I’m hooked on Food Network’s TV program Chopped.
Maybe obsessed would be a more apt description. I can’t get enough. For those of you who may not share my obsession, Chopped is a cooking competition show where chefs compete to turn mystery ingredients inside a basket into a culinary dish. The hope is for the chef to create a dish that wows the judges and keeps them from getting eliminated, or better known as chopped. The last chef standing, who didn’t get chopped, wins $10,000.
Although cooking plays a part, creativity, thinking outside the bun, handling defeat and success, and learning the correct pronunciation of foods adds to the show’s interest.
The chefs never know what the mystery ingredients might be. Perhaps canned jack fruit, candy hearts, buttermilk, macadamia nuts, miso paste, figs, fish lips or frog legs. The fun starts when a chef takes the fish lips and pulverizes them in the blender along with buttermilk and figs to create Fish Lip and Fig Mousse Reduction.
The judges taste the culinary creations. They always find something nice to say before they slam the dish. “Too salty.” “Not cooked.” “Sloppy presentation.” “Burned bits among your potatoes.” One judge says to a chef, “Your salad is drowning in olive oil.” The chef retorts, “My grandmother always used a lot of olive oil on her salad.” (Take that, judge. Grandma knows best.) Lesson here is if you want to win, you don’t correct a judge. Soon after, the judges chopped this chef.
The judges seem to delight in their honest critiques. “The pork is not caramelized.” Or, “The pork is not cooked and I don’t find that appealing.” Alex, my favorite judge, critiques with feeling and metaphor. “Your bell peppers roll into town and take no prisoners,” she says. “And your lemon slice doesn’t do it for me.” Food speaks to Alex. “I learned something from your dish,” she remarks to a chef. If Alex can learn from food, you can too. Rice wrappers and chia seeds will teach you something if you pay attention.
As the chefs listen to the judges blast their creations, they nervously bite or lick their lips. Some chefs feel the need to prove they’re dish has no fault. One says, “That’s how it’s supposed to be just as you have it.” Other chefs need to enlighten the judges on their faulty judgment. “The juniper berries bring out the flavor. They in no way overpower the dish as you said!”
Other chefs offer no response but shoot menacing glares that seem to convey, “Don’t chop me. Remember I’m the one with the set of knives.”
Not to forget the chefs who actually say thank you after a harsh critique. A few offer humility. “I’ll do better next time.” Translation: “Make sure I have a next time.”
As the judges and chefs banter about, viewers build their food vocabulary. Frisée, the curly endive so fancy you could wear it in your hair, is fre-zaaay. And the not-so-fancy tempeh is tem-paaay. Do you say quin-oh-wa-wa-wa? If you do, that’s an F on your food exam. Quinoa is pronounced keen-wah. And fois gras is fwah-grah, which makes you want to say ooh la la la for fois gras..
Accepting loss graciously, and accepting that life isn’t perfect−that’s what the show is really about.
When a chef is chopped, the true colors come out. “I’m shocked,” says one. In other words, “I’m too good to be chopped. What’s wrong with you judges?” Another chopped chef says, “I thought you’d pick him (points to the guy standing next to him). I think I was the better chef.”
It all comes down to the this. Receiving feedback well reminds us, (the viewers), it’s okay to have flaws—imperfection is part of being human because even the best chefs prepare food with textural elements missing, a lack of crunch, and marinated beets that don’t harmonize with the other components of the dish.
Take the critique and go out with grace. And if you can work on the flaw without getting down on yourself, or the judges, you’ll experience far more happiness, peace, and enjoyment. That’s what I get out of Chopped.
After all, the celebrated chefs on Chopped, who have had 25 years of experience in upscale restaurants never serve the perfect dish. The judges always find a flaw.
Judge to chef: “Your dish lacks cohesiveness and is a car wreck of flavor.”
And the judges always award an imperfect chef with $10,000 and the status of Chopped champion.
That’s right. You can be imperfect and win. So go ahead. Dip potato chips in chocolate, whip miso paste in your mascarpone and for fun practice saying edamame (edda-maw-may).
Be creative. You’ll make mistakes, but as Jerry often says, “You only fail if you don’t try.”
Let’s see now, what time is it? 4 p.m. Only three more hours until Chopped comes on.