“You’ve been chopped” is a phrase that delights millions of TV viewers — and terrifies a select few participants. TV host Ted Allen utters those words three times for each episode of “Chopped,” Food Network’s wildly popular and influential cooking competition show.
“Chopped” eschews the gimmicks that populate so many of TV’s other cooking competitions. You won’t find features such as sabotages or immunity passes here; the judges are simply looking for the best possible dish made from the assigned “basket” of ingredients.
You won’t find features such as sabotages or immunity passes here; the judges are simply looking for the best possible dish made from the assigned ingredients.
Starting with four chefs, each episode goes through three rounds (“Appetizer,” “Entrée,” and “Dessert”). After each round, one contestant is eliminated — and the last cook standing wins a $10,000 prize.
The contestants face withering criticism from a panel of three judges, who are themselves accomplished chefs. No matter how tasty or creative the dish, the judges are always more than capable of zeroing in on any flaws, giving their decisions consistent suspense from round to round. Celebrity chefs such as Aarón Sánchez, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Geoffrey Zakarian serve as judges, lending the proceedings serious credibility.
Though the judges are merciless, “Chopped” takes time to portray its contestants in a softer light. The chefs get to talk about some combination of personal adversity, lifelong culinary ambition, or familial love that makes the contest more than a chance to just win money; it’s a chance for these men and women to prove themselves in a meaningful way.
Episodes have themes that influence the proceedings, such as “Whiskey and Wings” or “Thyme Flies.” Various special episodes provide fans with treats, such as “Chopped All-Stars,” which sees previous winners compete in a tournament to go for additional bragging rights and even bigger cash prizes.
It’s a standout series, even on a channel devoted entirely to food, and in an era where dozens of cooking shows air each day. Its ratings are all the proof you need of the show’s immense popularity with large sections of America. The series regularly pulls in over 1 million viewers, sometimes even as many as 5 million — and those are just live numbers that don’t include the binge-watchers out there. “Chopped” is the sort of simple and wholesome celebration of the art of something positive that is so rare in today’s cynical media landscape.
The show has over 400 episodes (including specials) that have aired since 2009, so it’s not surprising that many newer contestants cite the show itself as an influence in their own culinary career. It’s a show that is not just entertaining, but also training fans to cook with the best of them. Social media is bursting with examples of “Chopped” fans compelled to follow in the footsteps of the competitors, at least at home.
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“I just need to pull myself away from watching #Chopped & learn to cook something/anything,” fan @cobergfell recently tweeted.
“Watching #Chopped it amazes me that people are so passionate about cooking. Wish I felt that much emotion when I microwaved dinner,” wrote @The_Wolfpack75, another series devotee.
On Metacritic, reviewer ZombieWhosoever gushed, “Being someone who is interested in following their passion in the culinary arts, this show is excellent entertainment and gives the audience contestants that can concoct some of the most astonishing dishes with some of the most seemingly mismatched foods and ingredients.”
There’s a purity to the love of cooking and competition on “Chopped.” The program is a celebration of what can happen when ingenuity synthesizes with skill. The constant oddity of ingredients — think salmon and sour lemon candy in one dish — ensures that you won’t see many of these dishes in the real world, but the creativity required gives would-be chefs a lot to consider.
“Chopped” helps prove that being a chef can occupy a rarefied space in American culture — skilled blue-collar labor existing alongside boundary-pushing creativity and prestigious career achievement. In a TV landscape with a smorgasbord of cooking shows, it’s this that makes “Chopped” a cut above the rest.