Monday, January 12, 2009

Julienne, Diced or 'Chopped'?

The Food Network seems to be churning out a bunch of new shows lately and surprisingly not one of them stars Bobby Flay.

One of the more interesting shows in the current crop is called “Chopped,” which premieres tomorrow (Tuesday) night at 10 p.m. It’s interesting because 1) it stars one of my favorite guides to food, Ted Allen, and 2) it’s bound to draw comparisons to the highly popular “Top Chef” on BRAVO TV.

I was invited to take part in a call today to interview Allen about his new show. I generally skip these calls because they drag me back to my old days of being a newspaper reporter, but I was anxious to hear what Allen had to say.

Ever-so-charming, Allen was quick to distinguish “Chopped” from all the other cooking competitions out there. Unlike “Top Chef,” the contestants on “Chopped” compete only in that one episode. They make three courses (which includes the dreaded dessert course) in 30 minutes and the winner gets $10,000, which he or she pockets and leaves, never having to come back to defend his or her title.

And unlike “Iron Chef America,” there’s not one secret ingredient but three to five. The chefs competing in the one-hour show have to use all the ingredients in their dishes.

Here are some of the other things Allen had to say about “Chopped” and other things from the world of food:

On the realism of “Chopped”:

“Whatever panic or bloodshed or tears, it’s entirely about can you make a good dish with these ingredients or not? A lot of drama, buckets of tears will come out in the first episode. It’s a good one. I’m excited about it.”

On whether the secret ingredients really are secret (I asked this question because I read in a magazine that the Iron Chefs get an idea of possible secret ingredients beforehand; they just don’t know which one will actually be selected during taping. So I wondered if it was the same deal on “Chopped.”):

“They have absolutely no idea what they’ll be cooking with. … We’re really looking for really spontaneous responses. While the ingredients are totally edible and naturally respectable things like fish and vegetables, we still want people to be shocked.”

On some of the more unusual ingredients:

“When I first saw Gummi Bears, I just wanted to make sure (the producers) agreed with me we can’t get too jokey. And they did; they just want to have something in there that’s funny once in a while, but we don’t want ingredients so precious and exotic that viewers can’t relate to them.” (Earlier in the call, he said: “Gummi Bear makes a fabulous glaze for ham.”)

On the difficulty of the challenges:

“About a third into the run (of the series), the (Food Network’s culinary department) thought it needed to be harder. … Like if the basket was full of Asian ingredients, they’d remove items from the pantry that those ingredients will likely lead you to. Like soy sauce. They do want to make life difficult. It’s not a challenge if it’s not hard.”

On three ingredients he can’t live without in his kitchen:

“A bottle of Champagne in the frig for when people pop over. Lots of cheese and mustards. I think I have a mustard fetish, especially spicy ones. … Bacon. I left out bacon. Oh my God, you got to have bacon.”

On him no longer being a guest judge on BRAVO’s “Top Chef” or the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America”:

“I knew all along I wouldn’t be able to keep working on both networks. Should I be a judge on half of someone else’s show or be on my own show? It’s a pretty easy call.”

Allen adds that he’s addicted to “Top Chef” but hasn’t been able to catch the current season because of his work commitments. He also talked a bit about his rediscovered love for cauliflower (which his mom served a lot during his childhood) and making a roast chicken in his microwave/convection oven while he and his partner renovate their kitchen.

On “Chopped,” Allen serves as the host and facilitator, and won’t actually be judging the food. While he’ll miss out on the free tasting, Allen says he’s enjoying his new role as a show’s star. “It’s a different challenge. I have to learn different lines. I have to learn to find my mark. It’s fun to do something different. It’s a lot harder than judging where you can just sit back, have a drink and complain about other people’s food.”

Here’s a preview clip of the first episode of “Chopped.”

“Chopped” starring Ted Allen airs every Tuesday on the Food Network at 10 p.m./9 p.m. Central. Check your local listings.

1 comment:

foodhoe said...

dang, another food show to watch! I do like Ted Allen though... The poor contestants look like they're wearing proletariat jail uniforms...