"Chopped" can be a stressful experience, inducing high blood pressure, heart palpitations, and anxiety — and that’s just for the viewers! The contestants have to deal with a ticking clock, dangerous kitchen equipment, picky judges, and some pretty horrifying basket ingredients. It’s a wonder that anybody manages to make decent food under those conditions, and it’s a testament to the talent of the contestants that so many good dishes come out of the "Chopped" kitchen.
They can’t all be winners, though. Sometimes a chef makes it through the casting process based more on the strength of their personality rather than their cooking skills. And, at other times, unfamiliarity with a basket ingredient sinks a chef’s hopes. Most frequently, the clock gets the better of a chef who tried to bite off more than they could chew. When that happens, you feel bad for the contestant who’s destined to be chopped, sure, but you also can’t help but pity the judges who have to taste something gross.
These are the nastiest, sloppiest, and most ill-conceived dishes ever served on "Chopped." Some merely tasted bad, while others could have sent the judges to the emergency room under different circumstances. All have gone down in infamy not just for their bad taste but also because of the horrified reactions they inspired in the judges and audience members alike.
Someone almost poisoned the judges with raw eel
One of the ingredients in the appetizer round of season 16’s "Extreme Halloween" was fresh eel. It wasn’t a completely shocking ingredient, considering that eel is a staple at sushi bars.
But, unlike most sushi fish, it’s always served grilled instead of raw. There’s a really, really good reason for that. Per Food Network, host Ted Allen alerted the competitors that eel blood is toxic when raw. And he was really serious about that facto. According to The Boston Globe, even a tiny piece of raw eel can be fatal and eel blood contains a powerful toxin that causes the muscles in your body to seize up. If this toxin reaches your heart, it can easily induce cardiac arrest and potentially kill you. Happily, the toxin is a protein that denatures pretty quickly once it’s cooked, so grilled eel is both nontoxic and delicious.
Despite all that, chef John Creger of NYC’s Gallow Green restaurant decided not to heed Tim Allen’s warning. Instead, Creger served eel that had been only lightly brûléed with a torch, leaving it mostly raw. His reasoning? Creger wanted to give the judges a completely new experience. Like, apparently, a trip to the emergency room. While the judges thought his risk-taking approach paid off when it came to the composition and presentation of his dish, they weren’t able to eat the deadly eel. Chef John didn’t make it to the entree round.
One chef took 20 minutes to prepare a scanty plate
You might think that the host and judges of "Chopped" love to watch people fail, but Ted Allen told The Daily Meal that he actually roots for every contestant to do a good job. Of course, the judges have to eat everything that gets plated, so they naturally want the chefs to do well, too. In that interview, Allen also mentioned the most spectacular failure he had ever seen: a chef who plated a mere three edamame in the appetizer round.
Time management is surely the hardest part of the "Chopped" competition, and the clock regularly kills the dreams of "Chopped" hopefuls. But even the most hopeless challengers usually manage to get something on the plate before time runs out, even if that something is often poorly cooked or missing some of the basket ingredients. That is, most of them.
In season 2, episode 7, private chef Moha Orchid failed to plate anything except for three soybeans. During the competition, he let the clock get into his head and subsequently froze, helplessly watching time run out while standing in front of empty plates. No other challenger has ever let the clock phase them so badly. Unsurprisingly, Moha’s nearly empty plates did not earn him a ticket to the next round.
Barramundi with bright blue sauce wasn’t a hit
Australia has a reputation for being an unforgiving, hostile environment. Season 15 episode "Aussie Awesome" showed that Australian ingredients can be just as challenging as the country’s terrain. The appetizer round didn’t pull any punches, featuring a whole barramundi fish as well as the divisive vegetable yeast spread known as Vegemite. The biggest curveball in the basket, however, was a life-sized snake made out of gummy candy.
Chef McCaily Cranna showed a good grasp of classic French technique when she decided to make a pan-roasted barramundi filet with beurre blanc sauce. But she then torpedoed her dish by melting the gummy snake into her carefully prepared sauce, turning it a sickly shade of blue and infusing it with what seems to have been a deeply unpleasant sugary flavor.
Chef Cranna’s mistake is a common one on the show. It almost never works when chefs try to make a normal dish and awkwardly add weird ingredients as an afterthought. Strange ingredients call for inventive concepts and novel ideas, not last-minute additions and poorly considered concepts. Ultimately, you can’t just melt candy into a sauce without thinking about how that will change its balance of flavor — or the color.
No one liked chicken foot pie in a raw pastry crust
There’s just something about the Halloween episodes of "Chopped" that makes for some truly horrifying cooking. And while some can be brave and make some truly good food out of a creepy basket, the title ingredient in season 8’s "Trick or Treat, Chicken Feet" proved too scary for most of the contestants.
Now, chicken feet are beloved in China, where they are a popular dim sum item prized for their unique texture. China Yummy Food mentions that people also love chicken feet because the ingredient’s high collagen content supposedly makes the diner’s skin more supple and youthful-looking.
If you’re not familiar with chicken feet, you might not know that you’re supposed to cut off the chicken’s sharp talons before serving the feet. Though that may seem obvious now that we’ve said it, three of the four challengers failed to trim their chicken’s toenails. Judge Chris Santos hated it so much he told Business Insider that chicken talons were his least favorite thing to be served as a "Chopped" judge. Miraculously, the one chef who remembered to cut his claws ended up being sent home anyway because he packed bland, underseasoned feet into a pastry shell that was still raw.
Cottage cheese panna cotta sent Scott Conant off the deep end
As tough as the producers of "Chopped" can make the ingredients in the mystery baskets, they have nothing on the show’s fans. The episodes where viewers choose the basket ingredients showcase the sadistic tendencies of "Chopped" audience members, who seemingly want to see both the contestants and the judges suffer. After all, they don’t have to eat any of the food, so it appears that they just want to see the biggest trainwreck they can possibly engineer.
Frankly, it gets so bad sometimes that half of this list could be composed of dishes from the viewer’s choice episode in season 15. In this competition, chefs were saddled with stinky durian fruit in the appetizer round, a gelatinous whole canned chicken in the entree round, and marrow bones for dessert.
Despite their best efforts, the chefs weren’t able to create much tasty food that episode. Chef Tre’s dessert was so rough, in fact, that it inspired one of Scott Conant’s most memorable quotes. The famously blunt judge called Tre’s cottage cheese panna cotta "one of the worst things I’ve ever put in my mouth." The line was so good that it got used in the "Chopped" intro after the episode aired. Needless to say, Tre did not go home with $10,000 that night, though his dish went down in infamy.
One contestant swapped sugar and salt
Most of the competitors on "Chopped" primarily work as savory cooks and don’t know advanced pastry techniques. Some even claim to not like dessert at all! This leads to many lackluster dishes in the dessert round, but the screwup we’re about to discuss wasn’t caused by a lack of skill.
Successfully pulling off a cake in the dessert round is a power move. Whenever a contestant starts mixing up a batter, it makes regular "Chopped" viewers anxious because chefs so often serve the judges raw puddles of dough or burnt cakes. In one especially rough season 1 episode, chef Luis Gonzales of New York’s Knickerbocker Grille flexed his pastry prowess by serving an almond and black plum meltdown cake for dessert.
Gonzales’ cake looked fantastic, and his technique was spot on, making it seem upon first glace that he was safe. But, as soon as the judges bit into the cake, Gonzales realized that he made a fatal mistake: he had accidentally used salt instead of sugar. Since he never tasted his batter, he didn’t find out the bad news until the judges tasted his dish. Although he won points for ambition, his inedible salt cake was too bad to ignore, and he was chopped.
Raw Cornish game hen was a biohazard
The "Chopped" judges take sanitation very seriously. They’re all restaurant chefs, after all, and we certainly hope that they don’t tolerate hazardous habits like double-dipping with tasting spoons or cross-contaminating with raw meat. But the contestants in the aptly-named episode "A Cornish Mess" must have had a grudge against the judges, because they served poisonous or hazardous food in multiple rounds.
On the scale of "Chopped" proteins, cornish game hen is on the simpler side to prepare, and yet two challengers made some seriously bad mistakes with it. One chef cut her cooked hen on the same board she had used to cut the raw stuff. Another contestant served hen that was clearly raw in the middle. Both dishes could have given the judges salmonella poisoning if things had really gone downhill. The judges ultimately decided the round based on non-contaminated samples from the chefs’ work stations. And, as if that weren’t enough toxicity for one episode, another chef plated potentially toxic cherimoya seeds during the dessert round.
But it was chef Ondre’a Duvernay’s cross-contaminated Cornish game hen breast on a grape reduction that lost her the entree round. For many, it was the worst dish in an episode full of some seriously bad dishes.
Raw lemongrass doesn’t belong in a croissant
When you panic, it’s easy to start making irrational decisions. That’s the only explanation for the dessert chef Nourredine Elgheur plated in "Good Chop, Bad Chop?" from season 11. One "Chopped" fan on Reddit commented that, in the dessert round, Elgheur "just seemed to utterly lose his mind, like he entered a fugue state." Given a relatively easy mystery basket containing sour cherries, clotted cream, croissants, and lemongrass, the chef decided to make a sandwich with all the ingredients stuffed into an untoasted croissant. His decision frustrated the judges, especially since the raw stalk of lemongrass inside his sandwich was totally inedible.
The best part of the whole debacle was when he tried to sell his dish to the judges. First, chef Elgheur attempted to describe the lemongrass as "crispy." When the judges pointed out that lemongrass is actually hard and woody, not just crunchy, he pivoted to claiming that he meant for them to pull the lemongrass out before they ate the sandwich.
He justified this new information by saying "my main idea was just to have the lemongrass, uh, just touching the croissant to give it flavor." His excuses earned points for originality but left the judges unmoved. Despite outcooking his competitor in both of the previous rounds, Elgheur’s inedible dessert lost him the competition.
Papaya skin "baked Alaska" competed against bloody bread pudding
Season 17’s "Redeemed or Re-Chopped?" showcased four competitors who had previously been runners-up. The dessert round featured chuckwagon cook, cowboy, and frequent "Chopped" competitor Kent Rollins squaring off against chef Zoe Feigenbaum. However, both chefs made disastrous desserts, making it hard for the judges to pick a winner.
Chef Feigenbaum made what many consider to be a supremely nasty-looking dish. She added to the canon of "Chopped" ice cream disasters by making an unappealing banana and chocolate frozen dessert, putting it in a papaya skin, and calling it "baked Alaska." Not only was it nothing like a real baked Alaska, with its delicate combination of ice cream and toasted meringue, but the papaya skin shell could have given the chefs some serious stomach issues. As The Star notes, papaya peel contains a natural latex that can cause gastritis, nerve issues, and breathing problems in some people.
Feigenbaum’s error would have probably cost her the win had Kent Rollins not cut himself while making his bread pudding. The judges determined that they could not safely eat Rollins’ bread pudding because of the possible contamination with his blood. Even though judge Marc Murphy said that Feigenbaum "might have done better not to serve anything at all," she nonetheless walked away victorious.
A celebrity went wild with the truffle oil
White truffle oil is a frequent villain in the "Chopped" kitchen. Restaurateurs love it because it can turn a few cents’ worth of potatoes into a $10 basket of truffle fries, but "Chopped" judges rarely appreciate its presence in food. As Ted Allen explained on Twitter, "It’s strong, & tends to overwhelm a dish. It was trendy (a long time ago), & we don’t like trendiness. It feels pretentious, now." Given the judges’ well-known hostility towards the ingredient, the inclusion of white truffle oil in the appetizer basket of "Star Power: Screen Sensations!" in season 33 seems like a prank from the producers.
"Star Power" was actually a recurring "Chopped" feature that deployed cooks who also happened to be celebrities. Some turned out to be surprisingly sophisticated chefs, while others lacked the skill to compete. Alysia Reiner of "Orange is the New Black" fame went down in history with an iconic truffle oil blunder in this episode.
Seeing truffle oil in the basket, Reiner decided to make it the centerpiece of her dish. But she never tasted the oil and didn’t realize how intense it was, so she used almost half a cup of the strongly flavored oil in her dish, even cooking mushrooms in pure white truffle oil. All the judges could do was look on in horror. Unsurprisingly, she did not move on to the next round, but she earned her place in "Chopped" lore with her legendarily funky dish.
A firefighter offended a whole culture with mushy pasta
Judge Scott Conant’s spicy reactions are a reliable part of the "Chopped" viewing experience. And if there’s one thing regular "Chopped" viewers know, it’s that you have to be careful when serving pasta to Scott Conant. He is passionate about noodles and will viciously critique any flaws in technique or execution.
Conant’s worst-ever pasta burn came in the episode "Firefighter Chefs" in season 18, where multiple firefighters offended Conant with their pasta crimes. The worst effort came from Philadelphia firefighter Antonia Donnelly, who cooked her pasta for almost the entire length of the round, a big pasta mistake that rendered it mushy and unappetizing. Conant found her pasta to be so bad that it was "offensive to an entire culture." Another contestant undercooked his pasta, while a third served dangerously large pieces of ghost pepper. Despite these other challengers’ serious mistakes, Antonia’s obliterated pasta was too much to overlook and she was chopped.
Sour candy salad just didn’t come together
Candy is a tough mystery basket ingredient to receive in the savory rounds. You can sneak a little sugar into savory food, sure, but a nice hint of sweetness quickly turns into something nasty if you’re not careful. As judge Aarón Sánchez mentioned in season 7’s "Go For It!" episode, candies also tend to have an artificial flavor that’s difficult to hide. And so the sour lemon candies in the appetizer round of that episode proved too great of a challenge for chef Emily Sims.
Chef Sims tried to blend the candies with almonds to make a crumble topping for her salad, but the candy refused to chop in the food processor, leaving her with a pile of whole candies and almond dust. Pressed for time, she plated her salad anyway. She thought she would be fine because she wanted a chunky, crunchy salad, but the whole candies were a major sticking point for the judges. The mistake was impossible to overlook in the context of her dish, and thus chef Sims didn’t move on to the next round.
A turkey torta was only partially edible
Here’s a pro tip: when serving food to the "Chopped" judges, it’s a good idea to make sure everything on your plate is edible. The judges don’t enjoy having to pick through garnishes they can’t digest. In "Pretty Please With a Pepper On Top" from season 2, chef Barbara Sibley ruined her appetizer by garnishing it with raw piquillo peppers. Piquillos are a wonderful ingredient with rich spiciness and a deep flavor, but they need to be rehydrated and cooked before eating. In a key mistake, Sibley chose to top her turkey torta and gooseberry salsa with untreated and very, very dry piquillos.
She weakly tried to defend her choice of garnish by saying the judges could nibble on the peppers between bites. None of them bought her excuse, but chef Geoffrey Zakarian was clearly the most offended. Despite cooking the judges’ favorite turkey of the round, Sibley still wasn’t invited back to cook an entree because of those nearly inexplicable peppers.