As one of the most popular shows on The Food Network, Chopped has aired over 40 seasons. While audiences watched in fascination as mystery box after mystery box was unveiled, a number of untold truths have leaked out, which aren't apparent when watching the show.
It's easy to forget while watching contestants whip up incredible and impossible-seeming dishes in under 30 minutes that Chopped is not just a cooking competition. It's a reality TV production as well, and this adds a whole other element.
For a start, not only do contestants face the judges and each other; there's also an entire TV crew up on set with them, and this can amount up to 60 people! Not to mention that many of them are holding a camera, and of course, these are all honed in on the nervous contestants.
Furthermore, because the contest has to be TV-ready and optimized to draw views and be gripping, the actual competition could potentially be quite different from the final crafted footage that we as the viewers see on the show.
‘Reality’ shows are often scrutinized for authenticity. Are they really real, or did someone script things a little along the way? Or maybe they're 100% unscripted but cleverly filmed to up the ante and increase the drama etc?
Given all of these latent questions, it's pretty fascinating to get behind the scenes a little and discover what really is involved in the production of a show like Chopped.
And let's just say this before we dive in... even the most avid watcher of Chopped may be shocked at some of these 20 untold truths behind the making of it!
20 Producers Attempt To Increase Drama
The producers and the directing team behind the filming of Chopped have been reported to try and increase animosity among contestants at times. This is pretty standard in a reality TV series—just look at Survivor!
However, even with producers potentially on the hunt for a little extra drama and dissent, by and large, most chefs who've appeared on Chopped have done a good job of keeping things civil and supportive. Unlike other industries, in the culinary scene, there appears to be an unspoken code of conduct, which fosters speaking well of fellow chefs and encouragement rather than gloating or finger-pointing.
19 The Judges Are Nice
While the producers are happy for a little extra stress, anxiety, and tension in the show, the judges are reported to be super nice.
The footage that's selected of the appraisals of the food is generally when the judges are most serious, as this also heightens the drama and suspense of the show. However, according to contestants, the judges aren't as high and mighty as they come across in the edited show and, in real life and on set, are friendly, jokey, warm, and encouraging. Even Amanda Freitag has testified that she's more bubbly and fun loving than what's portrayed of her on the show. Good to know that it's not all stern faces and bad graces over there at the Chopped kitchen!
18 The Producers Want Each Contestant To Have ‘A Story’
While one might think that chefs are chosen for their cooking ability alone, it appears the producers of Chopped prefer for contestants to have a story behind them.
Many chefs may simply be inspired to compete in the show from having watched it and for the exposure that it will bring them. But for the sake of good television, it's desirable that each of the contestants come with a unique angle to their reason for wanting to compete. For example, Josh Lewis, who appeared on the show in December 2015, revealed that the producers chose to select his anxiety, and his wish to conquer it, as the motivating force for him wanting to appear on the show.
17 Station Inspection Is Included In The Judging
On screen, the judging of the dishes looks a little different to how it goes down during the competition. For one, the judges include in their decision the state of the contestants' workstations. A clean and orderly workstation post-cooking is a plus, and a station which is a complete mess acts as a minus.
So rather than remaining at the judging table, the judges also go through the stations and assess the condition of them before making their decisions. This increases the time it takes to complete the judging, and the total judging time can take up to 90 minutes!
16 The Judges Have Favorites
Ted Allen revealed that like everybody else who watches the show, he and the judges try and guess from the start who the winner will be and sometimes get it right and, of course, a whole lot of times, get it wrong, too! While the judges may foresee certain contestants going far and potentially winning, the day is a long one, and the mystery boxes are pretty tough, so first impressions don’t guarantee that anybody will win—even if a certain contestant is a favorite with the judges.
15 Contestants Are Well Prepared And Have Help
On screen, it may look like contestants walk in to the show and miraculously cook incredible dishes in the blink of an eye while magically knowing where everything is that they need.
While this is the case in some aspects, like that they do produce amazing dishes in incredibly short time frames, they do have some advantages coming in. For one, the contestants are all top-notch chefs, so the actual cooking is their element. They're given a tour of the pantry so as to know where to locate what they need and are shown where the big appliances are and how to use them. Lastly, each station has the oven preheated and a pot of boiling water ready to go before the clock starts for the competitors.
14 There's An Understudy Chef
They may hardly ever be needed, but for each episode of Chopped, there's a fifth chef in the wings. This fifth chef acts as a kind of understudy and is ready and waiting to step in should one of the contestants not pitch or suffer an injury.
This role of understudy may seem like a sucky position to be in as a chef wanting to compete in Chopped. However, patiently taking that role can garner an aspiring Chopped champion a massive number of tips and amount of insider info. Chefs have been known to understudy multiple times, with Julianne Feder acting as a backup chef for two different episodes of Chopped, which would probably give her a massive edge were she to compete!
13 It Takes 37 Days To Edit One Episode
If one has never dabbled in video editing before, this may sounds nuts. 37 days to edit one 40-minute-long episode of Chopped?
Yup! According to Ted Allen, and he should know, the editing process literally takes 37 days to edit to perfection. The reason why it takes the editing crew so long to edit the footage into the final show is there's such a lot of it! On set, there are around 13 to 14 cameras, each recording for up to 18 hours, which equates to up to 234 hours of tape. To help speed up the editing process, four producers are stationed in the control room, who mark time stamps of must-see sections of footage. But even with this measure, it still takes time to sift through hundreds of hours of footage, select the best, and create the show!
12 18-Hour Days Aren't Out Of The Norm
Chopped is a 40-minute show. However, it can take up to 18 hours to film the entire competition. And the show is always filmed over the course of a single day.
Therefore, contestants have to arrive on set at about 6:00 AM. The shooting of the competition lasts the whole day, and if you're in the final round, you could easily be at it still until 9:00-11:00 PM. Considering contestants probably have to wake up at 3:30-4:00 AM to arrive in time for the early start, this is an incredibly long day. Pair the long hours with the pace and stress of the competition, and it's no wonder some contestants are secretly relieved to be chopped!
11 It's Not As Sad For The Losers As One Thinks
The ‘going home’ scenes on a show such as Chopped can be super sad, and you generally feel pretty sorry for the contestants who didn't make it. Except for the odd person who's simply relieved to ditch the stress and go get some sleep, most chefs are a bit cut up about being 'chopped.' The whole day must be emotionally taxing, and losing can feel like a career failure to many high-achieving chefs. Not to mention, the bummer it must be to miss out on a $10,000 cash prize.
While personally, it can be hard to handle failure, career-wise, losing on Chopped isn't the worst thing. While winners do garner more attention, any appearance on Chopped is likely to boost a chef's career and personal branding and often results in interviews, press coverage, and great placements to come.
10 The Judges Are Sick of Bread Pudding
You'd think that the dishes most dreaded by the judges would be those containing the much-shuddered-over, eww-factor, mystery box ingredients, such as bugs, eyeballs etc. While some judges do cringe with apprehension at the prospect of eating some of the grosser ingredients, it turns out there's something worse to dread.
And that's bread pudding.
At one point in the show, contestants started to make bread pudding (why?) so much in the dessert segment of the show that the judges specifically asked some groups not to make bread pudding as they were so tired of tasting and eating it.
9 The Judges Aren't Given Palate-Cleansing Food
According to contestants, the judges aren't given any palate-cleansing food between dishes or courses. This is a little odd, as it's standard procedure in most tasting processes for judges to cleanse their palate with some food that renders it neutral for the next dish.
The judges do, however, often have a glass of water at their elbow. Water can act as a palate cleanser as long as judges use it! The skill level and experience of the judges on Chopped does, however, indicate that they know what they're doing when it comes to tasting food—and if a judge appears not to cleanse their palate between two dishes, it can simply be because they can feel that their palate doesn't need it at that point.
8 It Often Takes A Long Time To Open the Mystery Boxes
On the show, it looks like everybody receives that box, grabs the lids off, and is gasping in surprise in literally a matter of moments. In real life, however, things play out a little differently.
The mystery box plays a big part in the show’s suspense factor, and filming the expressions on everybody’s faces is part of the build of the episode’s momentum. Sometimes, the film crew have to retake and adjust camera angles to capture the expressions and faces of all of the contestants. They cannot do this once the boxes are open; otherwise, it would give the contestants an unfair amount of time to assess their ingredients. So, for the sake of good TV, the ‘shock and surprise’ comes first, and then, the lid opening comes after that part has been filmed adequately.
7 The Competition Has Gotten Easier
While the competition in the form of other participating chefs has only gotten hotter, the Chopped show has gotten a little easier for contestants. Previously, contestants weren't shown the pantry, which immediately put them onto the back foot and into a spin.
Ingredients such as spices were sometimes hidden, often by other contestants. This was totally allowed and could really wreak havoc with someone’s dish if that ingredient happened to be the one that holds everything together. Some of the ingredients in the pantry also used to be rationed to up the challenge even further. In more recent times, however, these measures have been discarded.
6 The Ovens Aren't All That Great
Everything looks so shipshape in the Chopped kitchen, that it's easy to make the assumption that all the kitchen appliances and equipment are state of the art.
While a lot of it may be, according to one contestant, surprisingly, the ovens in the Chopped kitchen aren't all that great—not terrible, he explained, but the kind of oven that one has to keep an eye on! The grade of chefs who make it into Chopped are probably by and large familiar with rock star ovens that function to a 100% level of perfection, so this is something contestants may need to look out for.
5 Some Contestants Can Be Kept Waiting For Years
An interesting thing that's revealed by former contestants spilling the beans on their experiences on Chopped is the contrast between different people’s signup process.
For Kathy Fang, one of the Chopped winners from 2016, the signup process was “surprisingly easy.” According to her, it consisted of applying; then, a producer Skyped her, and next thing, she was invited in two months' time up to New York for the shoot. For other contestants, it can take a couple of years to get admitted to the competition. And what they're specifically looking for in a contestant isn't crystal clear, as it seems like it has to be a mixture of expertise and backstory!
4 The Show Is Designed To Be Stressful
Tension and drama generally make for good TV and keep people gripped on a show. All shows want lots of views, so in order to keep the watchers glued, the producers seem to design Chopped to be stressful for the contestants. Getting to know the setup and pantry arrangement from scratch, attempting to cook something good with the random and difficult ingredients of the mystery boxes, and cooking under such short time frames all combine to make for a high-cortisol situation for the contestants.
The number of TV cameras ready to film all mistakes, failures, and mishaps can also be stressful for contestants! This combination of stressors works in favor of the producers as they get to catch on film a lot more drama and emotion that otherwise wouldn't come out.
3 The Nondisclosure Agreement Stipulates A $75,000 Fine If Broken
One of the first things chefs will need to do when accepted onto Chopped is to sign their nondisclosure agreement. Dodging all the legalese, the long and short of this agreement is that contestants who accidentally, or intentionally, spill the beans on anything related to the outcome of the show could potentially be having to pay over $75,000 in penalties.
Episodes are often filmed up to a year in advance, so it makes sense that The Food Network is worried that contestants could have more than enough time to leak the show info and ruin the suspense of the episode they featured on.
2 Station Placement Can Have An Impact On Contestants' Chances
Game shows and competitions almost always raise the question of fairness. Is the competition designed in such a way that everybody gets an equal opportunity? Or is it rigged?
While it's unlikely that Chopped is rigged, even though there have been queries over some of the judge’s choices of winners, there's one aspect that can impact the potential outcomes. And that's station placement! According to contestant Brooke Siem, station placement ties in to two key things: proximity to the pantry and proximity to the judges. Proximity to the pantry can play a huge role when it comes to not having to waste time when getting additional ingredients. The further away you are, the more precious minutes will be wasted running back and forth. Proximity to the judges, however, can also be valuable. The judges sometimes drop tidbits of revealing intel that could dramatically improve one’s chance of creating a winning dish.
1 The Food Served To Chopped Contestants Isn't Very Good
This seems rather absurd, but contestants have commented over the years that the food they've eaten on the Chopped set isn't always that great.
One chef that appeared on the show describes the salad that was given to contestants at lunch to be one of worst she's ever had in her life. Sounds like a bad salad! Another contestant says that the food was so bad that none of the chefs ate much of it at all. Although one would understandably associate a cooking show with serving pretty decent food to the crew on-set, it turns out that The Food Network is serviced by an arbitrary off-site catering company… whose food just happens to not be that good!