Yahoo! TV Q&A: Ted Allen reveals the secrets behind 'Chopped'
If you're a fan of the adrenaline-packed culinary competition series "Chopped," in which chefs must make a gourmet three-course meal against the clock with a gaggle of often-wacky mystery ingredients ranging from figs and fruit punch to cookies and cod, you probably have some of the same questions we do.
With all that cooking and cleanup, how long does an episode take to shoot? How do the dishes stay hot by the time they hit the judges' table, and doesn't host Ted Allen get hungry watching everyone else eat? Yahoo! TV talked to Ted Allen to get the inside scoop.
You don't see contestants behaving badly much on "Chopped," like you do on other reality competition shows. Why do you think that is?
Yes, to our enormous disappointment, that's true. Despite the competitive streak, there also is a code in the kitchen that you help one another. And while people who are competing don't usually help each other, it's just not cool to talk too much smack about someone. Most mature chefs aren't going to do that on TV. We've tried for ages to get them to sabotage one another (laughs), and they just won't do it. We put them in that sequester room for long periods of time, and while they're in there, they bond.
Do the chefs really have no idea ahead of time what ingredients are in the mystery baskets?
That is absolutely true. They do not know what the food is. We do, but they don't. We want them to be shocked. We've set it up very carefully so that when they open the baskets, we have all 10 cameras right in their faces to catch reactions from every angle we can.
How long does it take to shoot one episode?
It takes 12 hours to shoot one show, which always surprises people. I think people would be really surprised about what a huge production it is. We have 75 people working while we're there.
Who makes those generic labels we see on all the pantry and fridge ingredients?
We make our own labels because we don't want to give attention to products that aren't advertising, I assume. We have a graphic designer who sits there right next to the "Chopped" kitchen and prints out with this elaborate printer all of these crazy labels that she's designed. Wouldn't that be a fun job? She really gets into it. She makes the packaging look really fun.
After the contestants cook a course, how does the food stay hot until the judges taste it?
When you're a judge on a competition show, you have to get, real quick, accustomed to eating cold food. The way you deal with that is the minute we cut after a cooking round, the judges get up from the chopping block, and they go over to the stations and they taste things that are hot. You can't mess up the plates, but you can taste to see whether something is crispy, whether something is cooked through, taste the sauce before it has congealed or anything. But these people know how to judge food. It's something that really concerns the chefs, and we have to assure them, "Don't worry about it. We're not going to penalize you for that."
How long does it take the judges to decide who will be chopped each round?
Typically about 20 minutes or so, unless there's a fight or if there's an issue around disqualification involving rules or if something controversial happens.
The show is focused on these dishes that the chefs create and the judges get to taste. But we never see you eat anything! Don't you get hungry?
If it does look especially good, I'll sneak some in between shots. Monique, Mark Murphy, and Amanda Freitag are all very nice and save me a little bite. But you have to also understand that "Chopped" is ridiculously difficult. It's pretty hard to make a tasty dish under those conditions, so it's not every dish that I really want. We shoot in Chelsea Market [in New York City]. I can order up lobster rolls, a bowl of chili, really good pizza. So I'm good.
What's something else viewers don't know about the show?
The judges and I tell very risqué jokes, but you don't see it because Food Network is very G-rated.
What's the worst dish any contestant ever created?
We had a pork shoulder, and it was probably a 3- or a 5-pound piece of it, and somebody tried to put that in a food processor. Cut it in chunks and put it in a food processor and turned it on, where it immediately became the color of bubble gum. Puréed raw pork. That didn't work. You don't want a pork smoothie, you know. That was just a bad call.
Round 1 of "Chopped Champions" premieres Tuesday, 1/15 at 10 PM on Food Network.