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Interview with Ted Allen

Host of Food Network's Chopped and Food Detectives

By

Food Network Host

Ted Allen

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A lot of judges on cooking shows focus on knife skills. How important is that to the final dish?

TED: I think when you see judges talking about how good someone's knife skills are it says something about how much respect that chef has for his ingredients and his dedication to his education and practicing. On one hand, it might not seem like it would have any impact on the flavor whether your garlic was smashed or chopped in a clumsy way or diced into perfect little squares but on the other hand, one of the best, simple principles of getting all of your ingredients properly cooked is having everything cut to the same size. Like if you were making a stir fry and you cut your carrots into a teeny little dice but left your broccoli in gigantic chunks it might not cook evenly. So there is some genuine flavor impact to that but mostly it's that when you see a dish come out where the knife work is just perfect its an impressive sign of how dedicated that chef is to doing their food honor....justice, beauty, truth, all that kind of thing.

I’ve read quite a few reviews online have said that Chopped is like Top Chef. Can you explain how it’s different?

TED: Why did I know that people were going to do that? And the really funny thing is that there are a lot of bloggers out there with extrasensory perception, evidently, because I should point out the show has never been broadcast yet. I was alluding to this before, there are a shockingly large number of cooking contest shows out there now, and it isn’t even just on cable. Obviously Hell’s Kitchen is on Fox, which is sort of a network, not counting the news part. And there’s a new one coming out, I think it’s in D.C. with Marco Pierre White, who is the great three star Michelin chef who trained Mario Batali, who has an ego the size of, you know, Texas. Bad example. I should’ve said something European.

Our show is different from all of those shows. Well, first of all, I think all of those shows have their own character and I think Chopped very definitely has its own vibe. It’s mainly different in that all of our episodes are self contained. So we have four chefs in each episode, one person wins, takes $10,000 and goes home. It’s also different in a sense that it’s strictly a cooking contest, there’s really no reality component to it. So they don’t live together and we don’t take away their phone. They’re just there for one day to cook three courses and leave, if they’re lucky. Some only get to cook one course and then they have to leave.

But I guess I should acknowledge that Magical Elf, who are the people who have made Runway and Top Chef, and several other shows, that they definitely are influential on all kinds of television, because they’re so good at what they do. I don’t know, but I’ll let you guys judge for yourselves. When you watch Chopped, I think you’ll see it’s got its own thing going on.

What are the details and criteria for the three course meals the contestants have to prepare?

TED: The rules are pretty simple. You can do whatever you want, but for each course there is a basket of mystery ingredients. That can range anywhere from three to five things and you have to use all of them in your dish. You can use a little bit, you can use a lot. It’s not like on Iron Chef where you have to make one of them the focal point. But I have to say it’s really difficult to cook with when you have to use all five things or all three things. They might not necessarily seem to go together in an obvious way. We’re not going to give you like Soba noodles, salmon, ginger, and soy sauce. It’s never going to be that simple, and then you only have thirty minutes to think of the dish, execute the dish and plate the dish. It’s actually really, really hard. But some people manage to pull it off.

Unlike Top Chef, the contestants on Chopped are stuck with using the mystery ingredients. Is that fact weighed in the judging?

TED: I should add that in addition to the mystery ingredients, the contestants have access to a pretty nice pantry full of fruits, vegetables, spices and dairy stuff, cheese and what not. So, they don't only get those five ingredients. They certainly get all the oils and spices they would probably need. However, we were about a third into the shooting schedule when the Food Network Culinary Department (they help design the challenges and stock the pantry) thought it needed to be harder. So just for example, let's say we had a mystery basket that did have Asian type ingredients they made a point of removing from the pantry those items which those components would have led you to. So a basket full of Asian ingredients means there's no soy sauce in the pantry. They do want to make life difficult. It's not a challenge if it's not hard.

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