Chopped: Survival Guide to the Hit Food Network TV Show

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Zach Posner is a writer for FanSided partner For more great content, head on over to Bro Jackson and check out Zach’s work.

It happened. It really happened.

You went to bed. You began to dream. You woke up.  But this time your dream came true. You are one of the four contestants on Chopped! Only this time it is not $10,000 dollars you are playing for, it is your life!

First, a little background. Chopped is a wildly popular Food Network cooking competition show. So much so, that there have been over 150 episodes produced since it first aired in 2009. The premise is simple, and the show’s super-sleek and spectacled host Ted Allen lays out the rules at the start of every contest:

“There are three rounds, appetizer, entrée and dessert. Each course has it’s own basket of mystery ingredients and you must use every ingredient in the basket in some way. Also available to you, our pantry and fridge. Each round is timed. When the clock runs out our judges will critique your dishes on presentation, taste and creativity. If your dish doesn’t cut it you will be chopped.”

But I have already wasted too much time and your clock is about to start. So what I have put together for you is the ultimate Chopped survivor guide. A list of basic rules so that you must follow if you wish to make it to the final round and avoid being… CHOPPED!

1. Backstory – Look, I know it’s strange that the first rule has nothing to do with cooking, but this might be the most important rule of all: Come up with a unique and compelling backstory. What’s that? You’re a loving mother, faithful wife and owner of a successful catering business? Sorry, but no one cares. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a meth-addicted homeless person who learned to cook in a dumpster (although that would be a huge plus), but you should at least be able to talk about how you were bullied as a child and cooking was your only salvation. “The bullies couldn’t hurt me if they had a mouthful of my delicious souffle.” This all might sound extreme, but this is your life and if you want to survive you better make sure that you are interesting enough to keep around.

2. Know The Judges – Yes, I know we are on to rule number two and I still haven’t even talked about cooking. Deal with it because you need to know whom you are cooking for. If chef/Chopped “bad boy” Scott Conant is on the panel, you better think twice before putting raw red onion on his plate. They don’t call chef Aarón Sanchez the “Latin Cuisine Authority” because he likes his food bland. You better turn up the spice! He hosts a show called “Heat Seekers” for Pete’s sake! And they don’t call  Chris Santos “Renegade Restaurateur” for, well, I have no idea what that means. But it might have something to do with the fact that he looks like the lead singer of Staind.

3. Love the Basket – It is not your job to just use the contents of your basket. You must transform the ingredients and highlight them. If you think you can just crush up those corn chips and put them on your salad as a crouton, you are out of your damn mind. And don’t even think about using that mint they put in there as a garnish.  Each ingredient is important and must be highlighted. But, not all basket items are created equal and that brings me to our next rule…

4. Master Your Meat –In a perfect world all of the ingredients would be judged equally, but that’s not how the judges roll in the Chopped kitchen. In rounds one and two you will be given a piece of meat or seafood and it is paramount that you cook it properly. I am sure the judges will be impressed that you managed to make a delicious mushroom risotto in thirty minutes, but if you undercooked your pheasant or overcooked your pork loin, you are sure to be taking the Chopped walk of shame.

5. Keep it Clean – I am not just talking about keeping your hairs off the plate (although that is important). Did you know that the veins on a shrimp are actually feces? I didn’t (because I am allergic to shrimp), but these hoity-toity judges surely do. And it might take a while, but you better get those pin bones out of that fish as well! A clean plate means a clean slate (I wanted to make sure one rule rhymed). And now we switch gears, from keeping it clean to playing dirty.

6. Talk Some Trash – Sometimes the best offense is a strong defense .The kitchen is cramped, so use that to your advantage. If you are going to bang out meat or crack some clams, do so loudly and with purpose. Get in your opponent’s head. Remember, you are on television and talking smack makes for great TV.  If possible, be loud, controversial, the Dennis Rodman of Chopped. You will increase your chances of victory and, if I have learned anything from reality television, your chances of getting invited back to future contests and spinoffs.

7. Know the Pantry – I have seen too many contestants run off to look for the quinoa or cumin or something else I know nothing about, only to spend valuable minutes searching in all the wrong places. You must try and remember where ingredients are in the fridge and pantry, because those wasted seconds could be putting your head squarely on the chopping block!

8. Plating – This is important and something I don’t know much about. All I know is that I have seen too many people serve steak with brown potatoes and a brown sauce. It’s just not a good look and invites some nasty comparisons. Just make it look beautiful and full of color, like one of Geoffrey Zakarian’s finely tailored suits.

9. Be Bold – Lastly, be daring. You are competing in the greatest competition known to man. It’s okay to start off cautious, and I would urge you to do so in the appetizer round. Let someone else try to cook polenta in twenty minutes while you fry up something delicious. But as the game goes on you will need to make your move. Fortune favors the bold and in the Chopped kitchen the farthest playing it safe will take you is second place. And in this scenario that means death!

10. Truffle Oil – Okay, one more rule and this time it’s personal. Don’t use truffle oil. Ever. Every time I see someone go for it, I have a loud “oh no he didn’t” moment yelling at my TV. I personally don’t get it at all. Living in LA, you can’t go anywhere without it sneaking onto your menu. Nice try truffle fries, but no thanks. So, if you are caught throwing it on your dish at the last moment, you surely deserve to be banished from the Chopped kitchen for all of eternity.

Welp, there it is. Keep on cookin’ on folks!

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