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99 Ways to Get Chopped from “Chopped”: A Handy Tips-‘n’-Tricks Checklist

Chopped!

Who among us has never looked at a bag of Cheetos and thought, “I bet I could turn this into haute cuisine”?

For years my wife Anne and I have been addicted to the Food Network’s cooking-competition series Chopped, in which four chefs must outcook each other under strictly timed conditions using four specific ingredients. Inside every Chopped basket of goods lurks a surprising combination of the rare, the delicate, the expensive, the complicated, the whimsical, the outlandish, and/or the thoroughly disgusting. Every substance can be used, though not every substance is very good.

Food Network continues gifting us with new episodes every week hosted by the amazing colossal Ted Allen, who presides over this fast-paced showcase for chefs of every conceivable demographic from various American restaurants, caterers, bakeries, or other private businesses, each of whom keeps their eyes on the $10,000 prize to be had if they’re the last entrant remaining after three grueling courses of speed-heating, kitchen-racing, and power-serving.

After watching several dozen episodes, Anne and I began to notice recurring patterns and tried to capture those observations and our fandom back in 2014 with a previous MCC entry called “How Not to Get Chopped from ‘Chopped’: A Starter Guide“. I’ve been meaning to overhaul that entry for a while now that we’re four years and literally 200+ episodes later, which includes every episode of the kids-only spinoff Chopped Junior and a handful of episodes of Chopped Canada, which was an interesting effort with its own angle and demeanor but wasn’t quite the same thing. I’m ashamed to confess it was tough to watch for more than a few minutes before I started poking fun in a goofy faux-Fargo accent.

The following compilation is our revised armchair-chef advice for future would-be competitors on how not to do Chopped from where we sit. This list is doubtlessly far from complete, and we welcome any additions in the comments below, especially from those among you who can truly cook. Though neither of us is a trained gourmet by any stretch, we hope this helps someone out there anyway. If you raise a skeptical eyebrow at any of these, well…it’s positively flabbergasting how many of these downfalls we’ve seen happen in actual episodes at the hands of trained professionals who run fantastic eateries back home but who lose their poise in front of the cameras. Even the best can make mistakes or watch their plans spin out of control.

Enjoy! Learn! Win!

  1. Forget a basket ingredient or two
  2. Serve empty plates with zero ingredients
  3. Wait till the last 20 seconds to toss all four ingredients on the plates
  4. Run to the pantry at the last second to add something that won’t make that big a difference
  5. Refuse to serve a basket ingredient for reasons of faith or belief
  6. Heat up basket ingredients, but do nothing else to them
  7. Use only the four basket ingredients, no pantry items
  8. Fail to get all four ingredients on all four plates
  9. Throw too much of an ingredient on one plate
  10. Throw too little of an ingredient on one plate
  11. Serve food in plates or bowls that don’t fit
  12. Panic and toss sauce all over the plates like you’re playing Splatoon
  13. Call any dish something it’s not
  14. Give Chris Santos exactly one (1) morsel from a basket ingredient
  15. Disrespect an expensive ingredient with shoddy manhandling
  16. Serve four plates that look completely different from each other
  17. Serve components separately so Alex Guarnaschelli has to finish assembling your meal for you
  18. Slice up raw basket ingredients, sprinkle on plates, devalue them as “garnish”
  19. Divide basket ingredients into two separate, unrelated meals instead of a cohesive whole
  20. Present something “deconstructed” out of desperation instead of as a unified concept
  21. Make a pantry item the star of your dish, with the basket ingredients as its backup band
  22. Don’t have a Plan B in case key equipment fails or is unavailable
  23. Expect anything to bake through in seven minutes or less
  24. Keep opening the oven door every two minutes so food stays uncooked
  25. Overcook a protein
  26. Undercook a protein
  27. Tear your proteins to shreds when they’ve stuck to the bottom of the pan
  28. Don’t let cooked red meat rest
  29. Lose track of which parts of which fish species are prized and which are garbage
  30. Set food aflame the wrong way and add a charred aftertaste
  31. Misuse the blowtorch so your food tastes of gasoline
  32. Overwhelm the basket ingredients with similar counterparts you like more
  33. Not enough salt
  34. Too much salt
  35. Skip seasoning altogether
  36. Make it so fatally spicy that even Aaron Sanchez is crying
  37. Call something “spicy” when it’s actually weaksauce
  38. Label anything a “molé” that took less than six hours to cook
  39. Puree that which God never intended us to puree
  40. Undercook potatoes that weren’t even in the basket
  41. Ruin pasta and invoke the wrath of Scott Conant
  42. Call your uncooked pasta “al dente”
  43. Rush-cook a pot of rice, risotto, or polenta
  44. Drench a salad with too much dressing
  45. Serve a pile of leaves with no dressing
  46. Put raw red onions on Scott Conant’s plate
  47. Skimp on acidity when a given cuisine calls for it
  48. Serve fried foods with breading that’s still oozing fryer oil
  49. Compose a dish entirely of meats and thick carbs, leaving the judges begging for brightness or freshness
  50. Serve cold tortillas
  51. Serve cold bread
  52. Put a sandwich on thickly sliced bread so it’s an awkward bite
  53. Watch your carefully wrapped wontons or spring rolls fall apart
  54. Demonstrate inconsistent knife skills with ingredients cut into random shapes and sizes
  55. Make an appetizer too large
  56. Make an entree too small
  57. Lay crispy foods atop a liquid that turns them soggy
  58. Let a sauce break, solidify, or just turn to gunk on the plate
  59. Make food in ugly, unholy colors
  60. Slop objects on the plates like a slob
  61. Overchurn ice cream
  62. Forget or mismeasure an ingredient in the ice cream recipe you worked so hard to memorize
  63. Try passing off any failed ice cream or panna cotta as “dessert soup”
  64. Turn your back on a caramel so it burns in seconds
  65. Bore judges with a bread pudding or napoleon
  66. Burn a dozen pancakes or crepes
  67. Pretend French toast is a dessert
  68. Lose the very real struggle with the uncooperative whipped cream dispenser
  69. Expect the blast chiller to lower temperatures from 400 degrees to 0 in three minutes flat
  70. Let too many strawberries and blueberries outnumber the fruit in the actual basket
  71. Overload every dessert component with sugar as if the chefs were sugar-happy kindergarteners
  72. Create a dessert that’s just a bodiless pile of toppings
  73. Convince yourself that well actually dough with a raw center is good
  74. Assume partially cooked foods will magically finish themselves while sitting on the cold countertop
  75. Make something from your own restaurant’s menu instead of getting creative
  76. Mix disparate flavors in ways too bizarre even for these experienced judges
  77. Go overboard on the molecular gastronomy chemicals
  78. Bleed on a dish
  79. Serve food you dropped on the floor
  80. Serve shrimp with the digestive veins still in
  81. Serve the inedible part of an ingredient
  82. Serve the poisonous part of the ingredient that Ted just told you could kill a judge
  83. Add inedible decorations
  84. Touch the plates after time’s up
  85. Let your favorite spice or oil overpower all other tastes in the dish
  86. Use white truffle oil at all
  87. Have white truffle oil at your station
  88. Say anything nice about white truffle oil
  89. Own a bottle of white truffle oil at home
  90. Have relatives or Facebook friends in the white truffle oil industry
  91. Confess you once tried white truffle oil but swear it meant nothing and it’s over between you now
  92. Argue with judges over cooking basics such as sanitation
  93. Sneer at the judges’ constructive criticisms
  94. Get cocky and underestimate your competitors’ considerable skills
  95. Repeat an error in the entree round that the judges just lectured you for in the appetizer round
  96. Finish early and stand around doing nothing instead of finding ways to accentuate your dish
  97. Decide what dish you simply insist on making before Ted has even revealed the basket ingredients
  98. Have the bad luck of sharing an episode with three 5-star genius chefs
  99. Just give up, shrug and assume you can always come back for a “redemption” episode do-over

Unnecessary disclaimer: exceptions can happen, but are extremely rare. We’ve seen at least two chefs with lousy attitudes win. We’ve seen rare instances in which hacking up an ingredient without any further treatment was secretly the best possible option. We once — exactly once — saw a single chef use white truffle oil without being chopped. Once.

For our further adventures in the Chopped televisual universe, be sure to check out these previous MCC entries:

  • That time we met Ted Allen at Indianapolis’ Fantastic Food Fest 2016
  • That time we met Alex Guarnaschelli at Fantastic Food Fest 2017
  • That time we visited Maneet Chauhan’s restaurant in Nashville
  • That time I tried applying Chopped techniques at a work pitch-in using other people’s dishes
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