Behind the All-Star Chopping Block With Alex Guarnaschelli

by in Shows, March 4th, 2011
On Chopped All-Stars, Alex is tasked with judging some good friends.

There’s never been an episode of Chopped that wasn’t intense, but starting this Sunday night, things are about to get crazy. Alex Guarnaschelli is a fixture on the judges’ panel for Chopped All-Stars, where she’ll taste the mystery basket creations of Food Network heavyweights (Robert Irvine, Claire Robinson, Anne Burrell, Duff Goldman), some of The Next Food Network Star’s most memorable finalists (Brad Sorenson, Michael Proietti, Lisa Garza, Debbie Lee), celebrity chefs (Beau MacMillan, Nate Appleman, Jacques Torres, Anita Lo) and even fellow Chopped judges (Geoffrey Zakarian, Aarón Sanchez, Amanda Freitag, Maneet Chauhan).

The chefs will compete in four rounds, tournament-style, and the winner of each will go on to the finale battle on April 3. Before the five-week mini-series kicks off this Sunday at 9pm/8c, we chatted with Alex about what it was like to critique the food of her peers and friends, whether she’d ever throw her own hat in the ring, and the difficulty of Chopped vs. Iron Chef America.

Were these Chopped All-Star battles more intense than “regular” rounds? Or did the chefs come to have fun and play for charity?
Honestly, every episode of Chopped is insanely stressful. When people are colleagues and know each other and then engage in a competition like this, it adds a whole other layer. People are amped up. They want to get along and they also want to win. That really added more complexity and tension, which is cool.

Did you have to judge chefs you know well?
Many. I didn’t enjoy it at all. It’s very painful to factor in. Anyone who competes on Chopped, you end up developing a personal relationship because you go through the whole thing with them. When you add knowing them personally on top of that, it makes decisions much more complicated.

How did you handle that with no hard feelings?
Everybody’s a professional; you know no matter what happens you’ll have a beer after. That helps.

Would you ever compete on Chopped?
Definitely. Being on TV, you’re always putting yourself out there at one point or another. It comes with the territory; you have to have an acceptance of your own strengths and weaknesses. I think to be a complete and whole judge, you need to compete and make yourself vulnerable to criticism, put yourself in their shoes.

What’s the hardest basket you’ve seen throughout the seasons?
So many. Just because you’re a judge doesn’t mean you can do everything perfectly or know everything.

Do you usually think about what you would’ve done with the ingredients?
No, not necessarily. I’m not thinking about what I’d do with the basket; I’m imagining myself in their shoes. I have a lot of empathy for the competitors; that’s very important to me. The judges on Chopped are pretty supportive; I think that’s a lot of what drives the show.

You’ve competed as a challenger on Iron Chef America. Do you think Chopped is harder?
They’re very different. Some days I’d say Chopped; some days I’d say Iron Chef. There are a lot of moving parts to both shows. Chopped always has multiple ingredients and multiple rounds. On the other hand, on Iron Chef you only have one ingredient, but you have to showcase one ingredient in five dishes. For every reason I say Chopped is harder, I could give you one why Iron Chef is harder. They’re both very dynamic and charged, very surprising emotionally. That’s why they resonate with the viewers. I’m interested in that kind of complexity more than whether you can make wasabi and golden raisins edible in five minutes. The emotional components require such drive, adrenaline and courage. Chopped is young, up-and-coming chefs, so it’s different. On Iron Chef, you’ve got somebody like Morimoto, and then you’ve got a young excited kid from Chicago who has a few years of experience under his belt and is looking to win Chopped. So it’s kind of apples and oranges.

Have the bizarre combinations featured on Chopped ever inspired any dishes on your menus?
No, no, no. It makes me think about certain ingredients I wouldn’t have thought to use, but not combinations. Grape leaves, I thought about doing something with them and then saw it in a basket and I was like wow, there’s a lot you can do with it. So it does spark certain things.

Favorite, or most unexpectedly good dish you’ve sampled as a judge?
Many, again. There are many highs, many lows. It’s a show of extremes. Sometimes you taste something and think, how did this happen? Sometimes you can’t believe how magical this is. This is the sixth season….that’s a lot of food.

Catch Round One of Chopped All-Stars this Sunday at 9pm/8c, and check back in with the FN Dish on Monday for a behind-the-scenes recap from host Ted Allen.


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Comments (135)

  1. Lu N. says:

    I too am disappointed in the cast of All Star Chopped. I was hoping to see the 'stars' of the Food Network with a couple of the Iron Chefs thrown in. I also think Chef Anne and Chef Robert should have competed on different episodes.I think they both would have been in the finale. I am still enjoying the show but would have enjoyed it more if they had ALL been stars. I am betting the winner will be one of the Network Stars not the wanna bes. As to Michaels' comment….GET OVER IT. It was an offhand remark that wasn't very tasteful but also wasn't meant to be taken seriously. REALLY PEOPLE!!!!!!!!

  2. Angela says:

    Is it just me, or is Ted Allen crazy sexy?

  3. Marlaina says:

    I love this show so much. If we could only chop out the sappy sob stories while the contestants are being judged.

  4. Roxy Sloane says:

    OK, I love this show but not so fond of the host, Ted Allen. First of all, I think it's pretty clear that he doesn't like women. He always seems to comment on something "wrong" one of the woman chefs did. It pretty consistent. I also think that women don't get a fair shot on this show. I know that most of the world's
    reknowned chefs are men but it just seems one sided on this show. I bet the percentage of winners is much higher for the men. They need a new host. Ted Allen is awful!!!

    • Chris says:

      "Chopped" is the only Food Network competition that my DH and I watch regularly, and Ted Allen is precisely the reason that we enjoy the show. He's intelligent and articulate, and we like Ted's hosting style.

  5. Jan says:

    A chef on Chopped, poached an egg in the shell…..The shell softened & the egg was perfectly & evenly poached …….A perfect globe……This was the week of 6/6/11
    Can you possibly get this fabulous reciepe? The chef had an Oriental cooking backround…..
    Jan in FL


  6. Secret says:

    I think it's funny that I've never seen an african american winner!!!! Ijs

  7. debra says:

    I would like to see FoodNetwork remove Marcus Samuelson as a judge on "Chopped". I have seen him on other shows and on other networks and feel that there are other professionals in the food industry that would better represent the spirit of what this show represents. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express my opinion.

    • lanee says:

      I would love to see all the judges on this program removed, and all the candidates that have lost asked back. They act as thought they have never heard of Carpaccio nor Prosciutto [these are raw, and you can also eat clams, mussels. I can make risotto with my eyes closed the one that they picked should have been thrown out of the window]. I’m afraid I wouldn’t feed it to my dogs. They consistently pick the over cooked dishes. I was raised in the 1950’s, bit we grew all our own food, and I was constantly surprised at the way Americans overcooked their food. This seems to be the problem here, soft shell crabs should be juicy, crispy, drippy, and oh so wrong, eaten whole and taste like heaven. I watched the marathon this weekend and I will never watch again. I can tell from the very beginning the winnner willl be the one with the nasty presentation and the poorly cooked food.. YOU DROPPPED THE BALL!!!

    • Tammy says:

      I agree with you! What I would like to see though on chopped is some of the chef's that chef Guy Fieri puts on his show Diner's, Drive In's and Dives. now those chef's cook some strange things! I think it would be an awesome competition!

  8. hmay311 says:

    Just wondering if anyone else "plays" Chopped at home? I love to go through my copy of Food Lover's Companion and randomly pick ingredients for a round and then devise dishes that will be cohesive and taste good. I have a Chopped notebook that contains my versions of composed dishes. I would love to see a "Chopped Amateurs" episode. I suspect that there are a lot of foodies like me that aspire for the chance to play it for real.

    • candy says:

      What great fun! Will try that with the kids since they love to cook with me. Maybe we could pair up. Thanks for the wonderful food game…By the way, please check out my video on youtube, cooking with candy sizzle reel. Its all about kids in the kitchen!

  9. C. Foster says:

    I really enjoy the Chopped series you have where they uncover the dish that has been eliminated.
    I was so ingolfed in the Sunday afternoon show that I almost missed picking up my daughters from their dance class. I wanted to see whom was going to be the Winner! But I missed it and could not remember which episode it was. You need to Please! Please! Please! Post a "Chopped Winners Board!!!!" or something like it. I could not find the winners on your website. Thanks Very Much! Signed Food Network "Chopped" Junkie. :o)

  10. Valuable info. Fortunate me I found your web site by chance, and I am stunned why this twist of fate didn’t took place earlier! I bookmarked it.

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