I’ve been struggling to write this post because there is just SO MUCH to say about competing on Food Network’s Chopped. I know most of you are curious about filming day, just how real is the show? My next two posts will be tell-all (well as much as I can) on my experiences on Chopped. Something missing from part one you are dying to know? Contact me and I’ll try to incorporate it into part two.
A week ago the world (well anyone who watched Luck of the Irish episode) found out that I won Food Network’s Chopped. It’s seemingly the show that never ends and the formula hasn’t changed: four chefs, three rounds of mystery ingredients, and three chef celebrities judging on presentation, creativity, and taste. Yet the challenge to create a dish out of the random ingredients underneath the time restraints has kept a viewership of over 8 million over 37 seasons. Not to mention the incredible host, Ted Allen.
When it first aired in 2009 I was kind of obsessed with the show. Actually confession I’ve been obsessed with Food Network my whole life, secretly dreaming of when it would be my turn to grace the screen. Chopped was a kind of revival of one of my favorite childhood shows Ready, Set, Cook. Ok, it was a bit different but it was a timed cooking show with teams and random ingredients. I digress.
As the years passed I watched less and less of the show but the ever changing variables of chef personalities and ingredients meant some days I could find myself down a rabbit hole of a Chopped marathon. Because at home lying on my couch I was always thinking how the f*** did they do that?!
“It always seems impossible until it’s done”
Flash-forward to 2017 when I did that. Or 2018 when everyone else saw me do that. Keeping this secret was so hard, and now I feel like I should just tell everyone I meet casually like, thanks for ringing up my socks, did you know I won chopped?
So for those who are lazy and don’t find my writing thrilling: Yes, the show is real. No, I didn’t know the ingredients before. And no I can’t loan you 50 dollars.
Being selected to be on Chopped in a long process of interviews where you describe your whole culinary life. How did you get here, why do you love cooking, how competitive are you? I swear the telephone interview I had while working on the ship was damn near therapeutic. Thinking back on all the moments that have lead me to the place I am is really crazy, but a whole different story. Anyway once the casting God’s have found a place for you in their carefully crafted season puzzle you get set up with a pre-recording where they do another on camera interview and all the cheesy back story stuff. I was still working on the ship at the time and flew back to New York during my ten-day break in September. I actually ended up having to two of these, the second the day before the actual competition, because the lighting wasn’t great the first time. It was a rather interesting process made even more complicated by my lack of phone connection at sea, but I was thankful the producers worked with my schedule.
Pre Filming Morning
I did a great job of keeping my nerves calm until the morning of. I had done a few practice rounds to make sure I had a sense of how fast twenty and thirty minutes really was, my only variables being my competition and the ingredients. I’ll never forget sitting in a car outside a random fast food restaurant with my boyfriend sizing up the others. At that moment it was just two burly very chef looking like guys. I remember saying they look like real chefs and my boyfriend looking at me crazy like you are a real chef. In this moment Yo Gotti’s “Rake It Up” was playing in the background he turned it up and we had a good laugh about how I was about to rake up the competition.
Getting out of the car, game face on. Moment of honesty I never actually saw this video until I wrote this post, it’s not PG.
For people who work in the industry 6am is normally when you are going to bed needless to say no one was very chatty as we walked over to the studio. The PA pulled out some polite conversation but in general the mood was pretty tense. We got to the studio and filled out paperwork signing our lives away. Not really, but the 750,000 non-disclosure fine really stuck out in my head. Side note, apparently I missed the memo that the episode was Irish themed. Although I really should have caught the clue after they dissected every part of my Irish in those pre interviews I mentioned before.
Being on the set of Chopped felt like an out of body experience. You know like TV doesn’t seem real sitting at home, I may have well been on the set of Star Trek. We got a brief tour of the kitchen, which made me excited because who really has a fully stocked kitchen to play in? Every move we made was watched, phones were gone so it was really like we were on a fully stocked desert island where cooking is how you survived.
After what seemed like hours (maybe just two) round one finally began. I was really nervous going into this round telling myself you can’t be out first. I opened the basket, blood sausage, Irish stout, mushy peas, and black radish. There was pretty much not one ingredient I liked, but with twenty minutes on the clock you just have to go. The idea of blood sausage disgusts me and I had avoided it for thirty years of my life but of course first thing I had to do was taste it. After tasting it I realized my intuition was right, it’s super bitter and gross so my first inclination was how could I mask the flavor. Everything just built from there. The mushy pea crema was pretty ingenious if I do say so myself, and yes there was cilantro and jalapeno in my taco.
At the end of the round I was pretty excited about what I managed to make even though my station looked like I learned how to cook yesterday. My pride was soon deflated by the fact that now people were actually judging the food. Speaking of the judges, we had no time with them to rub elbows and tell jokes. I have gotten that question a lot, honestly it wouldn’t have mattered if the Dali Lama was a judge, at the end of the day he would have still been picking apart my food. I know no more about the three judges than I did before I began but in general their critics were honest and fair. The show definitely painted Amanda to be very harsh towards me (my friends kept booing her while watching) but I didn’t feel she was better or worse than anyone else in the moment. Then again was I really there?
After judging you are ushered back into a room where you can discuss your feelings with the fellow chefs. Then you do more solo interviews where you can talk about yourself and others (ie.throw people under the bus). While we were waiting for elimination I could tell people were happy with what they made because everyone was a bit more loosened up or just finally awake at 10am.
What didn’t make the show was my undercooked tortilla, which terrified me that I was on the bottom. The scariest part of the Chopped rollercoaster is not the cooking, or the feedback, but walking forth to your potential elimination destiny. It’s when you have no control over what may happen. The first one was the worst because as I said they had ripped me apart for the undercooked tortilla. Luckily, Chef Andre’s over peppering was a more egregious mistake, so I was safe. And while it was the biggest sigh of relief when Ted Allen did not reveal my dish, the next breath of air brought about extreme anxiety that I had to do everything all over again.
Everything besides the timed rounds on the set of Chopped requires a lot of sitting around and waiting. In fact I thought it was cruel unusual punishment we filmed round two, they judged it, and then we broke for lunch. Much like I’m about to break this post. I guess it’s not quite the same since you know that I won. Stay tuned for rounds 2&3 and my final thoughts about the competition.
These are my own views and experiences and in no way a reflection of Food Network.