So I’m a Chopped/Masterchef/all things Food Network fanatic, as I’m sure most of you reading this can relate to. You’re salivating over a website dedicated to all things food, for heaven’s sake. I’ll assume you do this too, then: watch the challengers unveil their basket or mystery box’s contents and then immediately start making your own game plan of what you would do. Weird fruit? Make it into a chutney. Funky candies? Reduce that crap. Artificial anything? Greens, STAT. And straight-up rule numero uno: Don’t you dare use raw red onion ANYWHERE.
Some friends and I wanted to put our fandom/culinary skills to the test in our own Chopped battle. I’ll openly admit that I wimped out of partaking in the challenge, and opted to be the photographer (that’s necessary, right?). These guys are intense and I don’t think I could show my face in their house again if I lost.
If you’re looking for tips on how to host your own Chopped battle when you don’t have an unlimited pantry of splendor, don’t have a Ted Allen, and don’t have any real skills (just kidding) then look no further. Or if you’re just trying to get a cooking challenge fix until Masterchef starts up again, here ya go.
*Ted Allen voice-over* Two chefs. One course. Only one chance to win.
The challenge: create an unforgettable meal from the mystery items hidden in this basket, before time runs out–and do it without the luxury of the lauded Chopped pantry or years of professional experience. Our distinguished panel of judges will critique the challengers’ work, and one-by-one they must face the dreaded chopping block. Who will win the zero dollar prize (hey, we’re poor college students), and who will be chopped?
Let’s meet our challengers:
Anthony Sorbero is an acclaimed ribs and homemade pasta pro. He also dabbles in giant meatballs and can make a mean salted caramel brownie.
David Ke, or rather, “Produce Expert Dave”, can throw down anything from chicken wings to salmon fillets, but he specializes in Cajun shrimp. He also is known to literally throw down apple tartlets onto the ground on their way out of the oven.
Collard greens, ground turkey, rice cakes, and apple pie (basically just go to the grocery store and pick out what you feel like eating later).
Contestants must use every item in the basket, in some way, in their dish.
And upon the unveiling between makeshift-Chopped and the real thing, that moment of “What am I supposed to do with this crap?” remains.
In place of the beautiful and bounteous limited pantry available in the true Chopped kitchen, we implemented a ten-minute, ten-dollar grocery store trip.
Supplementing his basket with lemon grass, green onions, shallot, mango, avocado, wonton skins, and a nub of ginger, Anthony’s mad dash through Safeway totals $6.67.
David purchased a lone cabbage leaf, one sole carrot, four asparagus stalks, potatoes, mushrooms and bacon, which doles out to $8.41.
Back in the kitchen and with thirty minutes on the clock, the battle begins:
The chefs grab their cutting boards, and with knives flashing, commence the most rigorous and heart-pounding 30 minutes of their young lives as they vigorously dice, slice, and chiffonade.
Anthony quickly gets his ground turkey into the frying pan along with minced garlic, lemongrass, salt, pepper, and second basket ingredient of rice cakes to bind the mixture. After the meat is satisfactorily browned, he begins constructing dumplings by combining the turkey with carrots and blanched collard greens.
The filling patiently awaits its cozy egg-washed wonton packaging.
Action shot of surprisingly nimble man fingers folding the wontons.
And the result, which are just a little cute.
In the meantime, Anthony’s competitor David wastes no time in dicing up bacon and getting it over the flame with the ground turkey, collard greens, crumbled rice cakes, as well as salt, pepper, minced garlic and garlic powder for seasoning.
And behold, the turkey hash finds its way into, not a wonton skin, but a cabbage sleeve. Cinnamon apples sourced from the pie also get stuffed in the roll, adding a kick of sweet to the savory.
In the last two feverish minutes of the battle, David ties up his cabbage roll with bacon and throws it into the pan in a desperate attempt to crisp (or even just cook?) the strips. Good luck with that one, buddy. The roll literally hits the plate in the five-second countdown, perfectly matching the spirit of a genuine Chopped nail-biter.
The final dishes are presented:
Our elite panel of judges base their critiques on three central principles: presentation, taste, and creativity.
Anthony presents a plate of pan-fried turkey wontons, flavored with a zing of lemongrass and garnished with a sweet and spicy mango chutney (made from mango, jalapeño, green onion and apple pie.) The judges note an over-crisped wonton skin, though otherwise are just happy to be fed freaking good free food.
David presents his savory turkey-apple cabbage roll with a side of stuffed mushrooms. Although avoiding what they deem an undercooked bacon wrap, the judges gobble up the rest of the plate and charitably offer us lowly spectators bites.
After private deliberation and tallying up scorecards, the votes are in. The competitors’ foreheads glean with nervous anticipation as they await the decision of who shall be designated culinary conqueror.
Time slows, and the syllables drop heavily and slowly, one by one, from the spokesman judge’s mouth:
“We…have a tie.”
So looks like this isn’t as close to the real thing after all. Such blasphemy has never before occurred in the Chopped kitchen, but that’s what can happen when you use scorecards rather than Alex Guarnaschelli’s discerning palate, or Scott Conant’s pickiness. While David had a slight edge in taste and creativity, Anthony knocked him over in presentation. Across the board, each totaled out with equivalent scores of 125/150.
Fist bumps in a show of good sportsmanship, but they both know what this irresolution implies. Stay tuned for the sudden death battle that must decide our reigning champion.