Chopped Up: Ted’s All-Star Recap, Round Four

by in Shows, March 27th, 2011

In the last round before the finale, four veterans experienced the other side of the chopping block.

The cast and producers of Chopped get this all the time from fans, on Facebook, on the street, at festivals: Yeah, sure, those judges of yours can pick apart a dish all day long—but could they handle the pressure on the HOT side of the chopping block? For four of our judges, this episode finally put that question to rest for good.

From our newest regular critic, Maneet Chauhan, to veterans Amanda Freitag, Geoffrey Zakarian and Aarón Sanchez, the energy and enthusiasm was incredible—and so were the nerves! In the judges’ lounge before the battle, Geoffrey acted cool as a cucumber (as always), but I didn’t believe him. Aarón was hopping up and down with nervous energy and even more bluster than usual—a different person than the sensitive, hilarious judge you see seated at the Block. Amanda confessed to some butterflies, too, but as a formidable competitor who came in third on The Next Iron Chef, we knew she would be vicious at the stove. Maneet, also a NIC veteran, seemed the least ruffled to me.

For me, this battle was the most anticipated of the whole series. But for the judges, it was the most dreaded. It is not easy to criticize the work of your friends, colleagues and peers, face-to-face, on national television, let alone to chop three out of the four, and Alex Guarnaschelli, in particular, was not looking forward to it. But everybody came in knowing that this was for charity and for fun, and that only one Chopped judge was going to come out on top. So we started the clock and got down to business.

Of course, our judge/competitors had a huge advantage over the average Chopped contestant — they’re all top-flight New York City chefs with years of experience, they know the palates of their colleagues, they know the kitchen inside and out, and not only are they not afraid of cameras, they know how to seduce them.

Chef Geoffrey was cool as a cucumber when he arrived on set, but soon enough, the battle got heated.

When fish is in the basket, getting rid of the bones is always a major hazard. Having bitten into plenty of bones at the chopping block, Geoffrey worked hard to avoid subjecting anyone to puncture wounds. His colleagues were less successful in that department. But it was Maneet’s overexuberance with tequila and too-spicy raita that sent her packing. Now, if I may, it is never easy for me to chop somebody (unless that somebody is annoying—which happens). But it was so, so difficult for us to make that first chop of one of our own! Sorry, Maneet; can I still get a reservation at Vermillion? (She promised me yes.)

On to the entrée round: Occasionally on Chopped, we’ll add a few minutes to the clock if a mystery ingredient takes extra time (in this case, whole ducks). But as Geoffrey pointed out, he knows his way around a duck; actually, all three chefs know this venerable bird inside and out. So the basket was very promising. Chef Amanda Freitag has made jokes at the expense of “pantry people” before – those contestants who waste all their time running in circles in the pantry – so it was funny to see her spending so much time shopping for ingredients.

It was an emotional judges table. Aarón created a dish that was so personal that Alex recognized the statement he was making about his craft just by tasting it. The clean plates at the judges table spoke volumes about how difficult the deliberations were going to be. Ultimately, the judges decided that Amanda overdid it a bit with her relish, leaving Aarón and Geoffrey to duke it out in the dessert round.

Aaron faced off against Geoffrey in the dessert round, a never before seen battle of souffle vs. souffle.

Aarón’s fist pump at opening his basket was a good sign for Sanchez fans (Sancheezies?), and understandable, since the beloved Latin favorite, green plantains, were in the mix. But—amazingly—the dessert round turned into a never-before-seen battle of soufflé versus soufflé, the dessert that strikes fear into the hearts of so many cooks, and never more so than when you’re working in a hot room and your dish has to sit a while before consumption, meaning that it is very likely to fall. And this development might lead you to think that Geoffrey would have the advantage, having made countless soufflés at the famous Le Cirque. But Aarón is a Culinary Institute of America-trained master, and he knows a lot more than just tortillas and chiles.

I loved this episode—the genuine competitiveness, coupled with genuine affection, heart and skill. Even at the final moments of the dessert round, Geoffrey shared his powdered sugar with Aarón and the two colleagues-turned-competitors shared a toast when time ran out.

In the final round of deliberations, the judges really struggled with picking one of their own over another; They would have loved to call a tie, but could not be allowed off the hook that easily. And after a seemingly endless dissection of the tiniest details, it came down to degrees of something Geoffrey talks about all the time: Yumminess. Simple crave-ability. And this time, on this day, it was the great Aarón Sanchez who earned the right to carry the Chopped home-team torch into the finale. We were all so excited and proud, from the producers and judges to the production assistants: Get ‘em, Sanchy!

And so, at last, we’re almost there! Next Sunday, April 3, the ultimate Chopped All-Stars face-off: Chefs Aarón Sanchez, Nate Appleman, Anne Burrell and Michael Proietti duke it out, once and for all, to win $50,000 for their favorite charitable organization. Don’t miss it!

Want more of Ted’s witty commentary? Follow @ChopTedAllen on Twitter.

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Comments (92)

  1. Steve says:

    Last nights episode along with last weeks have definitely ruined the credibility of this show for me. Robert Irvine clearly won last weeks and a similar thing happened last night. I believe the judges chose Aaron because his friends wanted to appease his emotional family ties rather then pick the winner based on the food. I'm not watching this show any more.

    • Annoyed by whinnig says:

      wow I will neer understand how people can decide who won when they were not tasting the food, it sounds to me like you are doing exactly what you are accusing the judges of doing, picking your fav and not the food. Since we don't get to taste it we don't know. Very few of these contestants had flaws like what you would normally see because of the caliber of the competitors. You sound like a whinny child who didn't get what they want, it is not a personality contest it is a cooking contest, they ate and made the choice based on what they tasted and just what we saw.

    • Steve F says:

      You may have overlooked the fact that Robert Irvine's dessert was centered on an ingredient not on the basket. Chef Anne properly made the dessert a dish based on the basket. That is why Irvine lost. The statement about who clearly won a cooking contest in which the writer does not taste the food is absurd. The food of both Zakarian and Sanchez appeared wonderful, and the decision should be left to the people who did the tasting.

  2. Jason says:

    Prioretti – Give me a huge boney break!

  3. jjs_angel says:

    I love this episode!! Aaron!!! Whooohoooo!!! I think it will come down to him and Anne and my money (and hopes) are on Aaron!! ;)

  4. Wesley says:

    I can't find my posting, maybe got deleted, I gave Geoffrey a bad tim, aboutnot using the whole duck , uncooked bacon in his pasta, and telling them how. To eat a dessert when he really humiliated a previous chef forthe same thing, he should have been chopped at entree level, he also said that his fish had fallen apart and the pasta had tons of bones, did he take them out of the pasta one by one?

    Would have liked to see Alex and Scott cooking, they should have used previous contestants to do the judging, that would have made it really edgy. Sorry you lost Geoffrey, u met ur match with Aaron, lots of talent and not the big ego.

    Way to go Aaron, my new here.

  5. Ali says:

    I can't find my posting, maybe got deleted, I gave Geoffrey a bad tim, aboutnot using the whole duck , uncooked bacon in his pasta, and telling them how. To eat a dessert when he really humiliated a previous chef forthe same thing, he should have been chopped at entree level, he also said that his fish had fallen apart and the pasta had tons of bones, did he take them out of the pasta one by one?

    Would have liked to see Alex and Scott cooking, they should have used previous contestants to do the judging, that would have made it really edgy. Sorry you lost Geoffrey, u met ur match with Aaron, lots of talent and not the big ego.

    Way to go Aaron, my new here.

    My last two posts are not showing up. I have a feeling someone (G) didn't like it

  6. Ahmet says:

    I will post on the tv show critic page my posts are not being allowed here, it's al PC

  7. Ahmet says:

    I can't find my posting, maybe got deleted, I gave Geoffrey a bad tim, aboutnot using the whole duck , uncooked bacon in his pasta, and telling them how. To eat a dessert when he really humiliated a previous chef forthe same thing, he should have been chopped at entree level, he also said that his fish had fallen apart and the pasta had tons of bones, did he take them out of the pasta one by one?

    Would have liked to see Alex and Scott cooking, they should have used previous contestants to do the judging, that would have made it really edgy. Sorry you lost Geoffrey, u met ur match with Aaron, lots of talent and not the big ego.

    Way to go Aaron, my new here.

    My last two posts are not showing up. I have a feeling someone (G) didn't like it

  8. Bertha Edward says:

    i lllllllooooooovvvvvvvveeeeeeeeee chopped. great chefs! chef-judges, judge-competitors and all. this was so exciting. please keep this show alive like this. ppppllllllllleeeeeaaaasssssseeeeeee. Love Anne, love aaron the more. want them both to win. (if it were at all possible)

  9. Paul B. says:

    The Ina Garten controversy is taking the focus away from the "CHOPPED: All Star Finale" where it should be. This is the Superbowl of competitive cooking and we should start acting like it.

  10. No one has commented on Geoffry" s extraordinary gesture with the powdered sugar at the end. It spoke volumes about the man. I will admit that it changed my opinion of him for good.

    That said, Aaron for the final win!

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