For over a decade, the Food Network series Chopped has been putting chefs, both professional and amateur, to the test — throwing all sorts of random ingredients at them to see which ones can stand the heat of competition.
But as any true reality TV fan knows, a show is never as authentic and unscripted as it seems. What’s real and fake about Chopped? A few former contestants served up some behind-the-scenes secrets.
Is 'Chopped' real?
According to past participants, the actual cooking aspects of the contest are as high-pressure as they appear. "I had never seen any of the basket ingredients beforehand, and they don’t give you any extra time to come up with ideas," two-time competitor, Michael Vignola, told Tasting Table in 2016.
"As soon as you open the basket, the clock starts. I have no idea how I came up with the dishes I made. I just did it in the moment," he shared. "This show is real. There's no stop and go. It's very much like real kitchen life, and you have to just make it happen."
The chefs are also "being filmed from all sides," a detail host Ted Allen expanded on when discussing the series with Vice in 2017.
"We have four camera operators right in front of each of the chefs," the Queer Eye alum explained, noting that producers are always looking for memorable reaction shots. In order to get those, Ted admitted that certain moments — such as when contestants open their ingredient baskets — are filmed more than once.
Restaurant owner and multiple-time Chopped champion, Kathy Fang, told Delish in 2016 that the big reveal is also hyped up on set for dramatic effect. "They really draw out the anticipation," she stated. "We were standing in front of the basket for about 15 minutes before we could open it. I was like, 'Are there any holes in the basket I can peek through?'"
Despite positive testimonials from actual participants, the show still has its skeptics. During Chopped's third season, Food Network forcefully denied speculation that the competition might be rigged.
"Chopped is not fixed. We rely solely on the opinions of the three judges in each episode to eliminate contestants in each round and select a winner in the end," Allison Page, former senior vice president of programming and development, said at the time.
"Each judge will have their own opinions on the executions of the contestants' dishes, but they come to a consensus every time and agree on who will be eliminated," she added.
New York-based pastry chef, Linda Laestadius, publicly questioned the decisions made in her 2010 episode after viewers commented that her dish was significantly better than fellow competitor John Sierp’s, who was chosen to advance over her.
"I felt it was really weird. I'm not sure exactly what happened," she confessed to the New Times Broward-Palm Beach paper. "As far as I know, nothing's fixed, but we are not there when we are being judged, so I don't know if there is somebody influencing things."
John also spoke out about the controversy, telling the publication that a large chunk of the judges’ remarks were edited out to make it seem like a tighter race. "I definitely don't think it's fixed," he shared. "They don't show A LOT of the happenings that go on."