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.