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'Chopped' adds spice to kitchen

Food rocks. Ever since our species crawled out of the primordial goo, hunters and gatherers would walk many miles and kill many creatures in pursuit of what anthropologists refer to as “the yummies.” Ancient man performed complicated rituals and dances so that the fickle gods would throw down a cucumber or two.

But despite the religions and rituals in its name, food has never been more popular than it is in the year 2011. Sure, cavemen killed for their food — but did they create a 24-hour TV network for it?

Food and food television programming have reached an apex. There are shows devoted to up-and-coming celebri-chefs, like Bravo’s Top Chef. There are shows devoted to reforming lost restaurants like BBC’s (not Fox’s) Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. And now, at the aforementioned 24-hour Food Network, things have taken a turn for the awesome.

Chopped, in many ways, represents the logical conclusion for one of Western society’s favorite hybrids: Cooking competitions. The show, which debuted in early 2009, has become one of the Food Network’s juggernauts, and with reason.

The concept is simple. Four contestants cook three courses: an appetizer, an entrée and a dessert. They have 20 to 30 minutes to cook their meals while using three to five select, and usually frustratingly uncommon, ingredients. At the end of each round, three judges “chop” one contestant, eliminating him or her from the competition. Whoever is the last man or woman standing after the dessert round is $10,000 richer and the Chopped champion for that week.

The end result is a little overproduced and often predictable, but almost always engaging television.  In late 2009, the Food Network added the new wrinkle of a Chopped Champions season, in which 13 past champions competed to determine who was the “champion of the champions” and earn an extra $50,000.

Now, the Food Network is making use of its seemingly inexhaustible cache of celebrity chefs in Chopped All-Stars. Sixteen of the network’s favorites squared off against each other to generate the show’s own version of a “Final Four” (gotta love March): part-time Chopped judge Aarón Sanchez, San Francisco culinary legend Nate Appleman, Food Network star Michael Proietti and that lady with the spiky hair, Anne Burrell.

If this is starting to sound a little excessive for just a cooking program, that’s because it is. Part of the joy of Chopped All-Stars is how seriously it takes itself. It’s corny but it works. And there is no force that can keep me from the April 3 final … not even the ancient food gods.

— Alec Bojalad is a junior studying journalism. Send him an email at

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