(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Series: Chopped
Where You Can Stream It: Hulu
The Pitch: There are three rounds. Mandatory mystery ingredients for each course. If your dish doesn’t cut it, you will be chopped.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Until recently, food competition shows had a reputation for being cutthroat television, edited for maximum drama and intensity. They weren’t about the food as much as they were about the spectacle that could unfold in the pressure cooker environment like a professional kitchen — and occasionally a fun test for how many exotic ingredients you know. But more genial cooking shows have become all the rage recently, with the influx of nicecore shows like The Great British Baking Show or Nailed It! However, even those shows are less about the food and more about the bright personalities of its contestants or judges. But the Food Network’s insanely addicting Chopped offers the perfect median. A competition show that pits four chefs against each other over three courses, each of which are required to be made with a basket of mystery ingredients, Chopped sounds like it could represent the worst of cooking reality shows. But a panel of strict judges who never fall for the contestant sob story, and a competition that gives loving attention to the dishes and cooking technique, makes Chopped the rare cooking competition show that values the food first and foremost.
Watching Chopped, you wonder if you can ever get tired of a simple formula that never changes from episode to episode. The answer: no. The Food Network show, which debuted in 2009 and became the network’s biggest, most cultish hit, basically took one element of Iron Chef — building a course around a mystery ingredient — and ran with it. And after more than a decade on the air, The Food Network’s reality competition show has honed its formula to perfection.
There’s something gratifying about watching host Ted Allen repeat the same introduction that viewers have heard thousands of times, and which contestants — many of whom dreamed of competing on Chopped — probably have memorized. Something so satisfying in the suspense of watching the clock run down as the judges make their requisite anxious faces, tugging at each other’s shirtsleeves and gasping in shock as a contestant decides to make a vinaigrette with 15 seconds left to spare. Something that never gets old whenever contestants battle it out for that damn ice cream machine.
I have never been into sports, but I imagine it’s something like watching Chopped. It’s intense, hair-pulling television that is never above creating a little drama — they really could give the contestants another fryer, but we all know it wouldn’t be as fun — but you can tell the contestants, the judges, and the producers genuinely love food. There wouldn’t be as much care put into the basket ingredients, or give us as many mouth-watering shots of the finished dishes, if they didn’t love food. And yes, you’ll get at least one contestant with a sob story (be it a disapproving father, a horrible accident, or a previous life of hardship) each episode, but as much as that can move the judges, it won’t influence their judgments of the food. These are professionals critiquing professional (unless you have an amateur chef themed episode), and it feels like it. Chopped is formulaic, for sure, but knowing what to expect, and waiting for Alex Guarnaschelli’s latest harsh takedown of a dish, makes it the coziest of comfort television.
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