These are what we call the 'YMMV items.' Things that some people find in this work. We call them 'your mileage might vary' because not everyone sees these things in the same way. This starts discussions in the trope lists, a thing we don't want. Please use the discussion page if you'd like to discuss any of these items.
Elimination Houdini: Jason Zukas and Lauren Gerrie. What's very ironic is that both of them made it to the dessert round of the finals in their respective Chopped Champions tournament before getting eliminated by someone who is just better than them.
Jason Zukas in the 1st Champions was because he was considered less skilled than the other contestants, but somehow has always managed to surprise the judges with his creations. Judge Alex Guarnaschelli being particularly fond of him helped him get to the finals.
Harsher in Hindsight: A rare meta example. Iron Chef Jose Garces competes on Chopped All-Stars, getting chopped in the appetizer round. The next week, he's on Iron Chef America competing against Chopped Grand Champion Madison Cowan and "Team Chopped" in Battle Kale. The result of that ICA battle, as well as the implications of it, makes that Chopped episode especially harsh on him.
An in-episode example. In the 2nd Redemption episode, Yoanne Margis spilled boiling water on her legs running with a pot full of potatoes in the entrée round. In the dessert round, one of the required ingredients was potatoes. Judge Geoffrey Zakarian commented that "Considering what happened last round, that's one really bad joke."
Heartwarming Moment: During one of the Redemption specials, one chef was competing to see her ill grandmother after having lost the chance to do so during her first appearance. She kept going after falling and spilling boiling water on her legs, resulting in second-degree burns. She made an exceptional pan perdu in the desert round, but lost in a toss-up decision. The winning chef decided to buy her a ticket to see her grandmother with his winnings.
The "lunch lady" episode featured a chef nearly in tears because she felt her life's work had been validated by the judges.
In the episode with the 4 army chefs, it came down to chef Robbie and Chef Jacoby, both of whom were recipients of Heartwarming moments. Chef Robbie had been discharged due to severe PTSD and was playing to win money to take his family with him, while Chef Jacoby was a Navy man who was out of the service and wanted more time with his family and to start his own cooking business. Chef Robbie won in a split decision (his deconstructed sundae as well Jacoby's bread pudding and crumble were excellent dishes), and even Scott Conant had nothing but praise for Chef Jacoby, telling him "Welcome to our circle" with all the judges believing he had an amazing future as a chef.
Of the judges, Alex Guarnaschelli is traditionally (and consistently) seen this way by a lot of people who view her as being kind of snobbish sometimes. Scott Conant was this in the earlier seasons with his overly harsh criticisms, but he got better on the later seasons when he laid off some of the harshness. Contrast Conant with Aarón Sanchez who becomes more of a Smug Snake in the later seasons as well as being seen as a hypocrite when the subject is on Mexican food and spice.
On Season 2 of Chopped All-Stars, Penny Davidi was just as much of an egomaniac as she was on Season 7 of The Next Food Network Star. Though she did acknowledge that she got a bad reputation as a result of NFNS, at the end of her appearance, hardly anyone agreed that she is any better than before even though she keeps saying in the Confession Cam "This is not who I am."
She bragged that Michael Symon and Marcus Samuelson "are intimidated by me," and when Symon gets eliminated on a technicality, she crows "The bragging rights! I beat an Iron Chef!" Uh, no, Penny, you didn't. He lost that round because he forgot to plate some okra, so unless you somehow mind-controlled him into not plating it, then no, you didn't "beat an Iron Chef." In the next round, however, Penny ends up being a victim of her own arrogance as usual...
Special mention goes to the contestant who cooked West African (or Jamaican, can't remember) style. He bragged about his food being Critic Proof quite openly. So when he got some very legitimate criticism from the judges, he flipped out. He didn't take the judges' criticism to heart and he got chopped on round two. On the walk of shame, he refused to go down the stairs, went to change into civilian clothes, before storming him out. This lead Ted to declare him an Unperson, which shows how much his behavior were not tolerated by anyone on Chopped.
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.
There is always a Scrappy contestant who returns in Redemption episodes. Same goes for Championship episodes.
In general, any violation of basic food safety (preparing food with an open wound, cross-contamination, and so on).
Somewhat regularly, at least one chef will react to a required ingredient in this fashion; see It Tastes Like Feet. Somewhat less frequently, one of the judges will also react to a required ingredient this way.
Sometimes the baskets seem geared towards this, although later seasons stepped away from this.
A recent episode let the mystery ingredients be chosen by a viewer poll. From this, we learn that Chopped's viewers are downright evil. Take the ingredients for the appetizer round, lime Jello, cheese doodles, imitation crab meat, and durians. All parties involved suffer greatly throughout the entire round and the judges even more or less concede that those ingredients are nigh impossible to make an appetizing dish out of.
For those of you who don't know, durians are enormous, thorny fruits from south Asia that, by the competitors' and judges' descriptions, have the taste, smell, and consistency of rotting garbage.
One basket included a cinnamon roll as a required ingredient. One of the chefs decided to try and make it savory by soaking it in beef blood. The judges pointed out how gross that was and eliminated him.
Tear Jerker: The last few moments of both $50,000 Chopped Championship grand finales. Even the usually stone-faced judges were bawling.
True Art Is Incomprehensible: Some chefs pull a variation of this trope when asked why they cooked their dish a certain way or why it was plated that way. They will say something like "I thought this flavor with this flavor would work" or "This dish should be plated this way because X." When it doesn't work, the chefs look like they're pretentious, even if the judges don't say it outright.
One example: Chef Nate Appleman proceeds to do a pappardelle soup flavored with waternote He used fresh pasta (required ingredient) and pureed it with water, adding no flavor to it.. When asked why he used water to make the soup, he responded "I like the taste of water." The judges proceed to criticize him saying that the pappardelle soup does not have flavor and it's way too starchy.
One chef literally pulls this card straight when she leaves gooseberries unopened on the judges' plates. Her justification?
"I want you to experience the feeling of opening the gooseberries. The feeling of touching the leaves and opening it. It is an art."
The judges did not take too kindly to this. Heck, Scott Conant gave her an epic tongue-lashing and outright called that chef "pretentious." Needless to say, she got chopped because of it.
Geoffrey Zakarian declared one contestant's food to be "too intellectual", which is ironic considering how people viewed him on both Chopped and Next Iron Chef.