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.

Similar Posts

The Curse of the Deconstructed Dish — Alton’s After-Show

Watch the latest installment of Alton's After-Show to see the host dish with tonight's judge, Antonia Lofaso....

Comments (92)

  1. Anne K says:

    I have LOVED watching the All Stars and can't wait for the Finale! That being said, I think there should be a "Survivor" style ending!! Bring the "Cast" back in for a talk-in session!! Let them tell us how they feel about being on the other side of the counter. Tell us your reflections of being a competitor and, for those that are or will be future judges, has the experience changed you and your judging? Bring it on!! I'd LOVE to hear feedback of how you felt in front of the stove instead of the finished dishes!!

  2. gypsycook says:

    I love this show, it is nice to see those that judge be judged, I always wondered what made them so great and able to pass judgement? I have seen Arron on several shows but other then as judges I don't recall seeing any of the other judges on anything? I don't follow resaraunts I can't eat at so I have never heard of most of the people that judge these things, so it was nice to see them out there with this role reversal, and I would hope it would make them more effective judges next time they are at the table. I would like to see more judges go through this riggors of the shows they judge, I think it would make them much more effective judges if they have been through the run themselves, then they know what it is like and would be more reasonable about what they expect.

    • Paul B. says:

      It is fascinating to learn about the biographies of the judges and chefs on "CHOPPED." I thought that Scott Conant was a bit of a thug, until I learned more about him. There is one degree of separation in the "New York City foodies" scene. Everyone knows everyone else.

  3. ardell brinley says:

    I loved the last show with the judges for cooks and the respect and and their spirit was a joy to watch. Even though all celebrities, the love they show for one another was commendable. I love watching this program. They made the program fun!!

  4. Laura says:

    I have noticed that. They leave you thinking that for sure person A is going to win because person B seemed weaker. The boom, person B wins.

  5. judy richards says:

    Loved the show and can't wait for the finale. My money is on Chef Anne. I appreciate the other finalists but I have watched her on alot of other things and she is killer in the kitchen. She's the one I would be most afraid of if I were competing. I hope there are more seasons of this sort.

  6. Richard Donley says:

    I watched the show for the last time last night, 4/1/11, 4 female chefs. In fact I turned it off. There is no point in having rules if they're ignored. One chef didn't include one of the ingredients and still went forward. While all the others struggled to include all ingredients, and one of them was dis-qualified. Because she played by the rules. It is clear now that the panel, et al, make up their minds of a winner right from the beginning. And to bad for all of the others. You should all be ashamed of your selves.

  7. Margo says:

    Am I wrong or didn't Geoffrey combine fish and cheese in one of his dishes? Isn't this one of the things the judges are always criticizing contestants for? None of the judges brought it up–why?

  8. Kevin says:

    Am I the only one completely disgusted by Scott Conant? His arrogance and pompous demeanor on Chopped is pathetic to me. I have to turn off the program EVERY time he is a judge. He ruins the show for me. I wish Food Network would get rid of him.

    • Sonjah says:

      I have been searching for a place to express my disgust for Scott Conant for the past 25 minutes. He is mean and arrogant!!! He needs to go!

  9. Great post, I think website owners should learn a lot from this website its really user genial . “A happy childhood has spoiled many a promising life.” by Robertson Davies.

  10. Dennis Smith says:

    Tuesday 10 pm episode dessert basket with spagetti, tomatoes, white chocolate, and basil. What a rediculous combination for a dessert. Would you put something like that a menu? I unerstand promoting creativity, but really, be a little more resomable and give then something to work with! I thought that was about the most stupid combination I have ever heard of for a dessert!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>