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Earlier this week, FN Dish caught up with Aarón Sánchez for a Facebook chat about Season 3 of Chopped All-Stars. Aarón answered questions about the current season and what it was like competing in Season 1. He also chatted about some of his favorite foods and gave some tips on cooking the classic Mexican dish of mole.
Read some highlights from Aarón’s Facebook chat below:
Cheryl Schaeffer: How difficult is it to chop such amazing chefs? The contestants on Chopped All-Stars are the cream of the crop and I’m sure most, if not all, are your friends.
Aarón Sánchez: We are all friends. We all knew each other before doing Chopped together. Chopping a friend is the hardest thing someone can do. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do professionally, to be honest.
Sharon Liss: What is the biggest challenge you face as being a judge on Chopped?
AS: It’s hard to know that three people will walk away disappointed and that I had a hand in that. Chopped is the culmination of people’s dreams. It’s the most difficult part.
Iyleen Ismail: Would you compete again on Chopped All-Stars?
AS: Yes, I would. Absolutely. It’s important for a chef to keep challenging himself or herself.
Bridget M. Caldwell: Who would you like to compete against just for fun?
AS: I would like to take on Geoffrey again. I beat him before. I’d love another chance to take him on.
Dana Lone Hill: On the first season, what would you have done differently in the final round against Nate Appleman? Re: the chocolate cake?
AS: I would have tripped him. Kidding! I would have cooked it less and I would have put a ganache in the middle. I would have made it more like a molten cake.
Eva Bouchard: When it’s more or less a tie, what do you use as the determining factor — taste, creativity, plating or something else?
AS: We take a look at how they utilized the ingredients and decide who did a better job of highlighting the mystery basket ingredients.
Kathryn Wakeford: Do you think some judges are more critical than others? Why do some of them criticize so harshly?
AS: I don’t think some are harsher than others. I think some of us have stronger opinions about certain dishes and ingredients. We’re critical because we’re trying to help these chefs get better. That’s how we were taught and mentored. You don’t do anyone any justice by lying to them. We give them information so they can improve. It’s tough love.
Rebecca Lynn Wieder: If there’s something that you do not like eating, are you forced to eat it or try it since tasting is part of the competition?
AS: Forced is a strong word. There are very few things I don’t like — believe it or not, I’m not the biggest fan of lamb. But I eat everything. It’s my job, and I look at it with an open perspective and an open mind. And that’s why there are three judges. Between the three of us, we’ve seen or experienced each ingredient in those baskets.
Aimee Amodio: How much (if at all) does a contestant’s attitude influence your decision? I think I’d have a hard time separating the personality of the chef from the food itself.
AS: We have to 100% judge the food. We’re adamant about knowing their stories and getting background because it makes us more informed on their point of view with the food. It all relates back to the cooking. We have to judge the food, not the people. It’s the only fair way to do it.
Monica Jancek-Daigle: Have you ever gotten into arguments with the other judges on who the winner is?
AS: We’ve strongly disagreed before. Everything within reason, of course. That’s why there are three of us. There have been times when someone has won when one judge has been in total disagreement.
Melanie Robinson: Are you ever hesitant to taste the dish, considering some of the ingredients?
AS: No, not really hesitant. I’m more excited than anything else. I want to see what these chefs can do.
Tracey Ferrari Posner: How long are the deliberations for each course?
AS: About an hour for the first two courses and up to 2 hours for the last course, because we’re taking into account the whole meal.
Trisha Adams: I was wondering how come the chefs are told they can use a little or a lot of an ingredient, but when they only use a little, you judges say that they should have used more?
AS: It’s a case by case situation. There are some ingredients that should be used sparingly, but the idea is that we as the judges should be able to taste it. If we can’t taste it, you’re going to get called on it.
Bev Schorsch: Has anyone ever gotten so angry that they were let go that you had to retape that portion of the show?
AS: No. When you’re in this situation, if you want to seek 100% of the reward you have to be open to 100% of the disappointment. Sometimes they disagree with our choice but they know we’re qualified to make these decisions. And that’s why it’s so important for fans to be able to see us cook.
Robin Delaney Hanning: Chef, if you were to choose ingredients for an episode, what would you like to see in the basket?
AS: I would like to see masa. I’d like to see quail. I’d like to see agave nectar. And one tough one — I’d like to see tamarind candy.
Erik Weech: Have you ever asked for recipes from contestants, or have you ever created a recipe based on something one of the contestants made from his or her basket?
AS: No, but I’ve gotten some ideas from a contestant. There was one contestant that made a fennel frond pesto. I made a riff on that afterward.
Steve C. Bodiford: Do you eat anything, such as a cracker, or perhaps even orange sherbet, to cleanse your palette in order to have the most accurate taste per round?
AS: I eat apples. It really cleanses my palate in between the dishes.
Cassie McGuiness: Chef, what is your favorite meal to cook at home?
AS: I love roast chicken with garlic and herbs, with a side of roast vegetables.
Evelio Mendez Rodriguez: What is the secret to the perfect mole?
AS: The secret to perfect mole is to toast the chiles properly. It’s very important. Once you have all the ingredients and you’ve followed the process, you have to fry them in lard. That unifies all the flavors.
Take a look inside Food Network Magazine for a tour of Aarón’s mom’s kitchen.