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Chopped is the place to be on TV if you want to watch cooks try to make something tasty, creative, and aesthetically pleasing in a time crunch... with ingredients that often seem to make very little sense. The Food Network series has been going strong since way back in 2009, and host Ted Allen must have seen just about every bizarre twist imaginable over the years. Now, Allen has dropped some interesting info about how the basket ingredients that must be incorporated into a dish are chosen:
Someone has to decide what ingredients are going into the baskets. Every basket has a riddle in it, that is known to the people who make the basket. I doubt that in a 20-minute cooking round, many of the chefs figure out that riddle. They just start chopping. But, if we give you say, silken tofu, and lavash bread, and tomatillos, maybe we're looking for a riff on grilled cheese and tomato soup. Good luck figuring that out.
If you're anything like me, you've managed to watch countless episodes of Chopped without ever realizing that there's a cohesive theme or riddle within the baskets. Sure, there are sometimes themed episodes that require the chefs to create dishes that remind them of Christmas or Thanksgiving or just require lots of grilling or frying, but the baskets themselves often feel like they're thrown together by semi-sadistic producers who want to serve the chefs the most difficult and miscellaneous ingredients.
Well, according to Ted Allen (via Business Insider), there is indeed a riddle within each basket and chefs are given the opportunity to dazzle the judges with a dish that fits the intended theme. Unfortunately, the chefs have quite a lot on their plates without pausing the ponder the mystery meaning of their baskets. After all, they have to deal with four ingredients not of their choosing.
While some ingredients are normal and what you might expect to find in a professionally cooked dish, like the silken tofu and tomatillos mentioned by Ted Allen, other ingredients are completely out of place and sometimes even gross. Longtime judge Aarón Sánchez revealed two of Chopped's worst secret ingredients, and I can't say I was surprised to see that one of them is durian. Having both smelled the Southeast Asian fruit in person and seen the chefs' reactions when they encounter it on Chopped, I can safely say that I would never order a dish with it in it!
On top of the wild card basket ingredients the chefs have to use, they don't get a whole lot of time to plan a meal that will be judged on presentation, creativity, and taste. For the appetizer round, chefs only have 20 minutes. For dinner and dessert, those who were not eliminated in previous rounds have half an hour. (Woe betide those who don't hurry if they want to bake and/or use the ice cream machine in the dessert round!)
After learning that there's intent behind each basket, I really feel the need to go back and watch some Chopped to see if I can guess what the theme is supposed to be. I'm not going to be dealing with the pressure of time! New episodes air Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Food Network as well as throughout the week as reruns.