Skip to main content

The Daily Beast: "Chopped: Why I’m Obsessed with Food Network’s Reality Competition Show"

Food Network’s Chopped returns for its fifteenth season. I write about why sea cucumbers, speculoos, and lacinato kale--on the surface, ingredients which many of us have never heard of--matter.

At The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, "Chopped: Why I’m Obsessed with Food Network’s Reality Competition Show," in which I I write about my insatiable obsession with Food Network's Chopped, and how the competition show brings a deeper and richer awareness of food and culinary diversity to the public at large.

When the Food Network, the culinary-themed cable network available in approximately 99 million American homes and 150 countries around the globe, launched Chopped in 2009, no one could have imagined the eventual impact the show would have.

And by no one, I mean me.

I was initially less than enthusiastic about Chopped—a culinary competition show featuring four chefs squaring off by cooking an appetizer, entrée, and dessert from various mystery basket ingredients—during the early part of its run. I complained about the under-lit sets, the under-enthusiastic judges, the under-utilization of knowledgeable foodie host Ted Allen. I compared it unfavorably to Bravo’s Top Chef, from which it had appeared to borrow its overall conceit.

Over time, Chopped course-corrected: the set now no longer looks like it’s perpetually twilight, and the judges—a selection of well-known and well-respected chefs and restaurateurs—are now very much engaged and invested in the action in front of them. As for host Ted Allen … well, I always wish the show’s producers would give him something to eat, or at least offer him a chair.

I came back to Chopped a few years ago to discover the show’s transformation from staid and predictably over-produced competition show into something more intriguing and rewarding: a show that celebrated the competitive nature of chefs and brought a level of awareness—of technique, of ingredients, of culinary passion and poise—to a wider audience than ever before.

Years ago, Food Network’s primetime lineup was overflowing with how-to cooking programs. In the late 1990s, you couldn’t flip on the channel without seeing Emeril Lagasse or Ming Tsai or Bobby Flay preparing a dish, step by step, for the viewers. There was even a live call-in program, Cooking Live Primetime, hosted by Sara Moulton, which often featured sommeliers and wine experts in the mix. It was approachable, accessible, and most definitely focused on viewers who understood food and its preparation.

Over time, the network subtly changed its remit; in more recent years, it is stocked with various culinary competition shows, programming that places the emphasis more on competition (whether it be cupcakes, elaborate cakes, chocolate structures, new program hosts, etc.) than the food, per se. It wasn’t necessarily food television for foodies, but rather escapist fare for people who might derive more enjoyment from watching people cook than cooking themselves. (A spinoff network, the Cooking Channel, was created in 2010 to service the latter group.)

Chopped, however, occupies a unique strata within the world of Food Network. It might, like its similarly themed brethren (the terrifying Sweet Genius, for example), be a reality competition show in the vein of Top Chef, but Chopped manages to be absolutely riveting television that educates, informs, and thrills at the same time.

Four chefs enter the kitchen; one is crowned the Chopped Champion at the end, having gone through three courses and no less than a dozen mystery ingredients, ranging from the mundane (leftover pizza) to the sublime (abalone). The clock is relentless as they churn out dish after dish, being judged on creativity, taste, and presentation. Egos flare, tempers simmer over, and occasionally true culinary genius and ingenuity is glimpsed.

Continue reading at The Daily Beast...

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Katie Lee Packs Her Knives: Breaking News from Bravo's "Top Chef"

The android has left the building. Or the test kitchen, anyway. Top Chef 's robotic host Katie Lee Joel, the veritable "Uptown Girl" herself (pictured at left), will NOT be sticking around for a second course of Bravo's hit culinary competition. According to a well-placed insider, Joel will "not be returning" to the show. No reason for her departure was cited. Unfortunately, the perfect replacement for Joel, Top Chef judge and professional chef Tom Colicchio, will not be taking over as the reality series' host (damn!). Instead, the show's producers are currently scouring to find a replacement for Joel. Top Chef 's second season was announced by Bravo last month, but no return date has been set for the series' ten-episode sophomore season. Stay tuned as this story develops. UPDATE (6/27): Bravo has now confirmed the above story .

BuzzFeed: Meet The TV Successor To "Serial"

HBO's stranger-than-fiction true crime documentary The Jinx   — about real estate heir Robert Durst — brings the chills and thrills missing since Serial   wrapped up its first season. Serial   obsessives: HBO's latest documentary series is exactly what you've been waiting for.   The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst , like Sarah Koenig's beloved podcast, sifts through old documents, finds new leads from fresh interviews, and seeks to determine just what happened on a fateful day in which the most foul murder was committed. And, also like  Serial  before it,  The Jinx may also hold no ultimate answer to innocence or guilt. But that seems almost beside the point; such investigations often remain murky and unclear, and guilt is not so easy a thing to be judged. Instead, this upcoming six-part tantalizing murder mystery, from director Andrew Jarecki ( Capturing the Friedmans ), is a gripping true crime story that unfolds with all of the speed of a page-turner; it

BBC Culture: Matthew Weiner: Mad Men’s creator on its final episodes

The creative force behind the period drama talks about where his characters are as his show begins its final episodes. “We left off with everyone’s material needs being met in an extreme way,” says Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner of where we last saw the characters on his critically acclaimed period drama when the show went on hiatus 10 months ago. “Then the issue is, what else is there?” That is the central question with the return to US TV of the AMC hit, one demanding to be answered by both the show’s characters, and its creator whose success is the envy of the television industry. Mad Men has been a defining part of Weiner’s life for the last 15 years. He wrote the pilot script on spec while he was a staff writer on CBS’ Ted Danson sitcom Becker in 1999, using it to land a writing gig on HBO’s The Sopranos in 2002. It would take another five years, filled with multiple rejections, before the first episode of Mad Men would make it on the air. Someone with less determination or vision