Since its 2007 debut, Chopped has rocked the Food Network airwaves. A deceptively simple cooking competition, it features four chefs battling to take home $10,000. The show remains especially challenging as each competitor must incorporate a random basket of weird ingredients into their culinary concoctions.
A typical assortment might include purple asparagus, licorice candy, heavy cream, and a pig's head. Chopped's baskets are like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates: contestants never know what they're going to get. Therein lies the adventure.
While the show hardly counts as horrible reality TV, Chopped is incredibly interesting behind the scenes.
Chopped changed a lot from the original show concept. For instance, the initial pilot took place in a mansion instead of a kitchen set. The mansion's butler served as host, and the failed dishes provided food for the show's other star: a Chihuahua. Host Ted Allen revealed:
I wish I knew the Chihuahua's name... Food Network got the pilot – which they spent actual money to make – [but] I think they kinda rolled their eyes and said, "Okay, that's a little weird for us."
But Food Network still saw the potential in Chopped, and it hit the airwaves after extensive revamping.
The judges are not immune to some of the gross items in the mystery baskets. They must remain professional, though, trusting all of them are completely safe. As host, Ted Allen is sometimes grateful he doesn't sample the weirder ingredients. He commented:
Whenever people say, "Why don’t you get to taste the food?" I always say, "How bad do you think I want to taste eyeballs, chicken feet, and Rocky Mountain oysters?"
Tune in to any given episode of Chopped, and you'll be baffled by how the chefs use everything from their basket of confounding ingredients. While those components might seem random, producer Sara Hormi considers each one. According to Ted Allen:
Sara’s job is to find us things that we’ve never seen before, which with chefs as great as our judges is a hard thing to do... but there’s a lot of thought process that goes into choosing those ingredients, and by the way, they’re not chosen randomly.
They’re designed to be possible but difficult... So if we give you, say, tomatillos, flatbreads, and silky tofu, obviously we’re looking for a play on grilled cheese and tomato soup, right? The funny thing is the chefs don’t have a lot of time to think about it. In fact, they have no time to think about it, and they really don’t know what the ingredients are, so they don’t usually figure out what the riddle is inside the basket, but there definitely is an intention.
Chopped episodes only run about 45 minutes without commercials, but filming a single show takes up to 80 hours. The crew, well-staffed with 75 people and a cast of nervous competitors, typically puts in long days.
Contestant Kathy Fang revealed those who make it to the final round might need to film until 8 or 9 pm. After that, they record the interview segments, which can take another hour or more. According to Fang, "Even though I was surrounded by food all day, I was running around so much I didn't even think of eating."