A group of 12 "Chopped" judges stand in a row. The fierce collection of celebrity chefs stare daggers back at you. Beads of sweat roll down your forehead. An unbearable pressure swells inside your chest. The "Chopped" kitchen isn’t for the faint of heart, as anyone could tell you. But there’s no mystery basket waiting to be opened in this imaginary scenario. Instead, a more terrifying (yet enjoyable) challenge awaits: Deciding which regularly-featured judge from the Food Network’s addictively entertaining show you’d most want to cook with.
Now, if you’re a "Chopped" uber-fan like us, your immediate reaction is probably all of them. The 12 judges who’ve appeared most often on the show (via IMDB) are some of the most famous, talented, and acclaimed culinary craftsmen (and women) the world has ever known. Of course, even when it goes against our better instincts, it’s just human nature to play favorites – so why would we make any exceptions when it comes to the "Chopped" judges?
In case it’s unclear, we’d leap at the chance to cook with every single judge included on this list. But just as there can only be one winner on the show, there can only be one celebrity chef atop our rankings (those are the arbitrary rules we made up, after all). So keep reading, and discover which "Chopped" judge we’d most want to cook with … and which judges … will be chopped (*whooshing knife sound effect*).
12. Tiffani Faison
Celebrity chef (and semi-regular "Chopped" judge) Tiffani Faison has a bit of a reputation for coming up just short. She was the runner-up on the inaugural season of "Top Chef" – the only season that wasn’t hosted by Padma Lakshmi (via Reality TV World). And though she earned her fourth James Beard nomination in 2022 after three losses (via MassLive), when the winners were announced, Tiffani’s name was nowhere to be found. So, while we hate rubbing salt in a wound, we have to place her last in our rankings.
To be completely fair to the Boston, Massachusetts-based chef, she seems like a perfectly pleasant person. We have no doubts she’d make a fine kitchen companion who’d lead the way toward a phenomenal meal. But when it comes to which of the "Chopped" judges we’d most want to cook with, well … the problem is she’s not one of the main panel members.
Since Faison has only appeared in 36 episodes of the show as of 2022 (via IMDB), we can’t bring ourselves to rank her any higher. Consequently, even though it’s a technicality of sorts, we have to slot her at the bottom of our list.
11. Scott Conant
The first tried-and-true regular "Chopped" judge on our list, it may seem like madness that iconic Italian chef Scott Conant ranks so low. After all, the man is so certain of his food’s impeccable quality that he was known to withhold fresh ground pepper and grated cheese from diners at Scarpetta in New York City in 2008 (via GQ). But that borderline-brash attitude — which likely contributes to his image as the "not being nice" judge to some viewers, as he told Indulgence in 2016 — doesn’t help in this instance, so Scott comes in second-to-last on our list.
It’s not that we need a kitchen companion who’s exclusively warm and fuzzy — no "Chopped" judge could be described that way, after all. But Conant’s somewhat curt demeanor with contestants doesn’t make us eager to display our admittedly amateur culinary skills alongside him. We’re sure he’d insist on pasta of some sort, too, which isn’t necessarily bad, per se. But the odds we’d screw it up, and incur Conant’s wrath for subpar pasta, makes us leery.
One note in Conant’s favor, though, is his legitimate aversion to raw onions. Frankly, we concur with his absolute abhorrence of uncooked onions on our plates. So while he ranks near the bottom, we still hold the man and his talents in exceptionally high regard.
10. Aarón Sánchez
A bona fide master of Mexican cuisine, Aarón Sánchez is precisely the type of chef we’d want to be served by (if that were the ranking, he’d be much higher). And it’s not like the James Beard award-winning chef is known for being a jerk, as he’s been a regular judge on the children’s cooking show "MasterChef Junior" for years, as well (via People). But the exact reason we’d want to eat his food — a devotion to Mexican culinary techniques and ingredients — is what scares us off from wanting to cook with him.
Not unlike Scott Conant’s penchant for Italian food, the possibility of a potential personal gaffe while preparing a traditional Mexican dish with Sánchez is a less-than-enticing proposition. Again, if he was cooking solo while we simply stood by and watched, maybe it wouldn’t be as intimidating to consider. But would you want to risk ruining a traditional recipe from his mother (and renowned chef in her own right) Zarela Martinez?
Additionally, since he’s is just as enthusiastic about spicy food — even co-starring in the show "Heat Seekers" with Roger Mooking — we’re not sure our delicate palate could handle the heat. Therefore, while we’d never deny our fandom, we can’t say we’d want to cook with him over the majority of other "Chopped" judges.
9. Marc Murphy
Perhaps we were just born with a plastic spoon in our mouth, but we’ve got a bit of a chip on our shoulder when it comes to folks born into exceptionally comfortable circumstances. In other words, while "Chopped" regular Marc Murphy is an undeniably monumental talent — and, apparently, the "Sexiest Chef Alive" (via People) — we’re holding his fancy pants sensibilities against him in our rankings.
Raised in different cities across Europe during his childhood (via Food Network), it’s virtually impossible to imagine the life of Marc Murphy from an outside perspective. Frankly, when watching the show, his worldly upbringing makes him seem a bit hoity-toity from our point of view. Maybe we’re being unfair here … okay, we’re definitely being unfair. But it’s our list, and that lack of potential personal connection turns us off from the notion of cooking with him.
We have no doubt Murphy is a genuinely genial guy. But as his wife Pamela told the New York Times in 2015, it’s hard not to "feel like an idiot" when cooking for (or with) someone as talented as he is. We’re fairly confident we’d feel just as insufficient, so through no real fault of his own, we’re placing him in the bottom half of "Chopped" judges we’d want to cook with.
8. Ted Allen
To be perfectly honest, we were tempted to rank Ted Allen — the irreplaceable, memorably-cadenced host of "Chopped" — at the very bottom of our list. After all, Allen is the only person in our rankings who’s not an actual chef; rather, the original "Queer Eye" cast member is more of a wine connoisseur than a culinary whiz (via SFGate). Still, if we’re talking about judges we’d want to cook with (and Allen certainly knows a thing or two about what is and isn’t a winning plate), we’d likely feel significantly less pressure to deliver alongside a fellow amateur(ish) chef.
We’d appreciate the lowered expectations to deliver a perfect meal alongside Allen. Additionally, the chance to find the legitimately perfect pairing of food and wine once we finished cooking is one we’d never pass up. So why doesn’t Allen rank any higher than number eight on our list? Well, as we mentioned, he’s not a regular judge on the show, and his cooking skills clearly rank below the other chefs included.
Maybe that’s an unfair standard to hold him to. But since his self-worth doesn’t rely on where "Chopped" fans rank him among his fellow judges (at least, we hope it doesn’t), we’re sure he’ll be just fine with this placement.
7. Chris Santos
We love Chris Santos. The New England-born chef and restaurateur is a true inspiration, having worked his way through the kitchen ranks since his first dishwashing job at 13 years old in Rhode Island (via Food Network). Yet despite his unquestionable culinary knowledge and skillset, we can’t help but worry about the prospect of cooking with the "Chopped" judge. After all, as demonstrated when he’s been a contestant on the show — particularly the episode "Chopped Family Thanksgiving" (streaming on HBO Max as of 2022) — Santos seems prone to intense stress while cooking.
Now, having worked in restaurants previously ourselves, we understand the borderline-irrational pressure and anger endured by professional chefs. Since the "Chopped" kitchen is essentially a working kitchen on steroids, we’re not surprised to see Santos (or any contestant, famous or otherwise) feeling that burden while competing. But he has seemed so frazzled during his stints on the opposite side of the judge’s table that we can’t rank him higher than the middle of our list.
The fact that Santos has found himself committed to healthy cooking and eating in recent years (via Men’s Health) doesn’t help his cause. We love nutritionally-balanced meals, of course, and our adoration for the man keeps him from dropping lower. But if we’re lucky enough to cook with one of our favorite "Chopped" judges, we’d hope to create something a bit more indulgent than he’d likely want.
6. Marcus Samuelsson
Quite honestly, if we had to choose one judge whose food we’d most want to eat, Marcus Samuelsson would be number one with a bullet. Born in Ethiopia, adopted and raised in Sweden, then moving to the U.S. with a mere $300 to his name (via CNBC), the internationally renowned chef’s fascinating journey has molded him into a one-of-a-kind talent. And considering Samuelsson’s consistent utilization of culinary techniques and approaches we’re personally unfamiliar with, we can’t deny we’d want to cook with the man if given the chance.
Then again, perhaps resulting from the stereotypical view of Swedish folks as somewhat antisocial and rude (via Say It In Swedish), we’re a bit apprehensive of being led by Samuelsson in the kitchen. We’re not saying we wouldn’t want to cook with him, but the risk of feeling (unintentionally) talked down to may be more than our delicate sensibilities could handle.
As evidenced by our long list of iconic Swedish foods we’d love to try, it can’t be surprising that we idolize the "Chopped" judge. He may not be able to break into the top five, but considering the competition, there’s nothing wrong with a middle-of-the-pack ranking on this list.
5. Amanda Freitag
It’s pretty clear that America loves Amanda Freitag, and who can blame us? A warm, friendly, and comforting presence at the "Chopped" judge’s table — and volunteering her time cooking for the less fortunate at God’s Love We Deliver — it’s hard to imagine anyone who truly dislikes the Season 5 "The Next Iron Chef’ second-place finisher. Consequently, she cracks the top five on our list of "Chopped" judges we’d want to cook with.
Why doesn’t Freitag rank any higher? Well, to be perfectly honest, we’re not entirely sure. We know it’s our job to articulate specific opinions, but at the same time, certain things in life are truly ineffable. Frankly, we can’t really pinpoint why we personally enjoy the televised presence (and imaginary kitchen partnerships) of the four judges ranked above her — but it’s certainly not a knock on Freitag.
Still, as with every other "Chopped" judge on this list, we’d literally walk 500 miles (and walk 500 more) for the chance to cook with Amanda Freitag. Considering she was the 2022 celebrity chef and mentor for the popular Cook Around the World culinary experience at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida (via World Class Vacations), it’s clear we’re not the only ones.
4. Geoffrey Zakarian
Of all the entries in our "Chopped" judges ranking, placing Geoffrey Zakarian at number four seems most likely to raise a few eyebrows. After all, the often-finicky judge can seem like a bit of a pill at times, and if we dinged Marc Murphy for being a bit too highbrow, so to speak, why would we make an exception for Geoffrey? Well, for one thing, he was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts (via MassLive), and we have a bit of a bias towards New England-bred folks.
That working-class background certainly suggests a more down-to-earth personality lurks beneath Zakarian’s ostentatious (and brightly-colored) "Chopped" wardrobe. There’s a reason why he and his co-stars on "The Kitchen" genuinely enjoy cooking with each other, after all (via Distractify), and why their palpable chemistry translates to viewers. Even some of his more seemingly-pretentious choices, like eating with chopsticks in later seasons of "Chopped," aren’t as off-putting as they initially appear. After all, chopsticks simply allow a more precise analysis of a contestant’s dish (and their incorporation of the mystery basket’s ingredients) compared with forks (via TikTok).
Frankly, we can’t credibly say we’d want to cook with him more than the three chefs listed above him. But while a fourth-place finish on "Chopped" would indicate disaster, there’s nothing wrong with that placement in our ranking.
3. Martha Stewart
We can’t deny that, on occasion, we play a little fast and loose with the rules — particularly rules that we, ourselves, have made up. So while we ranked "Chopped" guest judge Tiffani Faison at the bottom for her non-regular status on the series, we’re making an exception for the one and only Martha Stewart. Sure, she’s made the fewest appearances on the show (only 21 episodes as of 2022), but again … it’s Martha freakin’ Stewart!
Let’s be real here, folks: There’s a 100% chance we’d have an absolute blast with the literal (figurative) queen of home cooking. The minute chance that Stewart’s best friend Snoop Dogg shows up to assist (or just hang out while sipping on gin and juice) only raises our desire to join the legend in her kitchen.
To be honest, our default mental image of Martha Stewart tends to lean more towards Ana Gasteyer’s fantastic "Saturday Night Live" impression than the real woman. But we’ve still experienced enough of the actual Stewart to realize we’d never pass up the chance to cook with her. Still, she’s not a full-time judge, so she’s coming in at number three.
2. Maneet Chauhan
When it came to our exact ranking of "Chopped" judges, we really only agonized over the order of the top two. But it’s our job to make these tough choices, and a decision had to be made. So while Maneet Chauhan comes in at number two on our list, we have to admit she’s our favorite judge on the show. The type of person who works with and contributes to every nonprofit and charitable cause she can (via Nfocus Magazine), Chauhan’s gentle compassion, take-no-guff attitude, and often silly sense of humor make for an endearing combination.
Frankly, Chauhan seems like she’d be more of a comforting, steady hand in the kitchen rather than a domineering dictator. Her appearance on "The Drew Barrymore Show" in 2022 only confirmed that expectation — and we’d be gushing just like the famous actress did upon meeting Chauhan, as well.
The charismatic celebrity chef is always a welcome sight at the judge’s table … so why doesn’t she take the top spot, you might ask? Well, to be perfectly honest, she could have. If we didn’t feel ties were a cop-out, Chauhan would be 1B alongside the number one "Chopped" judge we’d want to cook with. We’ll address the deciding factor in a moment, but we can’t stress this enough: A second-place finish on this list doesn’t make Chauhan a loser by any stretch of the imagination.
1. Alex Guarnaschelli
It had to be Alex Guarnaschelli, right? Realistically, we’re not sure how any other "Chopped" judge could have taken the top spot. For one thing, as evidenced by her preference to continue cooking after slicing off the tip of her finger while filming her show "Alex vs. America" in 2022 (via People), her badass demeanor is no act. But the tough-as-nails celebrity chef and restaurateur is also far gentler than she’s often portrayed on camera, and given her strong-yet-tender vibe, she takes the number one slot on our list.
Guarnaschelli just barely beats out Maneet Chauhan as the "Chopped" judge we’d most want to cook with for one simple reason: she’s an Iron Chef. Winning the illustrious title in 2012 (via Food Network), Guarnaschelli’s Iron Chef status is the one feather in her cap Chauhan couldn’t match in our eyes, so she earned her victory — and deservedly avoided the dreaded chopping block.
More than anything, Guarnaschelli just seems so normal. Since we greatly prefer a laid-back, easy-going vibe in general, we’re drawn to the eminently-talented chef’s personality — and proudly proclaim Alex Guarnaschelli as the "Chopped" judge we’d most want to cook with.