by Maria Russo in Shows, September 17th, 2013
by Maria Russo in Shows, July 30th, 2013
Chris Santos, Geoffrey Zakarian and Scott Conant may be revered judges on Chopped
and three of the most celebrated chefs and restaurateurs in New York City, but when they come together in the Chopped kitchen for a friendly face-off, they don’t hesitate to let their sillier sides show. On tonight’s all-new Chopped After Hours
, the guys, led by host Ted Allen, were greeted with leftover ingredients — lasagna, a hamburger, a fortune cookie and steamed broccoli — and only 20 minutes on the clock to give these precooked dishes a second chance on a plate. While Chris, Geoffrey and Scott surely let their culinary chops shine in making such inspired dishes as a breaded lasagna bite, an Italian-focused sandwich and a family-friendly frittata, respectively, they weren’t shy about having fun with each other.
Just minutes into cooking, Ted and Chris took advantage of the opportunity when Scott was away from his station to playfully mess with the chef, hiding from him his chopped burger patty. “Someone stole my hamburger!” he exclaimed later, before Ted advised him to check beneath his station to find his missing ingredient.
by Maria Russo in Shows, July 2nd, 2013
Although he’s overseen hundreds of rounds of Chopped
, Ted had never before cooked in the kitchen, and he didn’t know the experiences of manipulating mystery ingredients, running through the pantry or competing against the clock firsthand. Until tonight, that is. In his first foray into battle against the Chopping Block, Ted went head-to-head-to-head with Marc and Maneet in an After Hours
competition, while Chris filled his hosting shoes for the day. Ted and the judges watched three chef-competitors attempt a basket of crab legs, sweet vermouth, green asparagus and Mexican wedding cookies, before they, too, tried their hands at those ingredients with only 30 minutes on the clock.
Ted may have been the rookie contestant in the kitchen, but that didn’t stop him from tackling an ambitious dish of crab cakes, especially since the crab was frozen at the start of the battle. He quickly boiled it, making the meat easier to work with, before getting started on a vermouth vinaigrette. As is often the case among the chefs, he faced a potentially damning problem with just minutes left to cook, when his vinaigrette broke in the blender. Per the advice of peer and guest host Chris, however, Ted remade the mixture, and in the end, “it totally made the dish,” according to Chris.
by Maria Russo in Shows, June 18th, 2013
The beauty of After Hours
competitions is that by the time the judges try their hands at four mystery ingredients, they are, in fact, not mysteries at all, having been revealed to the panel during the show when the competitors opened their baskets. The judges saw what the chefs did to transform the disparate ingredients into one cohesive dish and often recognize where they made missteps in their executions and where there is potential for improvement. After watching the entree round in tonight’s all-new episode of Chopped
, judges Amanda Freitag, Marc Murphy and Marcus Samuelsson took what the young competitors did with goat leg, rhubarb, frisee and hummus and used their successes, not failures, to motivate their own cooking.
Aarón Sánchez was on hand to guest judge this round, and he encouraged the panel to elevate the teens’ already stellar dishes into something even more worthy of the Chopped Kitchen. “The flavors that they were able to get onto these dishes were absolutely amazing,” Marcus said of the teens’ offerings while cooking his own plate. “It actually inspired me to a do a really good job right now.” He set off to prepare grilled goat leg with a potato salad and bacon-studded red wine-rhubarb sauce, while Amanda and Marc prepared meatballs with rhubarb-tomato sauce and roasted goat with potato salad and grilled lettuce, respectively. After a quick 30 minutes of cooking, the panel came together to taste each other’s dishes, and Aarón admitted to his peers, “You guys did almost as good as the teenagers.” They agreed that their offerings were inspired examples of how to integrate dissimilar ingredients. “I love the way they cooked, and I hope we made them proud and gave them some new ideas,” Amanda ssaid at the end of the competition about the teenagers.
by Maria Russo in Shows, June 16th, 2013
In most Chopped baskets, it’s the meaty protein or shellfish that trips up competitors, what with these ingredients that tend to be difficult to break down, clean, and cook properly and fully in a hurry. But in tonight’s brand-new episode of Chopped, the contestants found themselves with vegetarian baskets, which meant that when it came time for an After Hours competition, judges Alex Guarnaschelli, Amanda Freitag and Marc Murphy were challenged to create entrees using golden beets, wheatgrass, tempeh and etrog citron.
While Alex and Marc admitted to being unfamiliar with cooking and eating these kinds of ingredients, Amanda told them, “I eat this stuff,” and she later admitted to being “a closet vegetarian.” For all three judges, the challenge was offering dishes that were both bold and hefty enough to be filling. Amanda stuck to a classic preparation of tempeh by featuring it in a spiced stew with curry, while Alex treated the tempeh like rice, turning it into a risotto-style plate with mushrooms and citrus. Marc, however, known for his fondness of meat-and-potatoes classics, made a tempeh-based burger that was anything but vegetarian, thanks to beef broth and bacon. After tasting each of their offerings, guest host Aarón told them: “I’m not crying for meat right now. You made satisfying meals that really sort of constituted a complete dish.”
by Maria Russo in Shows, May 7th, 2013
In the last After Hours
judges tried their hands at ingredients that collectively proved to be some of the most common ever featured on the show, and their experience with them was a challenge in and of itself. Similarly, on tonight’s all-new battle, judges Alex Guarnaschelli, Aarón Sánchez and Marcus Samuelsson faced a basket with one particularly demanding ingredient: lobster bisque. In the same way that the last group of judges had to transform the familiar, Alex, Aarón and Marcus had to redefine something that was already a finished dish.
“I think that’s the hardest [ingredient] right there,” guest judge Amanda Freitag said of the bisque, “’cause someone made it already. And maybe they made it too creamy, too thick.” Her peers understood what she meant by that, and they each went to great lengths to transform the bisque into something else, instead of simply warming it and serving it as-is. Aarón and Alex treated the bisque as the base of their sauces, guajillo and marinara, respectively, while Marcus used the bisque as the building block of another bisque. He added yogurt and white wine to the basket ingredient in an effort to increase its “sourness,” and cooked it with squid, potatoes and daikon radish. What resulted was a “completely complex” offering, according to Aarón .
by Maria Russo in Shows, April 30th, 2013
The Chopped judges have seen their share of odd, uncommon ingredients come out of the mystery baskets — haggis, goat brains and shad roe sack, to name a few. But sometimes what trips up the competitors more than any strange products is a selection of ordinary ingredients, like eggs, flour tortillas and apples. If the competitors are judged on their abilities to use the basket ingredients, they’ll have to think beyond omelets, tacos and fruit salads, for example, if they want to avoid the Chopping Block.
On tonight’s all-new episode of Chopped, judges Alex Guarnaschelli, Maneet Chauhan and Marc Murphy welcomed four moms to the kitchen with baskets of familiar ingredients that home cooks would likely use. In the entree round, that meant a spread of mustard greens, pork butt, red quinoa and carrot baby food — products that, while perhaps difficult for these nonprofessional cooks, should have been a cinch to prepare for the chef-judges, who later tried their hands at this very basket.
Alex admitted that, with the exception of the baby food, “It’s like a nice, innocent little basket.” But that didn’t stop her and the rest of the panel from facing some of the same challenges the moms did, like how to make a tough piece of pork tender and how to quickly cook quinoa with limited time. During their friendly face-off, Marc resorted to using a meat grinder to break down the pork and make it into meatballs. Maneet incorporated the meat into a casserole-style dish, and Alex took advantage of almost every second of the competition to fully cook her quinoa.
by Maria Russo in Shows, April 28th, 2013
“Use a little or a lot; I heard Ted say it before,” Marc Murphy told substitute host Alex Guarnaschelli during tonight’s premiere episode of Chopped After Hours. He and his competitors, fellow judges Aarón Sánchez and Chris Santos, opted to use only one portion of what was unquestionably the out-of-place ingredient in tonight’s mystery basket: coconut-chocolate bars. With just 30 minutes to cook an entree with the candy, plus pink beans, sofrito and striped bass, the guys didn’t have time to incorporate the bar as a whole, so they picked out of it elements that would be successful in their dishes. For Marc, who in a risky maneuver set off to make a cassoulet, and Chris, who prepared a Thai-style soup, it was the coconut center that was the chosen fraction; Aarón picked out the almonds to feature in his Louisiana-inspired plate of fish and grits.
What do you think of the judges using only a select portion of a mystery basket ingredient? Although doing so may indeed be battling within the rules, should they have worked harder to utilize the candy bar as a whole, or does its unusualness make up for the fact that it wasn’t incorporated fully? If a contestant had done that during competition, would the judges have been as accepting of his or her dish?
by Maria Russo in Shows, April 2nd, 2013
When it comes to critiquing Chopped competitors’ unusual dishes, the judges aren’t shy about sharing their reactions to the meal; they’re quick to offer opportunities for improvement and suggestions for better offerings. If battles suddenly were to be flipped, however, and the judges faced off with the same mystery baskets as the contestants, would they be able to succeed where others have been chopped?
Last month FN Dish broke the news that for the first time, the judges will be taking over the kitchen in online-only After Hours battles, and on Tuesday, April 30, members of the panel will go head-to-head-to-head with the same ingredients that will be featured on that night’s show. After watching the competition unfold, it will be up to them to take what they’ve learned from the chefs — both successes and missteps — and try their hands at creating plates within the same set of rules and time constraints.
Take a look at the sneak-peek photo above from Tuesday’s judges’ battle. As Chris is concentrating on plating his dish, Aarón and Marc drop by for an early look at what he’s made. Are they there to distract Chris in the final few minutes of cooking, or do you think they’re asking to taste what he’s made? Will the judges prove to competitors everywhere that cooking against the Chopped clock isn’t so difficult after all, or will they struggle like seasons’ worth of competitors have before them?
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No strangers to the uncommon, unusual ingredients that make their way into mystery baskets, Chopped judges have tasted myriad plates of eccentric eats after more than 14 seasons of competition, but they rarely are able to cook with those ingredients for themselves. That is, until now.
In Chopped After Hours, an all-new series on FoodNetwork.com, the panel is taking over the kitchen. For the first time, the judges are trying their hands at identical combinations of ingredients that have sent home chef competitors. They’ll cook against the clock in the same amount of time as traditional contestants, but among these friends and colleagues there will be as much eating, drinking and playful joking happening at each station as there is high-quality food preparation. None of the judges will settle for creating anything less than masterful meals, but they know well how to balance work and play — and will surely make time for a cocktail or two and even subject their fellow judges to a few hilariously timed interruptions.