Serious Eats

Why 'Chopped' Is Such an Addictive Show

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Over the past few weeks, I've found myself watching Chopped a lot. Sure, plenty of people watch a lot of television, but the amount of Chopped I was watching verged on life consuming. Before work, during a workout, cooking dinner, before bed—I was spending as much time watching a food competition show as I was spending in the office.

Then I got to thinking: Why am I consuming this show like a bag of Doritos? Why do I turn it on almost subconsciously anytime I have a minute? What makes this show different from all other shows? Is it even entertaining anymore? And after reciting these questions over and over again, I narrowed Chopped's appeal down to five principles.

1. The Basket

In the beginning there was one mystery ingredient, then there were several...times three. The basket is one of Chopped's greatest attractions. Three courses with a handful of ingredients each means close to 30 show elements that are a complete mystery to the contestants. In this way, the basket is the locus of Chopped's complexity—surprising for the chefs, interesting in the dishes and integral in the judging of contestants. These principles are not in any order, but if they were, the basket would likely be at the top.

2. Judges

From Alex Guarnaschelli's tough love to Marcus Samuelsson's stoic wisdom, every judge brings their personality and individual style of criticism to the table. Though they vary episode to episode, one can expect a good mix of personalities in each show—generally one not-as-mean, one absolute hater and one principled detractor. My personal favorite judges are Marc Murphy and Chris Santos, although everybody has their own picks. Moreover, I love watching a good spanking from the panel.

3. The Cooking, Duh

Any Iron Chef fan can admit that the more you watch competition cooking, the more invested you become in the sport of it all. Personally, I've started to treat each show as a guessing game, making predictions about which direction the dish will go, the judges' reactions and the ultimate verdicts. For instance, rice is almost always a death wish because nobody can cook raw rice in a single round. Furthermore, most dishes just look delicious, which tickles the food porn bone in all of us.

4. Ted Allen

Officially, Ted Allen is the show's host. Unofficially, he's the glue. Sure, he's reading essentially the same script each episode, but it's that consistency that ties Chopped together. Without Ted Allen, Chopped would be too fluid, too impersonal. His editorial comments, quiet sense of humor and interactions with the judges make the episodes special.

5. It (Almost) Never Gets Old

With new chefs, rotating judges and almost infinitely many basket combinations, Chopped has built itself a self-renewing format—something that only the best reality television can accomplish. Furthermore, the contestants can range from established chefs (in the masters series) to home and private cooks—the multitude of experiences and personalities makes for more interesting dishes and interactions with the judges.

Does anyone else like Chopped as much as I do? Have a favorite moment or any thoughts about the show? Share it all in the comments!

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