Chopped Champions returns on Tuesday, March 29 at 10|9c for Season 5 as 16 returning champions battle it out for a chance to earn the Ultimate Champion title and $50,000 in prize money. Four preliminary rounds will determine who gets a spot in the finale. But only one chef from among the four finalists will be named the winner. Who will rule the mystery baskets? Tune in to watch the competition unfold.
The wildly popular show Chopped films here, in New York City, right next to Food Network Kitchen in a giant studio that houses a chaotic frenzy of mystery baskets, eager cooks and expert judges. But there’s an entire behind-the-scenes crew of incredibly talented people who keep the machine that is Chopped well oiled. There are a million moving parts to the show, and rarely is there downtime on set, so I took advantage of one of their small breaks and took some photos of the eerily quiet kitchen (I hope they don’t mind!). Take a look at these insider photos below.
On this episode of Chopped After Hours, judges Maneet Chauhan, Chris Santos and Amanda Freitag get in the kitchen to cook the entree basket from the Battle of the Grandpas episode. They are faced with utilizing London broil, rutabaga, broccoli rabe and peanut butter taffy bites, and the big question Ted poses is what the judges would do with the beef, since it’s such a tough cut. “Hard sear, lots of resting,” Amanda offers, and Chris says, “Typically you’d attack it with some kind of fat.” The two judges decide to do just that, but Maneet takes the meat in an entirely different direction.
Tonight after the Family Affair episode of Chopped, judges Geoffrey Zakarian, Marc Murphy and Maneet Chauhan go into the kitchen to try out the appetizer basket in a new episode of Chopped After Hours. With just 20 minutes they have to cook with a pork roll, pizza dough, baby eggplant and Chinese spaghetti sauce. “Whatever that is,” says Ted Allen about the jarred ingredient, which Marc promptly dares him to swig. But Ted refuses; instead he asks the judges, “Why don’t you guys do your best to mask this flavor?” But the dares don’t stop there, as we’ll see in the episode.
Tonight the ladies of Chopped, or the “Charlie’s Angels of Chopped,” as Alex Guarnaschelli put it, judged a special mother-in-law and daughter-in-law episode of the show. And on After Hours the ladies are busting into the kitchen to take on one of the baskets from the episode. Judges Amanda Freitag, Maneet Chauhan and Alex take on cooking with lasagna, onion blossom chips, arugula and a wine purse. “This was one of the more catastrophic appetizer baskets that we’ve seen,” says Alex as the ladies chat about the basket’s difficulties. But there’s no doubt the three will succeed, despite it being a 20-minute appetizer round.
There was definitely a holiday vibe in the Chopped Junior kitchen, and our contestants were thrown some pretty tough curveballs, like gingerbread houses and snowmen made from doughnuts. But we were mostly interested in using potato pancakes, an ingredient in the entree basket, as a bun for an easy sandwich perfect for a boxed lunch.
Everyone has leftover holiday food in the fridge after all the celebrations are over, and that’s exactly what was in the mystery basket from the Holiday Cooking episode of Chopped. On an all-new Chopped After Hours, judges Scott Conant, Aarón Sánchez and Geoffrey Zakarian were tasked with creating an entree with beef tenderloin, gingersnap cocktail, potato latkes and tzimmes.
Normally, well-respected chefs would cringe at the thought of boxed macaroni and cheese, but the appetizer basket from the special Mac and Cheese episode of Chopped is a different story. “If someone doesn’t use that little bag of powder in here, total cop-out — you’re chopped,” Alex Guarnaschelli says. In this new installment of Chopped After Hours, Alex — along with her fellow judges Maneet Chauhan and Aarón Sánchez — must make an appetizer using boxed mac and cheese, Canadian bacon, Swiss chard and monkfish.
Alex begins studding her monkfish with the bacon for flavor and plans on making a macaroni and cheese sauce for the dish. “I’m going full-on blasphemy and anarchy,” she says of her dish. Aarón and Maneet are going a little more traditional, however. Aarón is making escabeche (a Spanish fish dish made with vinegar) while Maneet has envisioned the fish with a korma sauce (a traditional Indian nut-based sauce). When Maneet and Aarón realize they’re both using saffron for their sauces, Aarón responds, “You’ve been saffroned.”
Having a glass or two of wine in the Chopped kitchen isn’t a rare occurrence, but during this round it’s almost a necessity. That’s because judges Amanda Freitag, Marc Murphy and Alex Guarnaschelli are taking on the appetizer basket from the Pub Food episode of Chopped. On the all-new episode of Chopped After Hours, they’re required to use house-cured bacon, deviled eggs, fish cheeks and housemade pickles in a completely original appetizer.
Amanda is not shy about admitting her love for the basket: “I look at the whole thing and I think, ‘Thank you.’ You have acid, you have fat, you have bacon, you have eggs and you have fish cheeks!” She starts off using the brine from the pickles, which she and Ted Allen both agree is underutilized at home and should be saved more often. “Amanda and I are starting an organization called Pickles without Borders,” Ted says. Alex is using the pickle brine in a vinaigrette to go alongside a frito misto — a platter of fried foods that she does not think she has enough time to finish. When Ted disagrees, Alex replies, “I appreciate the vote of confidence, my friend, but, you know, we’re only human, Ted.”
The dessert basket in the Cooking with Bass episode of Chopped may seem like a great start to dessert, but judges Amanda Freitag, Maneet Chauhan and Marc Murphy aren’t too enthusiastic. On a new Chopped After Hours, they must cook a final course using zucchini, chocolate-covered raisins, peanut brittle and vanilla liqueur. “What’s the first initial problem with all of this?” Ted Allen asks. “Too sweet!” the judges reply unanimously.
They all realize the zucchini is going to be their saving grace when it comes to toning down the sweetness. Marc points out that you can make a zucchini cake just as easily as you can make a carrot cake, to which Maneet replies, “You can — ’cause that’s exactly what I’m going to do!” They all get off to a quick start, with Marc whisking up a batter for zucchini fritters. Amanda doesn’t want to give away her dish, so she just shouts, “I’m making a cake — that’s all you need to know!”