Ted Allen takes us behind the scenes at Food Network's 'Chopped'
- "Chopped" host Ted Allen gives us a taste of what it's like on the set of the Food Network's intense cooking competition.
- After 10 years of making "Chopped," they've got it down to a science.
- There are around 12 camera operators capturing every square inch of the studio.
- Each round is scrupulously timed, and the mystery basket ingredients are a complete surprise to the contestants.
Ted Allen: We are throwing them into the deep end of the pool, and we wanna see what happens. And that's where the excitement comes from. Our show is totally real.
My name is Ted Allen, I'm the host of the show "Chopped" on the Food Network. I had never been on camera before I was on Queer Eye, and somehow, I know that TV cameras freak a lot of people out, it's just never bothered me. When I'm doing "Chopped," I'm just being me.
We have a rotating array of nine judges, who have become just fast friends, we're all so close. We're so passionate about food. All we have to do is show up on time, and talk about cooking techniques, and ingredients that we love, and ingredients that we don't love, and how things might be put together best. And the proof is on the plate, you know. So, if it's good, it's good, and it's not, see ya.
The casting actually is quite a complicated process. We're looking for chefs who are interesting and colorful, and that have great skills. We want people from all over the country, every possible walk of life, different ages. We wanna have plenty of women and plenty of men. And it's harder than it might seem. As difficult as it is to do the show, to compete on the show, it never ceases to amaze me how many people wanna do it.
TV is a little more complicated to make than it is to watch, and TV that involves food is particularly complicated because, obviously, everything has to be safe, and fresh. It's about a 12-hour day to make a 46-minute show.
Someone has to decide what ingredients are going into the baskets. Every basket has a riddle in it, that is known to the people who make the basket. I doubt that in a 20-minute cooking round, many of the chefs figure out that riddle. They just start chopping. But, if we give you say, silken tofu, and lavash bread, and tomatillos, maybe we're looking for a riff on grilled cheese and tomato soup. Good luck figuring that out.
I get picked up at 6:30 in the morning, which is much too early. So we get there, we have a little breakfast, I get into wardrobe, I read my script, and make sure I'm happy with it and change a few things here and there. For a regular episode, I'm up there by about eight.
The first round is 20 minutes, the second and third rounds are each 30 minutes, but there are a whole lot of shots that have to be shot before those rounds can begin. There are so many different angles that we have to shoot. We've got something like 10, 12 cameras going.
Some of the most dramatic moments in a competition like "Chopped" happen unexpectedly. For example, let's say somebody drops a steak on the floor, and they decide to go ahead and serve it anyway. We need to make sure that we have a shot of that steak hitting the floor, and that's why we need the coverage from so many cameras because we don't reenact things. We don't stage things, and we have to capture everything.
The rounds are scrupulously, strictly timed, and people have exactly 20 or 30 minutes to get done. If they're not done, too bad. There are actually laws about shooting game shows that have cash prizes. There are strict rules about the way these shows are run, and you have to live by those rules. First of all, the chefs do not know what's in the mystery baskets. Scrupulously, that is kept from them. They open the basket, they typically have about two minutes before they have to start cooking.
With the ingredients that are in each mystery basket, we're looking for variety, we're looking for, we wanna represent different ethnic cuisines, we wanna represent American favorites. I think the audience likes it best when the basket ingredients are horrifying. We've had pickled pig lips on.
We're lucky enough to be shooting in New York City, which has markets that sell absolutely everything. There is at least one shop in Chinatown that sells nothing but mushrooms. New York is such a great food capital that we can get anything we need.
Once in a while, we'll give people a basket that looks like it's a slam dunk, you know, New York strip steak, and potato, and some cheddar cheese. And it seems like the easier the basket, the worse the dishes. It seems like the chefs almost need to be challenged with, you know, something really scary like a whole chicken in a can.
We have to base our decisions on what is on the plate. Sometimes, the winner of a "Chopped" competition is not our favorite person. You can't base the decision on who is popular, who is charming, who is cute. You can't. The rules sort of save us from that. If somebody omits a mystery basket ingredient, that's a huge mistake, but somebody else maybe could burn two of the ingredients, or undercook one of the ingredients, and burn another, and we find ourselves asking all the time, "What is the greater crime?"
Cooking can definitely be dangerous. There are flames, there are sharp edges, there's a small amount of counter space. We have surprisingly few injuries, and what we've had have always been minor.
I've been doing this for 10 years, and I never get bored with it. The only problem I have with hosting "Chopped" is that my feet hurt. Whenever you start a show, there's no guarantee of success, and so they typically will order a modest number of episodes, I think our first order was 13 episodes. We had no way of knowing what our longevity was gonna be, or whether people would embrace it.
I think "Chopped" succeeds in part because of the excitement and the tension. We're forcing them to cook with ingredients that they didn't get to choose. But I also think that all of us who cook have had those nights when the kids are screaming for something, and you haven't had a chance to go to the market, and you open up the fridge, and you have to make do with what you have.
I love working at Food Network for a lot of reasons. I think probably my favorite aspect is - the relationships that I've built with all these really, really talented chefs. And, I mean, I have Alex Guarnaschelli's phone number. If I have a problem with a recipe, I can text her. I also think that our judges are super knowledgeable, very entertaining, funny.
We've had a little bit of foment in our judges' ranks and our most recent acquisition, Martha Stewart, I think is a very, very exciting one. I've been a fan of hers for 25 years, and now I get to work with her, it's amazing. I'm super grateful, super proud, I love our team, it's a well-oiled machine, really great people, and led almost entirely by women, which I think is exciting in television, and we're happy to keep making them as long as you wanna watch 'em.
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