Needless to say, the judges on Chopped know a thing or two about cooking, so watching from the sidelines gives them a unique perspective on the competition. With Food Network’s exclusive Web series Chopped After Hours, they have the opportunity to leave behind the judging table and cook with the same mystery basket ingredients that have sent competitors home. On Tuesday, August 26 at 11|10c, Chopped After Hours is coming to television in a special episode.
Tag: Chopped After Hours
“This is not the little piggy that went to market,” says Ted. “This is the star of our food truck and food cart entree round.” Amanda, Aarón and Scott are taking on the ingredients from tonight’s episode: whole sucking pig, fiddlehead ferns, kebab sauces and corn tortillas. All the judges are excited to work with the basket, as Amanda points out, “because there are so many options.” Scott, though, jokes that Aarón is probably going to make tacos because there are tortillas — and, well, Scott’s right.
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Amanda, Aarón and Scott take on the appetizer-basket ingredients from tonight’s episode. The ingredients include cherry drink pickles, lamb chops, kale chips and ricotta salata. Creating an appetizer out of these ingredients is all about finding the right balance and proportion — after all, it is an appetizer. The teen chefs learned, though the hard way, that cooking lamb chops on the bone isn’t possible in such a short amount of time, so quick thinking is necessary, especially when it comes to forming a plan B or C.
In an episode of Chopped After Hours, Maneet, Marc and Aarón entered the Chopped kitchen to cook with the entree basket ingredients: chocolate cake pops, white chocolate cocoa mix, quail and serrano chiles. On the show, the three chef-competitors all seemed to have the most trouble with incorporating the chocolate cake pops, mainly because of their cakey centers. But not so for the judges, who used the pops in a marinade, mole sauce and stuffing — all their dishes proved to be enhanced by the chocolate treat. In the end Ted was amazed by all of their dishes: “I never would have thought cake pops and quail would have been so tasty.”
He combined these disparate products — some fresh, others prepared and bottled — into a one-pot Bolognese-inspired sauce. While these ingredients may have lent themselves to this type of preparation better than most others, Alex couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if the flavors didn’t meld well when combined. “Seems like you’re putting the whole basket into one thing,” Alex told him. “What if it doesn’t work out?” He answered simply with a smile: “You punt. At that point, I’m just going to eat Geoffrey’s sandwich.”
When Chopped competitors are presented with a mystery basket that contains a very specific ingredient, for example, pizza dough, what you’ll oftentimes get is four different iterations of the same dish. But not so with the Chopped judges — their creativity takes pizza dough to new heights. Facing the same entree basket as the contestants from Chopped: Pizza Perfect, judges Amanda, Geoffrey and Alex took up spots in the Chopped Kitchen for an After Hours competition where they cooked with deep-dish pizza dough, rabbit escabeche, Swiss chard and pineapple cheese spread.
On the show, none of the three competitors in the entree round thought outside of the box — or the pizza pan, in this instance. The chef who was ultimately chopped went home for a pizza that had everything wrong with the dough. Amanda, Geoffrey and Alex immediately looked at the challenge as an opportunity to show these chefs the possibilities with pizza dough. Although one of them did make a pizza, it was cooked in an unconventional way.
On the show, the chef competitors did their best with the baskets they were dealt, but some didn’t transform every single ingredient to its full potential. Marc, Maneet and Aarón immediately jumped into the cooking, diving right into working with the pig’s feet, which required the most care to transform. The goal was to incorporate the pig’s feet while also disguising any of the ingredient’s negative attributes.
When it comes to chefs working with mystery basket ingredients, the Chopped judges look for creativity and, above all, an expert incorporation of all the ingredients into one harmonious dish. And sometimes it takes a bit of playing with one’s food to achieve that, or in this case playing with fire. Facing the same dessert basket as the contestants from Chopped: Firefighter Chefs, the judges accomplished exactly that. Alex, Scott and Amanda took up spots in the Chopped Kitchen for an After Hours competition where they cooked with wafer sheets, lemon soda, vanilla pudding cups and a blowtorch.
On the show, the final two competitors were able to make great strides with the ingredients, but neither of them truly created a unified dish. The one whose dish was found to be the most disjointed was ultimately chopped. Alex, Scott and Amanda looked at the ingredients as an opportunity to create unique desserts and the blowtorch as an enhancer of flavor. Alex went the extra mile in using it to char a savory ingredient for her dessert, which impressed her fellow judges the most.
For host-turned-competitor Ted, that meant “a very traditional Thanksgiving turkey and dressing,” he explained to Maneet, Chris and guest host Alex. To make sure he’d have time to cook such a large bird, Ted worked with only a segment of the meat and let the stuffing be a shining element on his plate. “My favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is the stuffing or the dressing.” Ted said, noting that his offering was a “straight-up sage stuffing.” He added, “I tried to make it look a little nicer by putting it in a mold, which sort of worked.”
Certain culinary tactics are required when it comes to working with an ingredient that’s not so desirable. That’s when chefs — especially Chopped competitors — pull out all the stops in the kitchen. But success isn’t guaranteed. It takes a lot of skill and creativity to transform an unwanted ingredient, whether by elevating it or disguising it. That’s exactly what the judges accomplished with the appetizer baskets from the special Chopped: Redemption episode. Marcus, Amanda and Aarón took up spots in the Chopped kitchen for an After Hours competition where they faced cooking with vegan lobster, chop suey, hot mustard and winter melon.
On the show, the competitors all made dishes that incorporated the basket ingredients rather well, whether it was a salad, soup or stir-fry. Ultimately the chef whose preparation didn’t disguise the unwanted flavor of one of the basket ingredients was chopped. The judges attacked the basket ingredients with the same fervor, knowing what mistakes not to make. Marcus and Aaron both made dishes that disguised the vegan lobster and incorporated all the basket ingredients. Amanda decided to highlight the vegan lobster with flavors that brought it up to nearly the level of actual lobster, which proved to be very successful.