Having been on the air since 2009, Chopped is one of Food Network’s longest-running cooking competitions — and for good reason. People love watching professional chefs of all backgrounds and skill levels try to take a basket of incredibly random ingredients and prepare a gourmet meal in just 30 minutes. Can a mouthwatering dessert really be created with old candy corn, jackfruit, and fish heads? Maybe, maybe not, but Chopped contestants will do their best to make something edible in the hopes of winning a cool $10,000.
There’s always an incredibly intense amount of adrenaline and creativity swirling around in the Chopped kitchen. There’s also a good amount of awkwardness and uncomfortable tension. It’s simply impossible to put a bunch of highly competitive chefs together in one kitchen and then have their food judged by culinary big shots without the occasional confrontation or kitchen mishap.
If you’re a regular viewer of Chopped, you’ll certainly remember a few of these awkward moments that made for some very watchable television.
Whatever you do, don’t serve Scott Conant raw onions on Chopped
Watch enough episodes of Chopped, and you begin to pick up on the likes and dislikes of the judges. Heck, Food Network even has a cheat sheet contestants could use, naming certain foods the Chopped judges despise. (Note to any future contestants: Marcus Samuelesson is allergic to buckwheat.) Still, some chefs just have to learn the hard way and get under the skin of the judges by repeatedly giving them food they don’t like.
Such was the case when one competitor served Scott Conant raw red onions in the first round, only to find out that Conant hates raw onions. It was an honest mistake, but then he decided to serve raw onions again in the entrée round. All Conant could do was watch with concern as the chef prepared the dish, foolishly ignoring the critique he’d just been given.
"I don’t understand why the onions are there after we told you, especially myself, I didn’t like raw onions," Conant said. "You used them in the first course already — yet they’re here." The chef explained that he felt the onion in the dishes "makes sense" before Conant cautioned him about onion in the dessert round. "I was thinking an onion jam," the contestant quipped. It’s almost like the guy was actively trying to not win $10,000.
One Chopped chef plated toxic eel
Mmm, who wants a big ole’ plate of practically raw eel that just may kill you? No takers? Well, surprisingly, neither did the Chopped judges when one contestant served them up a meal that wasn’t just unappetizing, but potentially lethal, too.
The chefs had to work with eel, and it’s apparent that things are about to go badly for one contestant when Alex Guarnaschelli asked, "How did you cook the eel?" to which the chef responded, "The torching." The contestant had simply hit the eel with a blow torch for a few seconds and called it a day. Nope, that simply won’t cut it when it comes to eel. The other judges point out that the eel is not just raw, but bloody and full of potentially deadly toxins. This is because eel blood is poisonous and even eating a little bit could kill someone, according to Boston.com. Uh oh. "I don’t think we can eat this," judge Chris Santos said.
Having your food critiqued on national television by celebrity judges has to be nerve wracking enough, without them jumping on you for almost killing them. Cringe-worthy indeed.
One Chopped chef’s dish didn’t taste like anything
Chef creativity comes into play on Chopped perhaps more than any other competitive cooking show. There’s no way a chef can create an appetizing entrée with gummy worms, skirt steak, and oyster crackers unless they get really creative. The ultimate goal is to create a dish that tastes good, of course, so when that dish tastes like, well, nothing … it’s a bit awkward.
One chef used phyllo dough to construct a cup for what appeared to be some sort of pudding-like dessert. Watch any cooking show, and you’ll learn that it’s always a bad idea when a chef puts something on the plate that they maybe didn’t intend for the judge to eat it. Phyllo sheets really don’t have much taste to them, and Scott Conant informed the chef of this when he said, "It tastes like nothing." The chef made it obvious she disagreed with Conant and snapped back, "I think it’s a matter of taste …"
This is precisely when things got awkward as the camera panned to Ted Allen and the other contestant, who have that "Oh, no she didn’t" look on their faces. Conant informed the contestant that "it’s not necessarily a matter of taste," and that she can’t "talk [her] way around it." On the bright side, at least her phyllo dough didn’t taste like raw onions.
Empty plates don’t go over well on Chopped
It seems like a miracle when at the end of every round on Chopped, the chefs manage to construct a gourmet dish in the course of 30 minutes. Using a basket of mystery ingredients makes the feat even more impressive. Most chefs pull it off and at least get something on the plate — even if that something isn’t always a dish the judges seem excited about eating.
Then there’s poor chef Mauro Maccioni. The son of iconic New York City restaurateur Sirrio Maccioni, Mauro Maccioni failed to get any of his food on the plate. That’s right — he had to serve empty plates to the Chopped judges … in the first round!
As Ted Allen warned the chefs that they had mere seconds left, Maccioni was seen still trying to prepare his pasta before asking another chef where the plates are. He then casually walked over to get the plates … perhaps aware that he’s essentially dead in the water at that point. Nevertheless, the judges were horrified. Judge Aarón Sánchez covered his eyes in disappointment and Geoffrey Zakarian shook his head on the table like a 4-year-old who just found out there’s no kids menu.
The judges threw Maccioni a bone and complimented him on the flavor of his sauce after Allen requested he bring over his unfinished product, but it’s pretty apparent it’s all too little too late.
One defensive chef didn’t welcome constructive criticism
Nobody gets out of the Chopped kitchen without having their cooking techniques nitpicked and critiqued by the judges. That’s just part of the deal that goes along with potentially walking away $10,000 richer. Most of the contestants welcome this criticism and take it in stride — the keyword being "most."
Some chefs just seem to interpret constructive criticism as a personal attack, and that makes things especially uncomfortable for everyone in the room. "We here [at Chopped] welcome criticism because we know we get better, and we learn," judge Geoffrey Zakarian told one especially defensive chef before adding, "It’s the one ingredient you’re gonna need for the rest of your life." The sage advice fell on deaf ears, though, and the hardheaded chef immediately went on the defense, saying, "I think I’m a d*** good cook."
Ted Allen tried to deflate the situation, but it didn’t do much good, and it’s obvious that neither the other judges, nor competitors, were thrilled to be in the same kitchen with this particular chef.
Chopped judge Geoffrey Zakarian doesn’t nibble
A quick look at Chopped judge Geoffrey Zakarian’s website, and it’s apparent the guy has some clout in the culinary world: multiple executive chef positions, restaurant openings, awards, cookbooks, even projects with cruise lines and luxury hotels. Obviously, Zakarian has quite the background to draw upon when it comes to critiquing a plate of food — which is why when one chef put a hot pepper on Zakarian’s plate that he didn’t approve of, things quickly went south.
Zakarian held up the pepper and asked the question no Chopped contestant wants to hear: "What are we supposed to do with these?" Basically, it’s the Chopped equivalent of the viral "What are those?" meme. The chef’s answer of "nibble" didn’t sit well with Zakarian, who proceeded to inform her how a hot pepper would prevent him and the other judges from even tasting the food. Rather than simply nod "yes, chef" and letting it go, the contestant replied with, "But you know you’re alive," before shooting the still not convinced Zakarian a look that said "your move, pal."
It’s exactly this sort of uncomfortable moment between judge and contestant that makes the judging portion of Chopped such a highly entertaining part of the show.
One Chopped chef’s attitude was beyond sour
There are a lot of things that could be said about chef Rory Philipson’s appearance on Chopped. However, one YouTube comment perhaps sums it up best: "She is like a red onion in human form." Yes, the bitterness and overall lack of popularity perfectly captures the chef’s time on Chopped.
Philipson appeared on the incredibly entertaining "Viewer’s Choice Baskets" episode, in which the contestants were delivered baskets with items like durian, chicken in a can, and lime gelatin. As terrible as the basket ingredients may have been, the other contestants were good sports and took it in stride — but not chef Rory. After having her food called "dull" by Geoffrey Zakarian and too rare by Amanda Freitag, the chef tried to pull the other contestants — who clearly wanted no part of her defense — into her excuse.
The cherry on top of the whole exchange was courtesy of Scott Conant, who in regards to Philipson’s complaint about the baskets, said, "I feel like this was much better than the first round." The disgruntled chef said "thank you" before Conant quipped back with "I’m saying the basket." Ouch.
If you thought chef Rory Philipson was less than a delightful ray of sunshine, allow us to introduce you to chef Lauren Von Der Pool (who has been a personal chef for celebs like Robin Thicke, Patti Labelle, and Serena Williams). Generally, Chopped chefs seem to focus 100 percent of their attention on, you know, cooking an incredible dish in under half an hour with a bunch of mystery ingredients. Von Der Pool, however, devoted a significant amount of her energy to being annoyed by chef Sarah Pouzar. Apparently, asking to use the Sriracha was just too much! It’s the sort of uncomfortable tension that makes you root for anyone else, simply out of sympathy for their misfortune of having to share a kitchen with Von Der Pool.
Whatever bad blood there was between chef Pouzar and Von Der Pool, it spilled over into the latter’s cooking and spoiled the entire dish. "Overly sweet," "heavy," and "aggressive" were just a few of the negative adjectives judge Amanda Freitag used to describe Von Der Pool’s dish — and the chef threw back a steely death stare the entire time.
After learning she had been chopped, Von Der Pool responded with "seriously, guys?" before walking off in a huff. You get the feeling that both the judges and contestants were relieved when the whole Von Der Pool experience was over.
The Chopped great grill pan tug-of-war was one for the books
Chopped is full of high-stakes moments, but moments that are also sort of hilarious? Those are a bit more difficult to come by, which is what makes the battle over a grill pan between two chefs such a gem in the show’s history of awkward moments.
Chef Elda Bielanski went toe-to-toe over a grill pan with competitor Keith Young — a man who easily has 18 inches and probably 75 pounds on Bielanski. When the two chefs literally got into a tug-of-war over the grill pan, the judges looked on in amusement at the kitchen battle unfolding before them. "I got my money on Elda," said Scott Conant. A true battle for the ages if there ever was one.
The two competitors tangled for the kitchen tool for several seconds with Bielanski repeating, "I’m gonna take it. I have to take it, I have to take it." Young finally relinquished the grill, confessing, "I am not gonna look good fighting with a grandma." Smart move, guy.
Okra trash-talking even happened
For the most part, the chefs on Chopped treat each other cordially. Sure, they’re competitive, but they don’t typically shoot each other down. That sort of trash-talking is generally a lot more prevalent on shows like Cutthroat Kitchen.
Chef Chris Burke didn’t get the memo, though, and fully went after chef Amy Roth with condescending vengeance, taking direct aim at his competitor’s okra. In the final judging round, chef Burke stated his case for why he should win: "I was able to outperform my competitor and it’s just been obvious, from her soggy okra to my crispy okra."
When chef Roth retaliated and said she watched the judges’ reaction while eating Burke’s food, the chef quipped, "So you were probably drooling." It’s easy to see why during one of the interview segments Roth said, "I can’t stand him." People on a Serious Eats thread chatting about the episode seemed to have similar views on Roth. "Chris seems to be the biggest jerk I’ve ever seen on reality tv or in real life," wrote one commenter.
One chef almost burned down the Chopped studio
There are certain safety guidelines that one should know in the kitchen if they’re a professional chef. We’re not talking about obscure safety guidelines like how to properly cook a puffer fish, but basic stuff like don’t run with a knife and don’t put cooked food on a cutting board that just had raw meat on it. These are basic, elementary safety tips.
Chef Hannah seemed to have skipped safety day in culinary school, because she nearly burned down the Chopped kitchen with a grease fire. The chef doused her grill with oil which eventually caught fire and had all the Chopped judges looking with worrisome faces that read, "I don’t want to die on the Food Network."
Rather than extinguishing the fire with salt or baking soda, chef Hannah did the absolute worst thing — she went for the water. (At least she didn’t reach for the alcohol!) The chef carried the grill to the sink, turned on the water, and then started to go back to her station as the flames grew larger. Thankfully, disaster was averted, but for a few brief moments this awkward moment was heading in a seriously scary direction.
A very messy Chopped chef nearly called it quits
Contestants on Chopped are certainly expected to adopt a "whatever it takes" mindset to emerge victorious. The exception, though, is treating the kitchen like a total slob. A sloppy chef does not impress.
Things got a bit unpleasant for chef Lola Garand when she was called out by judge Geoffrey Zakarian over her messy cooking habits. Zakarian chastised the chef during the entrée round for throwing her food scraps on the floor, telling her, "I don’t really appreciate that, it’s really disrespectful to us and to the competitors." The chef attempted to explain her messy cooking habits with, "I was trying to play the game," to which Zakarian shot back, "This is not a game!"
Welp, that was all it took for the chef to declare, "I don’t want to continue." Garland did finish the "game" and made it to the dessert round, but it’s entirely possible that she was already out before Zakarian even tried her apple blackberry crumble, and she was chopped.