Thursday, June 21, 2012

10 Hot Tips: How not to lose on Chopped

I watch Chopped a lot and it often seems that the chefs who end up on the show have never actually seen an episode. People are always making the same dumb mistakes. Are you a chef? Are you planning to compete on Chopped? Well by God at least read this blog post which should take you less time than watching one damn episode of the show you are going to appear on. Here are some super-actionable tips on how to win Chopped, or least not to go down in flames like a chump who happens to be on fire:
  • DON'T USE TRUFFLE OIL! It's a trap, it's only there to separate the flaming chumps from the chefs who are not on fire. Every single time a contestant grabs the truffle oil off the shelf, the judges release a collective groan. They hate it. Aaron Sanchez once said it's a product that should be incinerated. 
  • Lay off the molecular gastronomy already. I've never seen a chef who made something like "walnut powder" or "pea gel" win an episode. The judges usually say something like "I applaud your creativity but it just didn't taste very good." And they're just being nice. What is creative, exactly, about putting your ingredient in the food processor with a bunch of maltodextrin? The results of these experiments always look totally gross.
  • Don't try to make lentils. Same goes for anything that generally takes more than half an hour to cook (see non-instant polenta; tagines, stews and other long-slow-braise applications on tough cuts of meat; paella, etc.). It doesn't matter how good a chef you are, you can't bend space-time through sheer force of will/ego. 
  • If they give you pancake mix, don't make pancakes. It's mostly flour, "Chef." You can make almost anything with that. One of the three judging criteria is creativity. 
  • Don't make crostini for your appetizer. Actually the judges don't seem to have any problem with crostini; this is what Anne Burrell made on Chopped All-Stars and she won that episode. This just personally annoys me. Dullzville! The only thing lamer than throwing your four ingredients onto a piece of toast is making them into a gel-powder first.
  • If Aaron Sanchez is one of the judges, use a jalapeno! It doesn't matter where or how you use it, no matter what, he will say that he is glad you applied some heat because it's absolutely crucial in (octopus salad/hollandaise/bread pudding).
  • If you cut yourself, put on gloves. The judges aren't going to eat a salad you tossed with your leaking, bare-ass, potentially-hepatitis-infected hands. Also don't cut your cooked meat on the same cutting board where you butchered the raw carcass. Chris Santos gets especially pissy about health-code-type stuff. Time constraints or no, keep it sanitary. 
  • Don't stick your spoon in the blender while it's on. Same goes for home chefs.
  • Use lots of salt. The judges complain about food being underseasoned 10 times more than they complain about it being too salty.
  • Keep your egotastic shit-talking to a bare minimum. This probably won't actually keep you from losing, but trust that if you do lose, the show's editors will have a field day making sure every obnoxious comment you made about being awesome and knowing Anthony Bourdain ends up in the episode. The irony of your hubris will be on FULL display.
Follow these tips, folks. Don't let this be your theme song (via Elizabeth):


32 comments:

  1. Another tip: Don't use ten other fancy ingredients from the awesome pantry; focus on the core terrible ingredients because that's what the judges are looking to taste. (This also goes for Cupcake Wars. They want to taste the barbecue sauce and arugula in that cupcake, dammit!)

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    1. Yes, they definitely get antsy if you keep going back to the pantry for more stuff.

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    2. Only one thing you missed ... Do NOT use raw red onion if Scott Conant is a judge! Other than that you totally nailed it.

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  2. Also, 9 times out of 10 the oil fails to get hot enough soon enough, so deep frying anything should not be undertaken lightly.

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    1. If I were on Chopped, I think the first things I'd do is get a big pot of water boiling, a frying pan heating, the oven preheated to ~400, and maybe some oil heating too, just to keep my options open. People also often had the fish or meat to the pan when it's not hot enough and sacrifice that oh-so-crucial sear. Soggy fish skin is a CHOPPED KILLER!

      Sadly I could never be on Chopped because I have so many annoying food allergies and intolerances. I'd surely get a basket with cashews, soft-shell crab, a loaf of brioche and Japanese eggplant. Also I can't chop an onion in 6 seconds flat....

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  3. I applaud your list of things to NOT do. I too watch more than my share of Chopped... It's my porn my wife claims. I think the think I see most often as a killer is in fact the 'oil not hot enough' which, also, happens when the chefs heads for the oil with like 5 mins left in the stage... 'Hey, if you have to heat up 4 quarts of oil, don't expect it to get to 350 degrees in less than 5 minutes!'

    dumb chefs!!

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    1. Ha ha, dumb chefs ... seriously they are always saying things like "Most chefs wouldn't be ballsy enough to try to cook rice in 10 minutes ... but I know I'm the best!" It's like bro, rice doesn't work that way, it doesn't cook faster if it RESPECTS YOU

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    2. R-E-S-P-E-C-T the physics of cookin' yo!

      I love the rice, lentils, polenta, and potato #fails.

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  4. Also, no one ever uses the microwave. You know how not to serve a raw potato/etc? Microwave it first, then saute it.

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    1. There's a microwave?! You're right, I have never seen anyone use that.

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  5. Jalapeño in hollandaise? That's certainly ... inventive ...

    Microwave is kind of gross.

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    1. Microwave is a no-no for me because it doesn't cook any ingredient properly. Cooking is chemistry. Microwaves are physics.

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    2. There are certain things that are just so annoying to do without a microwave though. Like heating up a small amount of leftovers, especially something like pasta where heating it in a pan would totally change the texture.

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    3. nuked leftover kraft dinner is fab

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    4. I have no problem with microwaving leftovers, they've already been cooked. On the other hand, for making a dish...

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    5. Oh, yeah, I pretty much never use the microwave to actually cook with, unless you count melting butter.

      I read about a method for poaching eggs in the MW that seemed cool but it didn't really work for me.

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  6. The new sincerity: Cut yourself, bleed into the food, season with your own tears.

    Also, I loved the Japanese Iron Chef, it's funny what applies there and what doesn't. Dropping stuff on the floor was fine, but they also played up to the judges. They seemed to delight in dragging out the ice cream maker when the ingredient was something like eel or octopus. (Not a good way to win.) I read an interview with one where he said the judges would always complain about "too much salt" in dishes that had no salt at all.

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    1. I could never really get into the original Iron Chef. I think it was partly that the food always looked absolutely disgusting. Fish eye ice cream was totally par for the course.

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  7. Also, don't try cooking rice and don't for any reason use the freakin' oven!

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    1. "My cakes aren't browning!" - words frequently heard on Chopped.

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  8. I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure when they start, they already have a pot of water boiling behind them and their ovens are preheated to 350°. I believe Ted said that on a post once on FB.
    I wonder why no one ever uses a pressure cooker on that show! Is it not allowed perhaps?? It would make a LOT of those "tougher" cuts of meat nice and tender.
    I also agree with not cooking things like rice. Never comes out right!!
    Santos is my favorite judge! I eat at his restaurants in NYC often and he has the right to be picky because his food is WONDERFUL!! I was so disappointed when he was the first one Chopped in the judges episode this year!

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    1. Ah, how helpful! There's sort of no excuse for so many things being underdone, then.

      They are always using pressure cookers on Iron Chef America. I love that show too.

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  9. I started getting into Chopped a few months ago because my brother said he wants to go on the show and I love everything about this list because it is all correct. Stop with the molecular gastronomy unless you are Grant Achatz or Wylie Dufresne. Just stop. No one wants to eat whatever that weird white powder is.

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    1. Is your brother a chef?! You have to let me know if he gets on the show. I've actually been trying to figure out how I can play a version of Chopped at home. Have my boyfriend bring home weird ingredients I have to incorporate into dinner somehow.

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    2. He is a self-taught chef. He works in business but dreams of cheffing full time. He's, I must admit, really good. He'd be hilarious on the show. I will let you know if he gets on.

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    3. Oh man. So cool. I'm a pretty good cook I must say. But I would not know what to do if I got lamb fries or a cow heart or some of the shit these cooks get tossed.

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  10. You forgot one: If Chris Santos is a judge, don't use raw onion in any way, shape or form!

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    1. Similarly, Zakarian is very sensitive to heat, so it's tough if you've got both him and Sanchez.

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  11. One thing I've also noticed as a big Chopped fan: People forget that 20 minutes is a miniscule amount of time to make an appetizer. I know they play up the "bravado" of the competing chefs for the sake of television showbiz, but a lot of these chefs forget that 20 minutes is like a minute in "cheffing" time. Also, even though they (the competitors) get a tour of the kitchen, they should always have a plan "B" and even a plan "C" in mind. If the "ice cream thingie" isn't working for some reason (because it's actually broke or you messed up somehow) freaking out and using it as an excuse for a not-so-good dessert makes you look pathetic. It's Chopped. It's competition. And instead of arguing with Aron Sanchez about your kitchen skills, it's always better to say "thank you, Chef".

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    1. I always think about what I would make, but what I would make would always take twice the time limit.

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  12. This is a good list and I agree with all of them. The one thing I would add is that that last minute ideas should always be avoided. I can't count all the times someone adds something as a garnish or something for color in the final seconds that ends up being the thing that gets them chopped.

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    1. That's true! It's often truffle oil or a needless mint sprig or some raspberry jam or something random...

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