Ah, another sleepy Tuesday night in this beautiful hamlet I call home, and that can only mean one thing: Chopped. Nobody can accuse the show of being profound. It is schmaltzy, it embraces many of the stupid conventions of reality television, and it continues The Food Network’s descent from a channel dedicated to you and me cooking, to a channel about you and me staring at food. At the same time though, Chopped with machine-like precision, takes all of the core elements of everything that works in television – competition, schmaltz, watching food being prepared, a time limit that makes the contestants really nervous, trash talking confessionals, and makes into something which produces consistent entertainment. Almost no network sitcom can brag about as reliable a product. It is like watching a ballgame without the ballgame.
The concept behind Chopped, like many things that turn into good television, is ridiculously simple. Starting with four chefs, they are given a basket of absurdly matched mystery ingredients (oranges, bacon, corn flakes and venison loin could be one), which they have to convert into an appetizer, entree, dessert in absurdly short amounts of time (20 minutes for the former, 30 for the rest). And then, we watch them sweat, think, worry and cook. Meanwhile there are judges who offer commentary of dubious value – and catty comments when the food is tasted. (Geoffrey Zakarian is particularly snooty, and Alex something or other looks like a frog – literally) Almost always the chefs use every second of time – so we get the suspense of “will he or she finish on time”, and the chance to either be nervous for the chef or happy that a douchy chef took a defeat. The chefs, who are as Type-A as ever -it’s why Top Chef works so well – are invariably crushed when they lose – often having schmaltzy goals in the competition, which of course is also great television. You don’t have to be smart to like the show – but you’d have to be dumb not to.
PS: What is interesting – as a postscript is that the channel has launched Sweet Genius, the same concept but with pastry chefs. I think from this show and the Just Desserts one, that clearly the world of pastry cooking is inhabited by people with head injuries.l