1. Don’t make French toast.
The judges really just CAN’T with French toast. It’s astounding to me that in every episode of Chopped, the two ostensibly “best” competitors claw their way to the dessert round, see a basket filled with stank-ass durian fruit, pigs’ feet, candy canes, and phyllo dough and decide that yep, French toast it is. Deciding to make French toast on Chopped is like being that guy who “doesn’t really read books” but tells everybody his favorite is “The Great Gatsby” or “The Catcher in the Rye” just so it sounds like he does. You are a chef. Think of something else. At the very least do a bread pudding, for the love of Ted Allen.
2. Never make pasta for Scott Conant.
Scott Conant is the Regina George of the Chopped kitchen. Beautiful, scary, a bit charming, and obsessed with carbs, you will not make fetch happen with Scott by serving him a plate of undercooked fettuccine. None for you, Gretchen Weiners. Bye.
3. Know your judges.
In my limited (zero) experience, Alex Guarneschelli will always want more acidity. Aaron Sanchez and Mauneet Chauhan love spiciness. Scott will have none of your raw onion nonsense, thank you very much. And Geoffrey Zakarian and Amanda Freitag are angels from heaven so basically just don’t present them with poo on a plate and you’re all set.
4. Maybe don’t cut yourself?
I know this one is purely accidental, but when I see those latex safety gloves gradually filling up with blood as the chefs chop their microgreens, I want to vom. There’s a timer, sure. That’s the point of the show. But don’t overly rush the process. Your dandelion greens will get julienned, I promise. There’s no need to RUN ACROSS THE ROOM with a chef’s knife that could cut through wood or take off a finger for the sake of becoming a champion. The judges also will not entertain the idea of eating a dish that has been cross-contaminated, because they are not vampires and also, gross.
5. Don’t talk over the judges at the table.
Chefs have egos. It’s just a thing. I believe this is entirely justified because they make amazing food that tastes like ambrosia of the gods and they fill our tummies with goodness. It’s the best. The one thing that’s clear is that the judges CANNOT stand when the contestants talk over their well-informed critiques with rationalizations about their shitty food. No one believes you meant to plate blue mashed potatoes to incorporate a sense of whimsy. Just take your culinary beating over your plate of Smurf puree, and move on.
6. Avoid truffle oil like the plague.
Most of the time, I feel like the contestants whip out Ye Olde Truffle Oil to seem extra fancy and chef-fy. Trust — if you put it on your salad, in your sauce, or merely wave it in the vicinity of Marcus Samuelsson, using truffle oil will ensure you get treated like the kid who picks his nose and eats it throughout the remainder of the episode.
7. Risotto is good, but only if you know how to make it.
Have you learned NOTHING from Top Chef? Lesson #1 of on-screen cooking competitions: If you aren’t 100% sure you know how to make a good risotto in 30 minutes, just make a hash like the rest of the Chopped plebeians. The judges will thank you when they’re not eating ramekins filled with Elmer’s paste and pearly rice.
8. Mascarpone is your new BFF.
Chopped has been on for what, 14 seasons now? And I cannot remember a single episode where someone’s chef rep has not been saved by Mascarpone cheese. Sauce too thin? Mascarpone. Need to add creaminess to a dish? Mascarpone. The texture of ricotta makes you gag? Hit that dish with the ‘pone.
9. Take it easy with molecular gastronomy.
Molecular gastronomy is the Anne Hathaway of the culinary world. It’s just best in small doses. I think the golden rule here is that if it’s going to add something genuinely delicious to your dish, use it. If not, congratulations, you’re the magician no one hired for the party. Take your agar-agar and go home, Roger.
10. If all else fails, give Ted Allen a snack.
You can practically smell the resentment wafting off of Ted whenever the judges get to taste the food. It’s so tragic.