Chopped is a gloriously over dramatic American TV series in which contestants race against the clock (and one another) to create stupendous meals in a bid to impress a panel of stony faced judges and stave off elimination – or being ‘chopped’.
And, whilst it’s American reality TV at its ridiculous, over done best, it’s also the kind of thing you might occasionally have nightmares about appearing on.
So when, to celebrate the launch of the British spinoff of the show, ‘Chopped UK British Invasion’, I was invited to come along and have a go at being a contestant, I wasn’t nervous – I was utterly petrified.
The problem is the ability to write about food by no means corresponds to the ability to prepare it. Indeed, as far as I can make out, the lifestyle of a food writer is not at all conducive to being able to cook: Whilst you’re exposed to a lot of new and interesting stuff, the constant eating out is a recipe (pun intended) for culinary ineptitude. Working for foodepedia has made me gluttonous and incredibly picky about what I eat, but has, nonetheless, done nothing to tackle my gastronomic incompetence. I knew, then, that I was going to have my work cut out competing on Chopped.
Upon arriving at the studio, I am half relieved half troubled to discover that none of my fellow contestants have backgrounds in food. Relieved, as this means they won’t all be Michelin star chefs. Troubled, because, as the only food journalist here, they probably all expect me to be one.
The rules are simple: In addition to a well stocked kitchen’s worth of generic ingredients, we are each given a basket containing four mystery ingredients that we have to incorporate in our dishes. With these we have half an hour to create our main courses. Of these, two will be deemed inadequate and be ‘chopped’ leaving two contestants to repeat the process for desert. The winner is the last chef standing.
As I open my basket and consider my ingredients: beef, Stilton, dates and sweet potatoes, my trepidation subsides and makes way for excitement. In the heat of the moment, however, I forget that I have to use all of my mystery ingredients and completely discard my sweet potatoes and dates. Instead, I decide to use the Stilton and beef to create a stroganoff.
After twenty-five frantic minutes of haphazardly combining ingredients I have, what I think at least, is a passable beef stroganoff sitting on a bed of spaghetti, and am feeling pretty pleased with myself. My self-satisfaction is shattered when a fellow contestant asks me what I’ve done with my other mystery ingredients and I suddenly remember the rule. In a bid to get my dish to tick all the necessary boxes – and to maybe get a cheap laugh – I grab a hunk of baguette and create a sandwich of date and raw sweet potato – if this doesn’t impress then, I don’t know what will.
With our time up, we present our dishes to the judges and leave the kitchen to allow them to deliberate. After what seems like an eternity, we return to the kitchen and line up to hear the verdict. Rather unsurprisingly, I have been chopped.
I leave the studio with a bruised ego but a smile on my face. Competing has been tremendous fun. What’s more, having to cook under pressure and then having my creation scrutinised has been a humbling reversal of roles. Without a doubt, next time I’m tempted to give a scathing review, I’ll think back to my experience of Chopped.