My husband will tell you I watch a lot of TV and I don’t discriminate. I watch comedies, dramas, reality, news shows, comedy news shows, comedic dramas and dramatic comedies. But, my favorite show above all is Chopped on The Food Network. My friend Erin introduced me to Chopped last summer or the summer before (I literally can’t remember because it feels like this show has been a part of my life forever) and it was exactly what I needed to further my food education. I didn’t even know that I wanted to know more about cooking technique until I started watching Chopped. Suddenly I can define gastrique and pistou and I understand how to use ingredients creatively and not be so stuck in my cookbooks. I could explain the concept and genius of this show, but Food Network did it for me already.
The thing with Chopped is that everyone always talks about what assholes the judges are. I agree, they can been kind of nit-picky and overly critical, but they can also be super positive and effusive. Alex Guarnaschelli, executive chef at Butter, is criticized for being one of the, shall we say, least friendly, but when she loves something she LOVES it! She, in particular, wants to see the chef’s be successful! I used to think she was super mean but, a few months ago I saw Aaron Sanchez do a cooking demonstration and Q&A and he said something that really stuck with me. He pointed out how hard all of the chefs have worked to get to where they are, particularly the women, and they have all reached a certain level of success. This simple statement gave me a whole new perspective on the judges. I started looking at them as experts in their field and not the little bitches they were being portrayed as.
I think the judge that makes it hardest for us to love him is Scott Conant.
Here’s the thing though, Scott Conant has opened 6 restaurants across the country and has published 2 cookbooks. The man knows what he’s talking about and just because he doesn’t like raw onions doesn’t make him a bad person. Frankly, if you are a chef competing on Chopped and you want to put raw onions in something that Scott Conant is going to eat, you’re the idiot, not him!
To be fair, I haven’t eaten at one of Scott’s restaurants (yet,it’s next on my list), but I did make his Tomato-Basil Spaghetti last night from a Smitten Kitchen recipe. Seriously, all this dish includes is plum tomatoes simmered down and olive oil infused with basil, garlic, and red chili pepper. The most labor intensive part is peeling and seeding the tomatoes but then basically you just put them in a pot, mash them with a potato masher as they soften (genius technique!) and simmer for 45 minutes. It’s a really beautiful and flavorful sauce that definitely doesn’t require an all-day-stove-top simmer.
The meal was wonderful and made me feel justified in my respect of these judges the same way eating braised lamb shank at Landmarc made me respect (worship?) Marc Murphy.
So next time you watch Chopped (as I’m sure you do since you’re reading my blog), cut the judges some slack! And if you’re reading this and you’re in the casting department at the Food Network, I submitted my application months ago. Just waiting on my phone call…