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.