don’t say. Perhaps you should get up and try your hand at it. I’ve seen Aaron Sanchez on Chefs vs. City. He seems to spend half the show running around, I don’t seem to recall him being presented with a basket containing starfruit, ostrich, and instant grits and being forced to make something delicious.
One of the worst of the judges is Alex Guarnaschelli. Below is a photo:
While I’m certain that in life Ms. Guarnaschelli is a fine human being, she comes across particularly shrill. You would think she would have a word with the editors and ask that they not make her look like a complete bitch every show. The funniest part about this is that now Ms. Guarnaschelli has her own show, Alex’s Day Off. I have a great idea for an episode, someone should drop off a basket containing plantains, frozen scallops and Cheese-Its and then berate her for coming up with a less than perfect dish.
Will the annoying judges be toned down next season? Who knows, odds are Food Network will find a way to botch it even more, or have some stupid event where Bobby Flay takes on pastry chefs and the basket coincidentally contains ancho chilies, Kobe beef and fingerling potatoes. I will still check out the newest episodes and see if Chopped remains worthwhile viewing. I sure hope so, Food Network is becoming unwatchable, and Chopped is hanging under the cleaver itself.