Thinking Like a “Chopped” Contestant Can Save Any Dull Pitch-In


The picture and my plate both looked too plain, so I added Crow for garnish. Maybe it’s not something you would do, but I’m an otherwise reasonable adult and I’m perfectly happy with my garnish choices.

Pictured above is my newest creation, inspired by frustrated circumstances. It’s a stale Marsh donut sliced in half bun-wise, filled with one layer of chipped-beef-‘n’-cream-cheese from the best kind of cheese ball, one layer of Ritz crackers, and one layer of plain cream cheese. I dubbed it the Good Afternoon Burger. It would’ve been even better if someone had thought ahead and brought in some rich, creamery butter to use as dressing. They had veggie dip, but that’s the absolute opposite.

If you’ve ever worked in a group setting, you’ve probably experienced the pros and cons of pitch-ins, for birthdays or holidays or happy Fridays or whatever. The pros: everyone brings food without charging everyone else for it, and there’s a chance someone else will bring better stuff than you do. The cons: there’s a chance everyone will bring bags of chips, if anyone bothers to bring anything at all. You bring your food, you take your chances, you hope for the best, and you really hope the results aren’t so disappointing that you actually have to spend money on lunch.

Sooner or later, your luck will run out and there’ll come that dreaded day when everyone brings chips, clearance-sale bakery leftovers, and one gourmet-level main dish that everyone will love so much that it’ll be gone in eight minutes flat. Hours later you’ll be craving an afternoon snack and it’ll be your choice of chips, other chips, different chips, same chips different flavor, same chips same flavor different company, or the one lonely, never-opened bag of pretzels that an anonymous coworker has been bringing to all the pitch-ins since 1998.

Today wasn’t the worst, but I decided I’d had enough of the same old. My wife and I previously went on record about our love of watching the Food Network’s Chopped and all the lessons we learned from it. Today I implemented Chopped Lesson #1: you can make up a lot of brave, original dishes just by grabbing random pantry items, mashing them up in the same appliance, and sculpting the mess into photogenic performance art. Results aren’t guaranteed, but neither is failure. It’s a solid theory: a million monkeys with a million ingredients will sooner or later produce a miraculous bread pudding that’s both edible and cooked all the way through. Some patience may be required.

So, yeah, several dozen episodes of Chopped later, here I am assembling amok in public, using ingredients provided by four different coworkers, combining things that man was not meant to combine. The results: not half bad. It was like a deli sandwich with extra sandwich topping and no spices. Donuts and buns aren’t fundamentally all that different. For me, it worked. Then again, I’m a veteran attendee of the Indiana State Fair, where I’ve had more than my share of donut burgers and bacon peanut-butter banana burgers. In my strange little world, my humble chipped-beef creamwich wasn’t much of a stretch/

It also wasn’t the only thing I tried. It was a long day and I punctuated it with a series of creations from morning to late afternoon. Some were established pairings; some were inadvisable. Mixing and matching the offerings items yielded the following results, ranked from greatest to nastiest:

1. Nutella on brown sugar cinnamon mini-bagel
2. Chipped-beef cheeseball spread on Hawaiian dinner roll
3. Brown sugar cream cheese on brown sugar cinnamon mini-bagel
4. Chipped-beef cheeseball spread on brown sugar cinnamon mini-bagel
5. Brown sugar cream cheese on cinnamon raisin mini-bagel
6. Stale Marsh donut topped with Nutella
7. Spinach dip on cinnamon raisin mini-bagel

I would’ve tried more, maybe even looked at one of the veggie trays, but I ran out of appetite. Despite the coronary cuisine you saw above, I no longer have the gastrointestinal fortitude of a certified Chopped judge that would allow me to eat nine courses in a single hour.

Nonetheless, I’m pleased with the turnout and looking forward to experimenting at future pitch-ins. I realize I’m limited to the foods and tools at hand. There’ll be no convenient way to pan-sear any meats, add green apples or Sriracha to everything unless I bring my own, or turn anything into reductions, purees, gastrique, vinaigrette, or ice cream. Maybe I could swing a crude Napoleon or a faux-hash if I can coax some stuff together at room temperature, or if I wait till no one’s looking and heat up a few items in the first emptied crockpot I see. Maybe someday I’ll stumble across a wicked new dish that I can sell to an Indiana State Fair vendor for the right price, retire early, and never eat pitch-in food again.

[With sincere apologies to a fellow WordPress writer who recently had her own Chopped-inspired entry achieve much-coveted Freshly Pressed fame. Originally this exercise was just something goofy to liven up the work day and share with my wife for a laugh between cases, but then I decided this bold new workplace survival technique was too important to hoard to myself and the world needed to know. No selfish turf invasion intended.]

3 responses

    • Cheers, indeed! And my li’l Crow figurine was sitting right there on my desk next to Servo and Gypsy, just begging to get away from them and hog some limelight. I just couldn’t say no to him, and he’s much more visually appealing than some gnarled old parsley sprigs.


  1. Pingback: 99 Ways to Get Chopped from “Chopped”: A Handy Tips-‘n’-Tricks Checklist « Midlife Crisis Crossover!

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