"Chefs, please open your baskets. In them you will find the mystery ingredients for the appetizer round"
Ted Allen, host of Chopped
Crossing Iron Chef and Top Chef, Chopped is a Cooking Show competition. Like Iron Chef, the competitors are given secret ingredients they must use; Chopped gives them a basket containing three or four per course instead of just one. Also like Iron Chef, they have to make an entire meal, but only three courses rather than five. Like Top Chef's "Quickfires", the time limits are short, typically 20 minutes for the appetizer and 30 minutes for the entrée and dessert dishes.The show follows a simple recipe: each show starts with four contestants (preferably of varying careers, training, and specialties). There are three rounds of fast paced cooking with a basket of secret ingredients (at least one ingredient in each basket should be quirky, obscure, or difficult to work with). Quickly beat in a mixture of Jerkass and Nice Guy judges. Do not forget a can of "I'm Screwed...", this is needed to keep you sucked in! Bake for one hour and serve while hot. Goes well with a serving of Good Eats for dessert.Opinions on the show will vary, but it could be compared to Iron Chef lite. However, given the short prep time available, the lack of assistant chefs, the frequency of off-the-wall ingredients, and the do-or-die nature of each course, this format may be more difficult than Iron Chef.The success of this show and its format lead Food Network to create similar shows with formats similar to this.The show is part of Food Network's primetime block of programming and has run since January 2009. About five episodes at a time are available on Hulu.
And the mystery tropes in this round are:
Ascended Extra: Marcus Samuelsson becomes a regular judge after the 2nd All-Stars tournament. Chuck Hughes became a regular judge in the Canadian iteration after competing in the 3rd All-Stars. Dean McDermott was the winning contestant for season 2 of Rachel vs. Guy who became the host of the Canadian version.
Ingredients that none of the chefs (and possibly none of the viewers) have even heard of make their way to the baskets sometimes, like karela and dulse. In the case of an ingredient called violet mustard, not even the judges, who are highly accomplished chefs, had heard of it before. This makes Chopped in theory also an Edutainment Show.
During the 2nd Chopped All-Stars tournament, Marcus Samuelsson, who had appeared as a judge a small number of times before, sat for four of the five tournament episodes. Then he became one of the regular judges. He then went on to compete in and win the second All-Star tournament.
Chuck Hughes, already a big-name chef in both the US and Canada, competes in the eth All-Stars tournament, although he was eliminated after the appetizer round. He then becomes a regular judge in Chopped: Canada.
The judges' episodes in the All-Stars tournament definitely count as this, as well as web-series Chopped: After Hours.
Keegan Gerhard (of Food Network Challenge) and Jacques Torres got their day in the limelight during their appearances in All-Stars
Viewers rarely see Ted Allen cook on any show so it's refreshing to see him cook in the After-Hours web specials.
Audience Participation: As of late some of the special episodes, such as the amateur chef's episode, Chopped Redemption and the Leftovers episodes, are influenced by viewers at the Food Network polls.
Bacon Addiction: Whoever comes up with the mystery baskets has a singular obsession with bacon and its relatives (i.e. cured, fatty pork in all its forms). The judges (especially Chris Santos and Alex Guarnaschelli) love it, as stated under Trademark Favorite Food. Taken to ridiculous levels when one contestant attempts to make bacon candy, and the judges light up. Heck, there was a special bacon-centric episode.
The ingredients (usually offal) sometimes gets this treatment. The name says one thing, but when either the judges or Ted talks about it, it really means another thing. Take for example "duck white kidneys." Take a guess what that is. Answer Duck testicles.
How about "Rocky Mountain oysters?" Answer Bull testicles
How about "Lamb fries?" Answer Lamb testicles. Sensing a theme here?
Bait-and-Switch Boss: Michael Symon in the second finals of All-Stars. Considering his expertise cooking under pressure, it looked like he was the shoe-in for the final two. But then he gets eliminated for leaving off an ingredient in the appetizer round. That, in turn, would make Marcus Samuelsson the "boss" of that episode, who is just as tough as Symon.
A well-known berserk button for all the judges is when the contestants call a dish something other than what it really is. See You Keep Using That Word below.
Putting inedible ingredients on the plate (outside having a bone-in meat). This one is justified since if a random person were to look at the food, they have to assume that all elements on the plate are edible.
Scott Conant - mistreated Italian ingredients, too much black pepper, raw red onions.
Alex Guarnaschelli - being interrupted while she's talking, sloppy presentation
Chris Santos - inedible objects on the plate, though in his case its more of a "mildly annoyed button". Though he will harp on chefs who do somewhat unsanitary things like tasting liquor from the bottle and pouring the liquid into his food, and the ever dreaded double dip.
Amanda Freitag - uncleaned shrimp.
Geoffrey Zakarian - inadequate portion sizes, food that is too spicy, and desserts that are too sweet.
Marc Murphy - Focusing so much on being creative that the food suffers, adding too many other ingredients. The addition of truffle oil also seems to really annoy him.
Aarón Sanchez - Not using a whole bird when one is given, mistreated Mexican ingredients, and undercooked rice. He also seems to have a problem with Hispanic or Latino chefs cooking outside their ethnicity, at times. He actually asked one of them "Are you ashamed of your roots?" just because he used Asian flavors.
Contestants are often very annoyed or disgusted when having to deal with a pre-processed ingredient such as instant soup. This can be a bit of a berserk button for viewers both because it makes them seem whiny and because most viewers have products like those in their own kitchens. Taken to a worse level on the leftovers episode when one of the chef stated that she never had cooked with leftovers and then bashes the quality of ingredients. Plenty of home viewers were very angry at her.
There was one contestant who got very angry at the judges for being chopped. He went on an angry tirade of how he was an excellent chef, his customers liked him, he earned many accolades and awards, that he was too good for the competition, etc. In the "walk of shame" part, it ended with him angrily unwilling to follow the camera guy to the glass door and the parting shot showed him walking out in civilian clothing still in an angry rant.
All judges tend to dislike contestants taking a required ingredient and just kind of throwing it on the plate as an afterthought without really doing anything with it.
The judges also really don't like it when a contestant finishes a dish early and then wastes the last few minutes more or less standing around instead of using that time to fix or at least minimize any remaining imperfections in the dish.
Many of the special episodes where the contestants are competing for charity. One charity gets $10,000 (or even $50,000) dollars! ... And three charities (or twelve charities) get a bit of minor publicity.
It was worse on the second season of All-Stars when Chris Santos was explaining why he was playing for charity note His cousin was suffering a very debilitating disease, and the money was supposed to go to his charity., Alex Guarnaschelli shed tears of sympathy. Chris Santos was chopped on the first round.
Brain Food: A literal example when "goat brains" were one of the secret ingredients.
Brand X: Ingredients are never identified by brand name, instead being given a bland description; "chocolate-hazelnut spread" rather than "Nutella", or "fruit ring cereal" rather than "Froot Loops", or "crescent roll dough" instead of "Pillsbury homemade crescent rolls". Most pre-packaged ingredients are repackaged or, as in the case of sealed jars and cans, the original labels are replaced.
It gets fairly absurd with Sriracha, which is called "Asian hot sauce" on its label, but referred to as such in dialogue.
Camera Abuse: One example is seen in a version of the show's opening where a contestant opens a bottle of champagne and the alcohol explodes out of the bottle appropriately, hitting the low-angled camera.
If a chef plates three plates of food perfectly but leaves one plate empty (or missing an ingredient that went on all the other plates), it will be made sure that the lacking plate is put in front of one of the judges, not set aside for the chopping block.
This especially comes into play if one or more dishes had ingrediants plated after the time has expired. The judges will always call out the offending chef.
Happens when contestants just "put the secret ingredients on the plate without doing anything other than chopping them." Usually.
In the 1st All-Stars tournament, Jacques Torres pulled cocoa nibs from his pockets and the judges took note of it. When it came down to who to chop, it was either Anita Lo (who had failed to complete all four plates) or Jacques Torres (burnt chorizo on cocoa nibs). The judges opted to chop Chef Torres for using an illegal ingredient.
Literally, with the Chopped All-Stars episodes, which feature Robert Irvine and Duff Goldman as contestants, along with a few of the traditional judges.
The second season features four of the Iron Chefs, including Cat Cora, who hasn't been on ICA in quite some time.
With the 3rd season of Chopped All-Stars, you can now include Iron Chef-caliber chefs, including Chuck Hughes and Elizabeth Falkner. There is also a celebrity episodes with non chefs such as Laila Ali and Joey Fatone.
Chekhov's Skill: A baker or pastry chef who survives until the Dessert round will likely win the episode.
Christmas Episode: Twice. Called Chopped Holiday. The set is decorated to evoke Christmas Eve. At least one of the mystery ingredients have something to do with the December holidays. The chefs were instructed to put a holiday theme into their dishes.
Cloudcuckoolander: Judge Susan Feniger. She often isn't even looking at the person to whom she is talking. Given her behavior and her appearance, she would have been the perfect choice to play Professor Trelawney.
Cooking Duel: The final round is a one on one competition between the two chefs who make it to the Dessert Round.
Combat Commentator: Ted Allen and the judges follow a similar structure to Iron Chef, commenting on the cooking techniques of the competitors. The competitors themselves get in on the action in after-action interviews.
Cordon Bleugh Chef: Averted. The required mystery ingredients make it seem that this is inevitable, but the chefs use the fully-stocked pantry and fridge to avoid this problem. Usually.
Crossover: This is one of the few shows on Food Network that receives the crossover treatment from other Food Network competition shows, such as Rachel vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off and The Next Food Network Star. And on those crossover episodes, the rules and/or basket ingredients are much, much easier to work with.
Damned by Faint Praise: The judged will typically begin with praise for the most successful elements of the dish before moving on to its shortcomings. If the praise lingers on minor elements of the dish, they likely had nothing else good to say about the meal.
Several chefs have created dishes with mystery ingredients they can't taste due to allergies or other dietary restrictions (e.g., a Kosher chef cooking prosciutto or a vegetarian Chef cooking meat). When one chef got through two rounds despite being allergic to ingredients in both, his competitor worried about how well he might do when he could actually taste the food.
And in one episode, one chef couldn't taste anything because all three rounds contained a mystery ingredient that he was allergic to. Luckily, he does remember the taste of the ingredients to know how to compose them, which may have prevented him from getting chopped earlier.
And then there's Chef Kurt Ramborger, who is the first deaf chef to appear on the show.
Death by Genre Savviness: Some chefs try to outgambit the game by doing something totally off the wall, and it mostly doesn't work.
One chef came into the game knowing all the judges likes and dislikes. This turned out to be his downfall, as his technique suffered as a result of trying to be over-the-top creative.
In Chopped Champions, one of the secret ingredients in dessert round Grand Finale will always be a flour, in which judge Alex Guarnaschelli says "The ingredients are screaming to be baked." Since the second tournament, one of the chefs will try to avoid baking the dessert... which inevitably gets them chopped. Chef Rob Evans almost won, but his dessert definitely killed him because he avoided baking.
Death Glare: Alex Guarnaschelli has a magnificent one whenever her Berserk Button gets hit. The camera will sometimes even give her close-ups for it.
Defrosting Ice Queen: Alex has a reputation for being a no-nonsense Jerkass, but she seems to be getting less intense, and she's not above crying over sad stories or happy moments.
Inverted. If the chef doesn't make exactly four servings (three for the judges and one for display/the Chopping Block) or get all the elements onto the plate on time, the judges may not be able to taste everything (and therefore cannot be considered into judgement). However, if the chef does something Squick-worthy (usually bleeding into the food), the judges definitely won't eat their food - which invariably gets the chef chopped.
In one episode, the judges were so grossed out by a contestant bleeding profusely, even under several layers of gloves, and still working with his hands instead of utensils that they refused to taste anything.
Cross-contamination also seems to be an issue at times, e.g., putting cooked chicken on the board you originally cut it on when it was raw.
Difficulty Spike: Chopped Champions, Chopped All-Stars, and Chopped Redemption. The difficulty is not so much the ingredients (some of the episodes have more normal-ish ingredients), but with the judging. Very justified with Champions and Redemption because they've appeared before and therefore the judges expect more from the contestants.
Double Entendre: In the 2nd season of All-Stars, Chef Penny couldn't find a meat tenderizer, so she found an "interesting" way to tenderize the steak. Right after Ted asked what Penny was doing, Amanda Freitag couldn't wait to say "She's beating her meat!", much to the amusement of Scott Conant.
Early-Installment Weirdness: Season 1 through 3 had a various amount of things different from what viewers are now accustomed to, including:
Ingredients that actually made sense together, such as duck, ginger, green onions, and honey for an entrée. Nowadays, there's usually at least one "curveball" ingredient in every basket.
Appetizer rounds being 30 minutes long. This was cut to twenty minutes from Season 2 on.
The implication that producers would sometimes remove ingredients from the pantry that are usually there. One episode has the sugar bin disappear in the dessert round and another removes all but two eggs from the pantry. This would became a regular thing in Cutthroat Kitchen
A very dimly-lit studio and dampened colors. Things were brightened up (in both cases) as the show went on.
The number of mystery ingredients. Season 1 episodes had anywhere from three to five. Most of Season 2 and 3 followed a three (appetizer)/four (entree)/four (dessert) format. After Season 3, they stuck to four for all rounds.
The strictness of rules in regards to who the judges vote out. One episode had a contestant dropping a piece of meat on the floor and still plating it for the judges. Back then, he made it to the dessert round, but nowadays that would pretty much mean a guaranteed elimination.
In the early episodes, leaving an ingredient out guaranteed elimination. Nowadays, whenever somebody misses an ingredient, Ted says that it is a major mistake, but it is not an automatic elimination.
Before Chopped Champions season 1, the dessert round had the chefs already standing in their station with Ted in the middle to start the round. Nowadays, the dessert round opens with the chefs walking in from opposite directions to face eachother before Ted says "Open your baskets." Oh, and the lighting is darkened until Ted says "Open your baskets."
Early seasons had techniques and ingredients explained via Pop-Up Trivia. Nowadays, this is rarely done in favor of the chefs, judges or Ted talking about them.
Edutainment Show: You're likely to learn about at least one obscure ingredient per episode. If the judges don't know, they get to learn from the show, usually from Ted.
In one episode, two contestants so utterly failed to integrate half the mystery ingredients that the judges wanted to chop both of them after the appetizer round.
"A Cornish Mess", the April 10, 2011 episode. It's Exactly What It Says on the Tin. It featured an entree round in which one competitor severely undercooked Cornish hen, another one committed cross-contamination, and the third served an appetizer portion and rendered one of the basket ingredients invisible (which under normal circumstances can be enough to be chopped). This sums it up:
In addition, the dessert round featured cherimoya as an ingredient (see Lethal Chef below), and the losing chef had the seeds on the plate. Needless to say, it was not a good day for the chefs.
In the appetizer round of the first episode of the first All Stars series, Lisa Garza (from season 4 of The Next Food Network Star) only managed to plate one out of four basket ingredients!
Michelle Garcia inexplicably hitting the extraction button instead of production on the ice cream machine.
In one of the earlier seasons, a chef lost track of time so badly in the appetizer round, he did not plate a single thing in any of his four plates. Unsurprisingly, he was the first chef eliminated. However, he did return for Chopped Redemption and he won the whole episode.
Dropping a spoon in the ice cream machine. As the competitor herself admitted, it's something that would get someone instantly fired at a restaurant given that the machines run into the thousands of dollars.
In the Halloween 2013 episode, the appetizer round had eel. Ted told the contestants that the eel must be cooked because parts of it are toxic. One competitor heard that and didn't cook it anyway to give the judges something they had never tasted. The judges refused to eat the eel. He was chopped because of it.
In the 2013 Chopped Redemption episode, both contestants bombed in the dessert round. One cut himself, inadvertently contaminating the bread pudding he was making with his blood, while the other made an utterly bizarre take on baked Alaska that involved not-really-ice cream and a papaya skin as the base (papaya being one of the mystery ingredients). As Marc Murphy put it, the round came down to a decision between "food we couldn't eat and a dish that was so offensive that [the chef] might have done better not to serve anything at all".
The "Rachael vs. Guy Stars" episode of the 2014 "All-Stars" tournament was just as full of Epic Fail as the 2011 "Cornish Mess" episode. Lou Diamond Phillips somehow managed to forget one ingredient for both his entree and dessert dishes. He made it to the dessert round because Penn Jillette had thoroughly messed up his own entree, but lost to Carnie Wilson in the final round. Not only that, but in that same episode, during the entree round, Penn frittered away time just standing around that he could have used, as one of the judges noted, to redo a burnt component of his dish. And on top of that, Penn dropped his wooden spoon into a blender and Coolio sneaked a lemon from Carnie Wilson's station to squeeze into his dish during the appetizer round - after time had been called.
When it comes to trick mystery ingredients like boxed macaroni & cheese or Neapolitan ice cream, the implicit challenge is to use all parts of it. More than once, contestants have argued that they only used the easy part (i.e., just the pasta or just the vanilla ice cream) on the grounds that the rules say "use as much or as little as you want." Scott Conant actually agreed with the contestant's reasoning.
May be combined with Analogy Backfire: The usual argument is "if you gave us a chicken, would you expect us to use both the breasts and the legs?" In several episodes where contestants were dealing with whole birds, the judges complained if they only received one type of meat.
Failed a Spot Check: A few instances have occurred where a chef forgets about an ingredient. They don't leave it in the stove or in the blast chiller; they just plain forget. Cue the judges talking about it during the round and ominous camera cuts to said ingredient/container.
Chef Jude Huval finished his appetizer round with about three minutes to spare. He spent the rest of the time standing by his stove and looking at the other contestants...failing to realize that he had an unopened jar of caperberries that he never used.
You can tell if the chef is going to leave the ingredient out, unintentionally, if they talk about "ignoring the ingredient until I can think of something to do with it."
Failure Is the Only Option: Occurs occasionally if two specific ingredients show up in the basket together. The judges will frequently criticize any attempt to "segment" the ingredients into being separate on the plate rather than all combined harmoniously into a single dish, and anyone that's seen the show (or just heard this in a previous round) will know this. Except the basket has, more than once, included fish and cheese. So if you make two separate things on the same plate, you could get chopped. If you put the fish and cheese together, you could get chopped.
Flat "What.": One contestant's reaction to lime picklenote A strong-tasting Indian condiment of preserved limes with chili and garlic.
If one of the chefs has an emotional moment and starts tearing up onscreen, you can be sure that one of the other chefs will dig for some reason to do the same in the next round (or even the same one, if they have a chance).
In a meta sense, many Food Network competition shows follow the four chefs, three round format, with variability of theme ingredients. Unlike Chopped, most of the other shows have the judges strictly judge what happened in the round and not judge the overall performance over the course of the show. See Cupcake Wars, Sweet Genius, and Cutthroat Kitchen
Food Porn: Some of the ingredients are incredibly obscure to the audience, and sometimes even the chefs. Long shots of every ingredient and dish are also provided in this style.
Played straight and subverted. French-trained chefs have competed on Chopped (even a certified Master Chefnote Not that kind of Master Chef.), complete with dishes that normal people can't pronounce. However, none of them have appeared upper-crust or arrogant. Heck, the Master Chef was one of the more humble contestants considering he was competing to pay his staff so they didn't have to look for work in a bad economy.
Played straight and subverted in another instance where one chef was trained in Classical French Cuisine and, in his intro video and Confession Cam moments, came across as arrogant, but was amiable to his fellow chefs backstage, even complimenting another chef on her inventive dish.
Played straight in terms of cooking technique. Many of these chefs do feel that French technique is superior because French technique, as they say "is the only proper technique."
Genki Girl: Chef Amanda has her moments, especially during the "After Hours" competitions.
Ted: Freitag, making her patented "little girly squeak"
Genre Blind: For such a popular show, you'd be surprised how many chefs fall for the Schmuck Baits below, including truffle oil!
Half of the grill masters in the Grill Masters tournament are painfully Genre Blind. They don't seem to know that they should be to make the food look very presentable or that they should not be serving a 20 ounce portion of meat on an appetizer. And they don't seem to know how to make a vegetable side dish outside of the usual typical barbecue side dish.
More than a couple of chefs think they can get through the competition without tasting the food or the unknown basket ingredient. Unless you have a religious reason or have an allergic reaction to an ingredient, there is no excuse to not taste your food.
Genre Savvy: Many chefs that have watched Chopped before appearing on the show know the basic tricks of the competition, including what not to serve to Scott Conant, and not going with the obvious with certain groups of ingredients. Said straight by Jeffrey Saad in the first round: "The expectation in Chopped is not to do the obvious."
Shown also when a chef in one episode mentioned having seen the show so many times that she knew where just about anything was in the pantry, so she could avoid wasting time searching for what she wanted.
Chef Chris Sell, in the episode "Belly Up": "Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks!" This was not bleeped... nor was he bleeped the other times he said it.
In 2013's "Chopped Champions: Part 1", Chef Sylvain Harribey said "This is all shit!". But he said it in French, so it wasn't bleeped.
Gratuitous English: The occasional competitor whose first language isn't English can sometimes end up wording things like this.
"The crackers kill my life."
Haggis Is Horrible: When canned haggis turned up in the baskets, the only contestants who aren't grossed out are a guy whose mother cooked Scottish dishes when he was young, and a French chef who doesn't know the word and mistakes it for some sort of pâté.
Halloween Episode: Once a year starting in 2010, and with at least one of the mystery ingredients having something to do with Halloween. The chefs were instructed to put that theme into their dishes. The set was decorated in skull candles and other Halloweeny things and the judges wore masks.
Heroic BSOD: Some of the chefs can suffer this when they see what's in the basket, especially if they have zero familiarity with the ingredients.
Chef Vinson Petrillo almost got chopped in his debut episode because of this. In the Chopped Champions Grand Finale, this is why he gets chopped. Definitely Book Ends.
You become the Chopped Champion in your debut episode, but you get chopped in the appetizer round in Chopped Champions.
You place second in your debut episode, only to get chopped in the appetizer round in Chopped Redemption.
Chris Coombs suffered a very bad case of Type Two, especially losing to the same chef that originally got chopped for plating only one rattlesnake dish.
I Lied: During the dessert round of the 2012 Christmas episode "Chopping in a Winter Wonderland", the male contestant (William) tells the female contestant (Rachel) that he's not planning on making an ice cream dessert, so Rachel starts to preps out her planned ice cream dessert. When Ted tips off Rachel that William is indeed using the ice cream machine (which would cost her valuable time in waiting for her turn), she chews him out in disbelief ("I can't believe you're making a fucking ice cream dessert!"), to which William simply looks back at her in a Smug Snake fashion. It doesn't matter in the end, because Rachel ends up winning.
Impossibly Delicious Food: Considering the randomness of what's inside the baskets, the good dishes are often this. Viewers often wonder how this can be since they don't always look visually appealing.
The appetizer basket of the second All-Stars Tournament episode contained canned haggis. Because fresh haggis wasn't bad enough. And all four chefs made it delicious!
One contestant, lacking confidence in his ability to fillet eel, decided to make a soup... along with cream, peas, and peaches. The result was surprisingly good.
There's also something of an unwritten rule that even if you mismanaged one of the required ingredients (or even completely left it off), you can still be spared from elimination if what you did manage to serve was this. One specific example is chef Jun Tanaka, who dropped his entire tray of frogs' legs on the floor during serving, but manage to salvage exactly four that stayed on the tray, meaning each dish had one frog leg on it. He was allowed to stay because it was just that good and he ended up becoming Grand Champion that season.
I Need a Freaking Drink: One incredibly nervous contestant ends the dessert round this way, and is nice enough to pour her opponent a shot as well.
Ironic Echo Cut: It's not unusual for the show to cut directly from the judges discussing what their strategy would be with the ingredients directly to one of the contestants doing the same thing. Sometimes it works in reverse, too.
Alex Guarnaschelli: (Quail) should be treated like duck. It shouldn't be treated like chicken.
Contestant: I take the quail, and I think, "chicken!"
It Tastes Like Feet: One contestant believes he's in a lot of trouble because the basket contained two "foot-flavored ingredients" : papayas and jura erguel cheese.
Another chef commented that passion fruit tastes like perfume.
A third chef had never used rose water and made the mistake of tasting a spoonful. "It tasted like a bar of soap!" Lampshaded by Geoffrey Zakarian.
Another contestant actually described a cheese as "tasting like feet", and considered that a good thing.note The infamously-smelly Limburger cheese is indeed made with the same bacteria that makes your feet stink
On one episode, chicken feet were the featured ingredient in the entree round. Two of the three chefs were chided for not cutting the toenails off before plating the entrees (see the Berserk Button entry about inedible items being a no-no). In a subversion, however, all three chefs actually managed to make tasty dishes using the chicken feet!
The judges may be jerkasses, but they are much more forgiving if you are met with disaster in the kitchen. They are strict judges, but they don't like to see people fail.
Of this, Scott Conant takes the cake in Vinson Petrillo's debut episode. Vinson was struggling through the first round, putting a slightly subpar appetizer, and Scott encouraged Vinson to get his head together. When Vinson (after nearly getting chopped) produced a perfect yak steak, Scott praised him for his turnaround and was generally friendlier towards the end of the episode.
Jerkass: Often the judges, and sometimes the chefs.
Judge Alex Guarnaschelli can fall into this sometimes, although she'll usually only be mean if the chef deserves it. The fact that she has the exact same expression no matter what she's about to say has led to more than one contestant begin to defend their dish just as she's about to say how good it is. Hilarity Ensues.
One incident of note for Guarnaschelli: one contestant only managed to plate a single serving of her appetizer, but either by her choice or by luck, it ended up in front of Alex. She spent the entire deliberations arguing in that chef's favor. Fortunately, the other two judges refused to bend.
Another incident that stands out was when one contestant plated dishes that only featured 3 of the 4 mystery ingredients, and she was so impressed by his dish (and irritated by another chef who barely used 2 of the ingredients) that she argued in his favor.
Scott Conant appears to be taking up the role of Jerkass Judge (see Berserk Button). Vikram Vij seems to be Conant's Canadian counterpart in this respect.
One chef openly admitted that the prize money wasn't even the reason he wanted to win; he wanted the bragging rights, especially against his ex-girlfriend, who also happened to have competed on the show previously. He also stated that he was supposed to be getting married, but rather than use the money from the competition to buy a wedding ring, he decides he wants to go to Las Vegas. He won.
One chef, aside from being jerky to his competitors, started arguing with the judges after he got chopped in the last round, pointing out the flaws they mentioned in the winner's dishes and asking if his dishes had those problems.
One competitor threw such a drama fit after being eliminated that he actually refused to walk by the "chopping door". He stopped, waved the camera off angrily, ducked into a different room, then emerged with his things and left by a different door. He was that much of a sore loser. As if that was not enough, he outright admitted that he was cooking for himself and not for the judges, then he actually gets angry when the judges comment on what they disliked about the food and eventually eliminate him.
Surprising no one, Penny from The Next Food Network Star in her appearances on the All-Stars battle. She was as rude as ever to the other competitors, and she repeatedly made it very clear that she was there purely for the attention and because she apparently thought if she won, Food Network would decide to give her a show after all. Her charity was always mentioned as an afterthought, if at all.
One chef spent his introduction playing up his training in French cuisine, comparing himself to a train coming through and squashing all competitors, and even proudly stating that his marriage ended in divorce due to him putting his job ahead of his wife. When the mystery ingredients for the appetizer round are revealed (cube steak, salsa, queso fresco, and frozen French fries), he bemoans how he is "above" these ingredients. They apparently don't like him either, because they end up getting him Chopped.
One chef spent about 1/4 of her Confession Cam segments talking about being a military wife and mother and the other 3/4 loudly shitting all over the other contestants, including quite bluntly insulting their cooking ability, and was also one of the few chefs on the show who didn't attempt to show any sort of humbleness in the backstage segments and would outright tell the other contestants that she was too good to be eliminated. She ended up winning.
In the dessert round of first semifinals match of the 2nd Chopped Champions, one chef proceeds to smack talk the other competitor right in front of the judge's faces during the round. He ended up having undercooked pie crust, which got him eliminated.
In the finals of the 2nd All-Stars Tournament, Chef Penny smack talked all of the competitors, claiming that she could win against Marcus Samuelsson and Jeffrey Saad, as well as getting Michael Symon eliminated. note Michael Symon made the mistake of leaving out okra, which had nothing to do with Penny's skill. In the entrée round, she ended up putting inedible bonito skin in all of the judges' plates, and got chopped for it.
Even more humiliating was that in the round Penny was eliminated in, everyone cooked North African/Middle Eastern cuisine note (Couscous was one of the basket ingredients, so the chefs were forced into the North African/Middle Eastern direction that round.), Penny's specialty.
Double subverted and then averted in the same incident. Jeffrey happily noted that Penny served bonito skin which would get her chopped. Oh, she did get chopped, alright. But then Jeffrey served bonito skin to Chris Santos. Cue Oh Crap.
Lethal Chef: Can occur when the chef doesn't fully cook something, or fails to clean something properly. Or bleeds all over something and serves it anyway. Or when he bleeds all over the food so badly during preparation without putting on gloves that one of the producers forced the chef to start the dish all over.
Can become real if cherimoya comes into play. The cherimoya seeds cannot be used because they are used in pesticides and are extremely poisonous. As a result, Ted must announce before the start of the round that the seeds must be removed prior to preparation. Unfortunately, more than once, the seeds did appear in some of the judges' dishes. On the third episode that featured the ingredient, Ted forgot to tell the contestants that the seeds cannot be used, and one of them chef tried to toast them. Luckily, Ted caught the mistake in time.
One chef dropped the meat from their dish on the floor and then proceeded to serve it anyway. The judges refused to eat it and he was out on that round.
On the fourth Halloween special, one of the secret ingredients was Eel, and Ted made it a point to remind the contestants that they had to skin and butcher it carefully, because Eel blood is toxic. Didn't stop one of the competitors from deliberately ignoring him, though.
Made of Iron: Chefs often cut themselves in the middle of competition. They just as often clean up, put on a glove, and keep going. Or, as noted above, just keep going.
My Greatest Second Chance: Basically anyone who fared very poorly in their first appearance, who then returns for Chopped Redemption.
Chef Siggy Sollitto (from Season 4, failed to plate more than one plate because of the rattlesnake meat) and Chef Gwen LaPape (from Season 1, failed to plate anything). Actually, the Chopped Redemption episode "Make No Mistake" brings back four contestants, including Chef Gwen, who have made My Greatest Failure in their debut episodes.
For Chopped All-Stars and the Food Network Star special, Aarti Sequiera and Jeff Mauro (for failing to debone his fish).
In a few rare episodes, two chefs make major mistakes in the first round which would ordinarily lead to immediate chopping. The chef who survives this decision has to prove themselves even more if they want to make it through the third round.
No Fair Cheating: Contestants are prohibited from bringing outside ingredients into their meals. After it was discovered that All-Star Jacques Torres pulled out a bag of chocolate from his pocket during the appetizer round, although this wasn't the only problem the judges called him out on, Torres was immediately eliminated from the competition.
Odd Ingredient Out: The mystery baskets use this and the Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick trope, since they will have a mix along the lines of "Protein, vegetable/starch, something random but familiar, something random that you've never heard of before."
For example, one appetizer basket contained: catfish, tomatillos, rutabagas, and marshmallows. An entrée basket had elk tenderloin, caperberries, parsley root, and chocolate-hazelnut spread.
One main course basket contained yellow miso paste, pork shoulder, mountain yam, and astronaut ice cream.
Oh Crap: The word-for-word reaction of both competitors when they realize that they're making the same dessert, or when they find an ingredient that is completely foreign to them.
Occasionally the reaction of the judges on witnessing either a questionable decision by the chef or a major violation of kitchen safety and health rules.
In one episode, this is the only way to describe the reaction of a chef who had to cook with two different ingredients to which he was fatally allergic.
In one episode, the final round came down to a catering chef and a pastry chef, and the mystery ingredients seemed to scream out pastry! The catering chef said simply "She just won $10,000." He then went on to win.
One chef's reaction to toasting his half-plated dessert with the blowtorch, then not being able to turn it off again. He wound up leaving the still-lit blowtorch on his station while he finished plating, then put it on the stovetop after time was called, prompting this (unspoken) reaction from the judges. One judge called him out on how dangerous this was.
One Note Cook: A quick way to get chopped. Basically half the contestants on Chopped: Grill Masters are purely "meat-and-potatoes" chefs.
Oven Logic: Invoked and played straight many times, especially if the chef misjudges the time it takes to cook the food. Or when a chef cooks pork chops on the whole rack or double bone, but find out with five minutes to go that the center is raw.
Positive Discrimination: The contestants are usually subjected to the strangest, oddest, most ill-fitting ingredients the producers can find. But not in the New Orleans Chef episode! The baskets were packed with softballs like andouille sausage and catfish, with very minor challenges in the way of seasoning agents. It was basically an excuse to have them Confession Cam about how strong they were for making it through Hurricane Katrina for an hour without having to worry too much about odd ingredients.
Precision F-Strike: Geoffrey Zakarian in the episode where the judges compete. Aarón Sanchez asks him to save him some eggs. Geoffrey's response is a joking "Fuck you!"
Pungeon Master: Ted Allen. Chopped: Canada's Dean McDermott is even more of one than Ted Allen, to the groans of the judges.
In the Dessert course of the first Chopped Champions finale, the basket contained cake flour and the contestants were given fifty minutes. One of the judges made it clear that the setup was to, effectively, force the contestants to bake.
Partially averted in the second Chopped Champions finale. In the desert course, the basket contained arucana eggs, bread flour, goat's milk and turbinato sugar. The judges, again, commented that basket seemed to say "Bake me!" One contestant proceeded to make a parfait instead.
In the judges-only Chopped All-Stars, they gave the contestants a whole duck for the entrée round and then an extra 10 minutes in the expectation that they'd use most of the duck. The judges weren't thrilled when Geoffrey Zakarian proceeded to use just the breast.
Running Gag: Not invoked very often, but it does come up sporadically in terms of the ingredients, where one ingredient in each of the rounds has something suspiciously in common with each other. Themed episodes do not count unless there's a Stealth Pun involved, as it's clear what kind of ingredients are in the basket.
In the firefighters' episode, the ingredients were hotdogs (appetizer), Italian hot peppers (entrée), and coal candy (dessert). note It's a cinnamon-based candy made to resemble coal.
One episode had duck confit in the appetizer, duck breast in the entrée, and duck eggs in the dessert.
In another episode, one chef used chocolate in all of his dishes. He won.
Averted in one episode where fish was an ingredient in both appetizer and entrée rounds, but not in the dessert round. One could have made this a running gag if they had made cod roe ice cream.
One episode had a type of candy as a basket ingredient in all three rounds.
One episode featured a chocolate item in the baskets of all three rounds.
Two episodes had leftovers in for all rounds, the second of which left contestants with very little to work with.
In the beer-themed episode, besides beer and beer flavored items, many of these ingredients are what is considered "bar food".
In a Grilling episodenote The contestants must grill at least one item for the finished plate. there was ketchup in the appetizer, mustard in the entrée, and mayo in the dessert.
In a loose sense, the use of TRUFFLE OIL! with the predicable groan from the judges.
Runs with Scissors: One contestant got so wrapped up in a round that he did not realize he ran from the cooking area to the pantry and back with knife still in hand (blade out!), much to the horror of the judges.
Schmuck Bait: You'd be surprised how often contestants serve judge Scott Conant mistreated Italian ingredients - especially pasta. Although they've appeared to become a bit Genre Savvy and don't offer him raw red onions anymore.
The ice cream machine. Just using it in earlier seasons would almost certainly ensure contestants the victory. As the show went on, more and more chefs used it, but with varying degrees of success.
Truffle oil. Ninety percent of the time, the judges will groan when they see truffle oil being used, which makes one wonder why it's there in the first place. The problem with truffle oil is that if you use too much of it, it's all one can taste. Used properly, it can give a subtle taste to the dish.
Perhaps the one time it was used successfully, the chef in question was using it to complement actual truffles (which were one of the mystery ingredients)
During the Southern Chefs episode, Ted noted that they had just put in instant grits in the pantry to see if any of the chefs would fall for it. And one of them actually did. And the same contestant got chopped because of "lack of creativity" associated with using instant grits.
Rice. You can probably count the number of times a competitor served rice that wasn't undercooked on one hand.
On that note, risotto. It requires constant attention and stirring to get it right, which isn't so easy in 30 minutes with everything else the chefs are trying to juggle. Nobody has done risotto correctly, which makes one wonder why they keep attempting risotto.
Pain Perdu or French Toast. If you attempt to do it in a dessert round when one of the secret ingredients isn't bread, you will be marked down majorly in creativity. As explained by Judge Geoffrey, "I've seen Pain Perdu done so many times. I'm jaded about it."
One has to assume the Chopped kitchen is continuously stocked with the pizza dough for just this reason, as any use of it (especially if a contestant thinks it will help them cut corners by using it as faux puff pastry for a dessert) usually results in a bland and hard-to-chew disaster.
Second Place Is for Losers: Which is why many second-place chefs return in a Chopped Redemption episode to avenge their loss. Three-fourth of those end up with the same fate or worse.
Secret Ingredient: Reversed. Just like Iron Chef, the ingredient is a secret kept from the chef, instead of a secret kept by the chef. And is the whole point of this show.
Serial Escalation: Each successive season tops the last with weird and challenging basket ingredients.
The Season 8 redemption episode featured a dessert basket containing duck eggs, russet potatoes, farmer's cheese, and honey herb cough drops, which aren't even technically food.
How about "chicken in a can"? So odd that Ted actually said the ingredient name twice.
And the infamous basket containing blackberries, kiwi fruit, wonton wrappers, and gummy bears.
During the lunch lady episode, one of the contestants watched the show frequently enough to know what and where everything was in the pantry, including a rather obscure ingredient.
Subverted in one odd case. One of the contestants opted to make potatoes because that's what one of the judges likes. He was explaining to Geoffrey Zakarian that he knew that he likes potatoes, but Geoffrey said "No, no. That's Marc." The kicker? Marc wasn't one of the judges that episode. However, he was a judge in a previous episode the same contestant had been in.
Technician Versus Performer: Happens often enough in the dessert rounds when chefs with different styles face off. The judges often describe one as having a very precise style of cooking, with the other cooking more creatively and soulfully. This usually balances out to a very close last round.
Tempting Fate: In one episode, a chef commented after the first round that "At least they didn't make us use lamb testicles". Guess what was in the next basket?
This Is Gonna Suck: A general reaction of contestants to the mystery baskets. Also a reaction of more reserved contestants on realizing too late they've made a severe technical error on their plate, which they know will be immediately called out by the judges.
Title Drop: "Whose dish/plate is on the chopping block?"
The premier example is Chef Jessica Mogardo, who at the time of her Chopped appearance was working for free and living in her sister's apartment. She was so nervous in the beginning of her competition that Marc Murphy had to calm her down. She ended up winning her episode against three more experienced chefs. Cut to a couple of years later, where she would find herself on Iron Chef America working as a sous chef for Jose Garces. As of now, she is the executive pastry chef for Garces' restaurants as well as a regular on ICA. Oh yeah, and she was also on a season 2 episode of Sweet Genius, which she won as well.
In his episode, Chef Vinson Petrillo was so nervous that it took three judges to calm him down. After being nearly eliminated in the appetizer round for simply putting the four secret ingredients on the plate, he goes on to produce two perfect dishes in the next two rounds, eventually ending up the winner. He would later appear in the the third season of Chopped Champions, where he placed third overall.
On a meta level, Chopped Grand Champion Madison Cowan went on Iron Chef America with "Team Chopped" against Jose Garces on Battle Kale. And, like the rest of his battles on Chopped, he won.
On a related note, Lance Nitahara lost against Madison Cowan, and then won against Yoanne Margis in the second Redemption episode. He then became a sous chef for Chef Cowan in "Team Chopped." This crosses over into Defeat Means Friendship in Nitahara's case due to his respect of Chef Cowan when they both initially battled.
Chefs Alina Eisenhauer and Katie Rosenhouse, who did not win on Chopped (Katie having competed twice), went on to compete on Sweet Genius, which has a similar premise to Chopped, and they both manage to earn hard-fought victories.
Took a Level in Jerkass: Chef Katie Rosenhouse, a perky and likeable chef who competed in two episodes, went on to compete in Sweet Genius, where she was overly smug, would complain about mandatory ingredients and even rounds (stating she hated chocolate and working with it), and would incessantly whine about how much she wanted to win because she had lost on Chopped (though she did not use the name Chopped, but it was clear what competition she was talking about).
Took a Level in Kindness: Chef Nate Appleman, who had been the resident asshole in his season of The Next Iron Chef, went on to compete in the first All-Stars tournament, where he was humble and courteous. And in the end, just like the ending of the Chopped Champions, the judges were bawling because his son (who was suffering from Kawasaki Disease, and thus was competing for Kawasaki Disease Foundation) came out and joined his father on the victory.
Amanda Freitag loves chocolate, seen most notably when she's judging the chocolate episode and is basically squeeing the entire time, especially during the desert round.
Troll: invokedSome of the ingredients that can be covered under Squick are what fans consider "Troll Ingredients", including durian and cherimoya. Heck, even the fans can troll the contestants bad.
True Companions: Not in a traditional sense, but all of the judges have respect for each other and support each other, even if sarcastically. The episodes where judges are competing can have moments that are hard to watch, because the judges who are actually judging are visibly uneasy with the thought of having to chop their coworkers. Alex is even close to tears when Amanda gets chopped.
It translates over to Iron Chef America, where Guarnaschelli would appear as one of Zakarian's sous chefs in his early Iron Chef battles. They have that much respect for each other's cooking ability. When Guarnaschelli becomes just the second female Iron Chef after Cat Cora, she gets paired with Zakarian (this time as his equal) for the 2013 Halloween ("Scary Ingredients") and Thanksgiving episodes.
Twitchy Eye: One contestant had a very noticeable one that twitched whenever the judges said something negative about his food.
Viewers Are Morons: Discussed and then subverted. In the Viewer's Choice episode, Geoffrey Zakarian was very surprised at the ingredients the home viewers chose for the contestants, thinking, "They could NOT possibly know about those kinds of ingredients."
Visible Silence: The dessert round of the third Chopped Redemption. This isn't just simply Manipulative Editing: it really was deathly silent during the whole round to the point that judge Amanda Freitag said "They are working so silently together. You can cut the tension with the knife."
Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: One episode had rattlesnake meat. One contestant was so frazzled by the rattlesnake that she only completed one plate.
The Wild West: The backdrop to the Chopped: Grill Masters tournament, complete with Ted as the "sheriff" and the judges wearing stereotypical clothing.
Worthy Opponent: Often said by the competitors of each other in the dessert round.
Lance Nitahara did this twice - in his first match, he was quick to applaud his opponents, particularly Madison Cowan, who defeated him. In his redemption match, he was so certain that Yoanne Margis outdid him that he offered to buy a ticket for Chef Margis to visit her grandmother in France, which was her planned use for the prize money if she had won, after the judges gave Chef Nitahara the victory.
Chef Helen allowed a competitor to use her grill and ingredients from her station because she wanted to win by her cooking ability alone. Crosses into Honor Before Reason.
Quite subverted by Chef Sammy Davis, Jr. He really wanted to face Chef Michelle and he really did not care for Chef Tryg. Unfortunately, Chef Michelle got chopped in the Entree round, so he was facing Chef Tryg. He visibly hated Chef Tryg, whereas Tryg couldn't care less.
Almost every episode will have one contestant or other ask another for an ingredient. Almost no chef in the show's history has deliberately withheld an ingredient or lied about the whereabouts of one still in the fridge or pantry.