Sunday, January 18, 2009

Chopped Is Tops

I took a casual look at a new show on the Food Network hosted by Ted Allen . Chopped is an action packed cooking competition show, with an interesting way of doing things.

They start out with 4 chefs. They each get the same basket of ingredients that they must use to create a first course in a certain amount of time. That gets judged and one chef gets CHOPPED. The next three go on to make a main course with a different bunch of ingredients. Again, one is eliminated and 2 chefs are left to compete in the dessert course, with the winner walking away with $10,000. I like that all the contestants are chefs and they’re all dressed identically in rather natty chef’s attire.

I love the Southern catering chef, Sandy. A pastry chef, Katie, has trouble with octopus, but turns out a good first course. Octopus and oyster sauce are 2 of the ingredients. Pretty boy Perry struggles, but makes it through to the next round. Summer, the 4th chef, gets “chopped”.

Alex Guarnaschelli is one of the three judges. She’s very good - thoughtful and knowledgeable. The other two are Aaron Sanchez, and Geoffrey Zakarian.

The ingredients for the next round, the entrée, are duck breast, green onion, ginger and honey. This seems like a no brainer. Sandy is unfazed, since he understands the classic way to cook a duck breast. Perry is fine and has a vision of what he’s doing, but Katie seems less expert in her concept of the dish.

Perry cuts himself, while the judges watch. They love that Sandy is grilling scallions right over the gas flame. Pastry chef Katie is making a crepe, adding a bit of cocoa. Perry says what the hell is that? Ted does a bit of chit chat with the working cooks. Alex remarks that the crepe idea could be great or could be the worst thing they’ve ever eaten.

After coming up with something as unusual and sophisticated as a cocoa crepe for the duck, strangely, Katie is having a hard time with the scallions. She decides to cook them in butter, saying it will take a miracle for her to survive this round.

The judges actually like the crepes. It’s the scallions there’s some criticism of. They like Perry’s dish, although Perry includes cilantro a second time and has no starch on his plate. The best part of Sandy is his charming accent. (He sounds exactly like Art Smith.)

There is a miracle for 21 year old pastry chef Katie, (even though there is no sign of Sully anywhere). Perry gets CHOPPED. He’s mad.

Just Sandy and Katie compete in the dessert round. Katie is confident. The ingredients they have to use are prunes, animal crackers and cream cheese. They both laugh. Animal crackers? Just when I was thinking so highly of this show…

Katie decides on a mousse or semifreddo. Sandy makes a “soup”. Sandy’s resigned to Katie being the one that’s probably going to win the $10,000.

I like the recap before the last commercial break.

They judge the desserts. I like Sandy’s honest reply to the judge who questions his use of mint as a garnish, when there is no mint in the dish. He says, completely without guile, that garnishing with mint is an old catering trick, which is done for the color and that nothing leaves the kitchen without a sprig. I don’t disagree with the judge, but I liked Sandy’s down to earth answer.

I was taught that the garnish must be edible and that it should be an element of the dish. Katie actually broke both those rules, when she plated her entrée on a red cabbage leaf. It DID look a lot more colorful, but there was no cabbage in the dish and the leaf was not meant to be eaten. Judge Alex mentioned that she was a bit confused by it. I would think that’s high on the list of the things you would want to avoid – confusing the judges.

Sandy seems to have the advantage going into the final judging. Let’s see what happens. Sandy pulls it out and wins. The judges all tell Katie how bright her future is. She cries and is very disappointed. Sandy is grinning ear to ear. He’s thrilled with his first time ever winning anything.

I have to say that this did remind me a bit of another situation where a young female pastry whiz was up against an older, seemingly more experienced, guy. I wasn’t happy with the outcome in THAT case, but here I think Sandy showed his chops and deserved NOT to be CHOPPED.

One of the things I really like about this show is that, in the final judging, they take into account the chef’s menu AS A WHOLE. The contestant's fate doesn’t lie in a single ingredient, dish or technique. I like that there’s little extraneous stuff going on. It’s all about the cooking, it’s all about the actual dishes they produce. There’s no over the top host, judge OR contestant.

Food Network, THANK YOU for a well-done, entertaining, interesting show (finally), about which I have little bad to say.


Sri said...

I caught this show the other day too. I thot it was pretty interesting.
So, does that mean Ted Allen wont be a judge on Top Chef anymore?

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Is it just me, or does this sound like an extended version of "Ready Set Cook"?

DebCarol said...

Hmmmm . . . no sleeping in bunk beds, no lowcut dresses or moronic one-liners in the Judge line up, no "team cooking", no outrageous flirting among cheftestants, no peeling apples in 2 seconds????? Sigh, it will probably not last.

Sue said...

Yup, Sri,
I’m guessing Ted is pretty busy over at the Food Network and won’t be on Top Chef, for the moment anyway.

Hey Rach,
I never saw that show, but based on this description (!), no, it’s not the same. These are CHEFS competing…were they on RSC? And they whittle down the contestants, with one going home after each course.

Also, although they set the clock, it’s not done in real time, because they have all those intimate moments with the camera, when we find out what they’re really thinking. The best part is that the final decision is based on the total menu (because the 2 finalists have cooked 3 dishes for the judges) and not just one dish.

Yup, that’s what I like about it. I HATE the bunk bed thing on Top Chef. It is so dumb. You’re probably right. Maybe CHOPPED is not moronic enough to last, but I hope it does.

PLEASE may I use that word – CHEFTESTANT? It’s brilliant.

DebCarol said...

Yes sure, use away Sue .... although I'm sure I am didn't coin the phrase. And I forgot to mention before - I was already a huge fan of Alex Guarnaschelli. She is awesome, very savvy with all things food AND a great personality.

Anonymous said...

There is something about Ted Allen's other FN show that bugged me so I didn't even give this one a look. I'll have to check it out now!

I do like Alex, she just seems cool.

Thanks for adding another show to my DVR list!

;) amy

Emily said...

Yeah, I think Ted Allen is finished with Top Chef.

This sounds like a great show! I wasn't planning on watching it, but I guess I should now.

Thanks for the excellent review.

Sue said...

Thank you Em.

Cynthia said...

I am so sorry that I missed this show but thank heavens for your blog!

Anonymous said...

This show is AWFUL, I wouldn't eat the slop those "chefs" put on the plate if you paid me.

Adam said...

Nice try Chopped. Is has all the ingredients, but Ted Allen is the only one that needs to be chopped. The judges pretend negativity pretty well, but the whole things is such a copy of a copy.

Sue said...

I think that's rather strong. They have to use the weird ingredients that are put in the basket, so the combinations are certainly not their first choice.

Hi Adam,
What I liked about this show is that the people are actually chefs, and so they can cook. Plus we don't get all that time-wasting behind the scenes stuff. Isn't this what a reality show on the FOOD Network should be?

Kristina said...

I think it is shot in real time. I think when they're having personal time with camera is when they're waiting on the judges to decide. I read that somewhere but I'm not for sure where...

btw, I love Chopped! Haven't missed an episode. I actually have been wanting to try making a cocoa crepe since watching this, and I'm not even that big of a fan of crepes...

Sue said...

Hi Kristina,
That's interesting about how Chopped is shot. I agree that it's really entertaining and it moves fast. I also like that the interviews are minimal and the chefs are so creative.

Anonymous said...

You must be kidding me. This show was a ripoff and very disappointing. I like Ted, so it's too bad the production values are so bad. It's food competition without any of the intelligence. "Let's make a cross between Top Chef and Iron Chef, but without the expense of being any good. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

I think they are way to serious, and the judges too snooty. If they have the crazy ingredients, then have fun with it. Also, if
hygene is a question, they should be choppped on site!

Anonymous said...

"Chopped" has long been my favorite TV show... until last night. Last night, Mori (I think that was his name) made it to the final round even though... in the first round he cut himself badly and bled profusely into the food he was making, yet wasn't eliminated, and even though, in the the second round he double-dipped but wasn't eliminated. In the final round he double-dipped repeatedly. His unsanitary methods (watch out NYC, he is cooking for you in your town!) were bad enough and have left me too grossed out to eat out again any time soon, but the fact that the JUDGES allowed him to continue past the first round has caused me to lose all respect for them and also to wonder if that doesn't suggest that the judges consider his behavior within the norm. If so, I'll NEVER eat out again!

Anonymous said...

My wife and i started to become fans of the show until we saw some of the "judging" that was made on some of the chefs... HORRIBLE!!!!!!!

You could tell clearly that certain contestants should have progressed to the next round or even won the competition but do to the fact that the judges disliked them, "CHOPPED" them.

Guess what... we CHOPPED the show and aren't watching it anymore.