As you are all well aware of by now, we can’t get enough cooking reality TV here at ES. Fortunately, Food Network is feeding our addiction with a brand new season of Chopped, which premieres tonight (Tuesday, September 8), at 10pm ET. ES caught up with host Ted Allen to ask about cooking with string cheese, whether he misses Top Chef, and what he’s doing with all his tomatoes.
ES: So tell us about this new mini-season of Chopped.
Ted Allen: One of the things that sets Chopped apart from other cooking shows is that we have different chefs each week – it’s kind of like a culinary game show. But people have expressed a lot of interest in seeing particular contestants — for example, James Briscione from the first season — return. So what we’re doing is having four episodes where all the winners from season one return and compete against each other. These contestants have never been chopped before, they’ve only won, so it raises the stakes. And of course they’re the winners so they’re all great chefs.
Any other changes in store for this season?
One thing that’s different is the mystery ingredients. Last season we did a lot of processed junk food — gummy bears, string cheese — the network thought it was funny to ask real chefs to cook with fake food. But this year they decided to do less of that. We still have some junk food ingredients like root beer and donuts, but we’re moving away from the string cheese and gummy bears. There’s just not much good cooking you can do with string cheese. So we’re no longer driving them insane with string cheese, instead we’re driving them insane with sea urchin and eel.
What’s the key to making a winning dish on Chopped?
You have to figure out the ingredients. The ingredients are chosen very carefully — the producers sit around and if they can’t think of something that could feasibly be made from them, they empty out the basket and start over. The thing is they set a trap. So let’s say they give you three Asian ingredients — bok choy, soy sauce and sesame seeds — and then they throw something in like blue cheese. Some chefs are gonna plow ahead and make an Asian dish and then crumble a little bit of blue cheese on top, hoping the judges won’t notice it. But the person who wins will be the one who figures out how to make a blue cheese souffle that works — I don’t know what that would be like, but if they can do it, they will win.
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