15 Things ‘Chopped’ Execs Don’t Want Us To Know

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Over the years, The Food Network has brought viewers a slew of very fun shows. From reality looks to best restaurants to more, the Network gives food lovers pretty much anything they want. One of their biggest hits is easily Chopped. The quick-moving cooking game show challenges four chefs in three rounds to make an appetizer, entree, and dessert using mystery basket ingredients for a $10,000 prize. One chef is eliminated after each round by a panel of judges who base their decisions on the merits of presentation, taste, and creativity. The challenge comes from the lightning-fast rounds and the wackiness of the mystery baskets, which usually include at least one ingredient meant to throw the chefs off. Combinations can include sardines paired with banana chips for the appetizer course or bizarre ice creams for the dessert round. What it all means is a lot of fun to be had.

The show has been a huge success since 2009 as viewers adore watching the food, the challenges, the unique chefs who take part and the banter of the judges. It’s a terrific combination of humor, drama, and thrills so even those with little food experience can enjoy it. However, like many a reality TV show, there’s more to Chopped than meets the eye. From the secrets of ingredients to what really happens during taping, some bits of the show are kept back for the illusion. Here are 15 things the producers of the series may not want their fans to be aware of and highlights the experience of watching it more.

15. Ted Allen Has…Quirks

You have to give credit to Ted Allen for making this show a hit as the producer and the fun host. He’s the guiding voice of the series and ensures it goes well. However, Allen has a few odd quirks that also direct him on the show, some of which viewers may not be aware of. He’s lifted the big dish cover literally hundreds of times yet he still practices it constantly to make sure it looks just right. A cubby on set has a sign stating it is only for Allen’s drinks.

He also admits the judges do have their personal favorite dishes and that a chef who makes them is automatically going to win favor. Allen also acknowledges the truth that some contestants are chosen on looks more than skill. When it comes to food, Allen can be freaked out but also notes that items that Americans find queasy are delicious to people from other lands. He even enjoys seeing grasshoppers or the like to push the show more. Also, Allen never sits down when filming, constantly on his feet. So it makes sense a guy who came up with such a unique show has a unique vibe.

14. There Are Standbys

There are two types of “emergency standbys” for the show. The first are ingredients as sometimes, food can unexpectedly spoil or some sort of accident on set. There have been times they discover just before taping that a certain ingredient is absent and work fast to replace it. Thus, the producers have ensured there are ingredients ready to replace just in case of any of that. The second are contestants.

You only see four on screen but in truth, no taping takes place until a fifth contestant is backstage. They keep them around just in case someone suddenly gets ill or bows out. Indeed, a few chefs just can’t take the pressure of being on TV and the push of attention and drop out right before it starts. So, like a jury, you need an alternate to keep up the series. It’s interesting to think how close the show comes to need such sudden replacements but that at least they’re prepared.

13. The Baskets

The key to the show is the baskets. The mystery baskets containing the special ingredient to kick off the cooking, fans love seeing them brought out and what is coming. Sara Nahas-Hormi is the person behind it all as culinary producer. While the ingredients seem random, she actually chooses them carefully, complete with a five-page list of ingredients, the theme, and how it all comes together. She’s not alone as network executive Rob Bliefer helps her put them all together.

It takes a while as they plan the baskets out weeks before a taping. Bliefer says their rule is that “if we can’t come up with a dish combo in 15 seconds, we don’t use it.” They have rules like not repeating ingredients, only using those humanly raised and won’t use anything they know can’t be prepared in the allotted time. It’s amazing that what looks like just a random tossing of items into a basket is instead amazingly planned out and a lot of work goes into making it look easy.

12. Contestants Can Be Sneaky

Technically it’s against the rules. However, most see it as just a “guideline” they can sneak by. Obviously, the key to the show is using the ingredients you are given and handling them nicely. However, it is a competition and everyone wants to win. Thus, more than a few chefs have taken a chance to undermine a competitor. That includes when given access to the pantry, they can swipe more ingredients than they need so the other chefs can’t find them.

More than once, you can hear someone complaining about not finding, say, a spice and it turns out another chef hid it or even stole it for themselves. Is it fair? Maybe not but everyone needs a step up and thus see it as an “all’s fair” mentality. A few are more blatant but it’s sometimes fun to see the seemingly innocent and mousy person suddenly breaking out a sneaky move. It’s tricky but it works as the show can be surprisingly ruthless.

11. They Look For A Good Backstory

If you want to be on this show, you can’t just rely on cooking skills. If anything, it’s like professional wrestling: Skills get you a start but it’s showmanship and presentation that really get you going. All applicants submit some information about themselves and the series does well with it. While crass, it’s, unfortunately, true that they tend to look at folks who look better on TV so yes, it does help if the photo you send shows you looking very attractive.

The interview is where things really get interesting. For example, if you’re nervous, rather than think you can’t do well, they’ll use that play up the idea of you having anxiety on the show. They can also manipulate things a bit like how on the Junior show, a contestant is talked of surviving her parent’s divorce when it happened when she was a toddler and wouldn’t have any memory of it. Backstories with some tragedy or struggle are pure gold and thus, the more intriguing you seem, the better your chances of landing on the show.

10. The Pantry Is No Shock To Contestants

A thrilling segment on the show is the pantry. Things are already tense, the lights beating down, the judges on you, the other contestants ready to go and you’re then informed you have just five minutes to find a specific item within the pantry. That’s pretty huge pressure and you can easily imagine contestants wasting that precious time searching in vain for the right ingredient.

As it happens, it’s really no problem. Before each round, the chefs are allowed a walk through the pantry to check it out and see where everything is. That’s for each round as the items in the pantry are adjusted as the basket ingredients change. Some smart chefs are able to actually use this to get a hint of what’s coming (there’s only so many dishes a specific ingredient can be used for) and thus get an edge on the competition. So the next time you see the pantry raid, know the chefs aren’t strangers to this area.

9. Serious Non-Disclosure Agreements

The producers face the same challenge as those of any reality (or game) show: Making sure the contestants don’t blab about how they did before the series airs. Nothing kills a good competition than knowing who wins. A famous case is a Survivor contestant spilling some beans and kicking off an ugly lawsuit. Thus, as per usual, the contestants must sign non-disclosure agreements.

However, the terms are among the toughest in all of television. All contestants are prevented from bringing cell phones into the competition and to keep their mouths shut on what happens. That goes for the kids’ version as well and the agreements are online to check out. What it all boils down to is that if you reveal the results of an upcoming episode or what happened on it (even what ingredients were used), you are liable for $750,000. That’s a seriously steep price and thus no shock no one has ever broken this deal. So don’t go looking for any early spoilers.

8. Early Tasting

Here’s something most don’t know about being a judge on a cooking show: You have to get used to eating cold food a lot. By the time the chefs are done and the dinners served, some of these dishes have cooled off majorly and thus you have to serve fast. Some complain about how unfair that is, as the lack of heat means the taste will be affected and thus influences who gets cut. Thus, often, the judges will do an early tasting of some dishes, mostly those that are crisp or saucy as they don’t want that to congeal too fast.

It may seem a cheat but the contestants appreciate the early tastes done to better judge their work. As for some deserts, it’s actually seen better if they’re somewhat melted by the time the judges get there as an ice cream that remains solid is badly made. So if you see a judge getting a reaction to something hot, they either got an early taste or the contestant seriously laid in the hot sauce.

7. How Long It Actually Takes

You think it’s easy to do this show? It’s not. The series makes it seem like it’s a nice and brisk shooting schedule but in truth, the series is amazingly long with some of its stuff. A standard episode takes roughly 14 hours to shoot and that’s without much rest or even bathroom breaks. The chefs must be ready to go at 5 a.m. with the set already prepared.

If you’re cut early, you’re done by afternoon although most will hang around to see the rest of the competition. If you’re there to the end, you’re looking at being there until about 8 or 9 p.m. That’s just for the show as you have to do hours for post-battle interviews and a few follow-up shoots. It’s a bit lighter for the “Junior” version to help the kids out but it’s still a gruelling task. Indeed, contestants admit it adds to the challenge so that fatigue you see on the chefs’ faces? That’s not faked at all, they’re pretty much dead on their feet by the time the cameras stop rolling.

6. There Is Manipulation

There is very little “reality” in reality TV. That’s just a basic fact many know. And Chopped is no different as quite often, the producers will take “shortcuts” to speed things up. Much is made of how the chefs start from scratch upon opening their baskets. However, because the producers know viewers aren’t interested in watching water boil or ovens heating up, they ensure that the oven is already set to 350 degrees and the water on for a while before things get going.

Also, it’s been confirmed by contestants that quite often they do multiple takes and reshoots of their reactions to get the right ones for the show. That includes opening the baskets a couple of times and faking their surprised reactions to what’s inside.

5. They’re Guilty Of Chopping Contestants Who Aren’t TV-Friendly

It’s noted how the producers tend to go for folks who seem more “TV friendly” than truly talented chefs. That’s what led to some rather questionable “chops” made by the judges. An obvious case is John Sierp, a loud New York chef who already had experience with the Food Network. He was up against Linda Lestadius, a good Swedish chef but seen as quiet and not as compelling on TV. They went at it with chicken wings in a basket for an appetizer. Sierp was a mess, his oil not hot enough to fry the wings so he decided to boil them, resulting in some rubbery meat. Lestadius brought about a very good dish that the judges noted was better tasting.

She also used all the ingredients while Sierp missed one, a major no-no for the show. But at judging, Sierp went through and Linda was cut. Why? Well, the fact is that Sierp just came off much better and telegenic and poor Linda didn’t. That’s just one of several cases that make it clear the judges are influenced more by who can boost the show than who’s really the better chef.

4. It Should Be R-Rated

Food Network is a family-friendly channel and thus they present nice wholesome stuff. But both judges and competitors agree that an unedited Chopped would be a wild viewing. Cursing is constant with just about every single insult, slur and F-bomb imaginable dropped at one point or another. Most of it is from the chefs, either badly reacting to a blunder or firing off an insult at a fellow chef.

It should be no surprise as pressure makes people short-tempered and thus prone to flying off the handle. But sometimes, the judges can be surprisingly crass in their debates, firing off shots on each other and some angry reactions to bad dishes. The series is notable for going rather wild at some moments and the producers have acknowledged having to delete several of the more risqué bits for airing. Thus, the next time you watch the show, keep in mind that this seemingly family-friendly series can actually offer more swear words than your typical HBO drama.

3. The Original Star

The original idea for the show was a lot nuttier and more “dramatic.” Much like the hit Iron Chef, it would have a staged set inside a mansion with the idea of this eccentric millionaire organizing all this with contestants showing up in limos. He would be represented by an English butler to direct contestants and such. As for the losing dishes, they would be served to the pet Chihuahua who would be primed to be the real star of the show.

Creator/host Ted Allen admits he wanted to sell the Food Network on something unique and thought they’d like something so wild. He now admits it was just too over the top to possibly work. However, Food Network executives thought the actual cooking segments had promise. So Allen cut out the crazy backstory and just went for the straight competition. It worked out brilliantly into a huge hit and Allen has laughed that “thankfully” the original pilot is locked away in a vault. Interesting to think of how zany this show could have been.

2. The Judging Takes A LONG Time

On the show, the judging seems to be fast, sometimes too fast for the audience. Indeed, a complaint can be how it looks like they barely taste or such before making their calls and when a favorite is cut, the viewers complain they weren’t given enough time. But in truth, the editors have to cut a slew of stuff out of the judging in order to fit into the show.

In reality, it can take up to an hour and a half for the judges to make their choices and that includes re-tasting, a lot of arguing and other bits. It’s common for the phrase “this is good” to be tossed around a dozen times and the focus has to be on the initial reactions and such. This means more tasting and thus it’s natural they want to cut that all down. Thus, the judging is edited down to just a few of the sharper comments and talk about how the dishes turned out. Many contestants have noted a lot of good comments on their food are cut and the whole thing is made more dramatic on screen. Suffice to say, the judging is not as fast as it looks on air.

1. Contestants Are Constantly Updated On Time…Not Frantic Like They’re Shown

First, to clear up one misconception, the “time limit” is not some sort of trick. Chefs are given twenty minutes for the first round and thirty for the following two. That is strictly held and pushed well by the show and they adhere to it. However, the show makes a big deal of the contestants going wild, showing them often asking “time, time, how much time” and frantic they’re about to run out. But in reality, that’s no issue. The contestants are constantly kept updated on the time by the crew so they know how much is left.

Plus, there’s the giant clock on full display. However, several contestants note that it’s very easy to get wrapped up in stuff and not grasp how much time has passed. This is a pretty high-pressure situation and thus missing time is common so you think so much has passed when it hasn’t. On the flip side, you can get so tied into a key cooking segment that you forget how long it takes. But at least the show does its best to make sure the contestants don’t fall behind.



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