I am a proud Food Network addict. And lately, I have developed quite a fondness for the reality competition, “Chopped.” On this show, four “amateur” chefs compete for $10,000. They are provided with a motley collection of specific ingredients, and are charged with creating an appetizer, entrée, and a dessert; one contestant is eliminated after each course.

The chefs are provided all the supplies and ingredients they need to prepare their dishes, while the judges look on. The clock winds down, and the camera pans to the chefs who struggle through all sorts of culinary obstacles and meltdowns. In watching this show, I’ve learned that there are several things that will get a new chef “chopped” from the competition. Tune into a few episodes, and you might agree.

Where’s Your Flair?

Professional culinary judges all agree that one eats first with the eyes. This is why contestants are crestfallen when their dishes are criticized for less than exciting presentations. One competitor arranged her succulent tuna cake on a lovely bed of greens. But the judges were none too pleased with the “fast food-like” placement of condiments on the side. Expect to be “chopped” if your plate looks unappealing, has spills, or is even too sparse.
Poor Seasoning Choices

It’s always embarrassing when a competitor takes great pains to apply just the right herbs and seasonings to bring out the ingredients they must turn into masterpieces. As beautiful as the food looks on the TV screen, I am usually amazed when the judges claim that one herb or another doesn’t come through-or over-powers the dish. You can literally see the hope sliding off the chefs’ faces as the judges scowl with discontent.

Sanitary Issues

On one episode of Food Network’s “Chopped”, a chef was preparing a dish and cut his finger. Working quickly, the contestant didn’t feel the cut, and proceeded to drip his blood into the tuna mix, and onto some of the cooking utensils. He cleaned up and began his dish again-barely completing in time. But twice throughout the competition, he was admonished for “double dipping” a spoon to taste his work. While the judges loved the chef’s fantastic display of creativity, they couldn’t get past the sanitary issues.

Undercooking/ Overcooking Food

For the culinary experts to give you a positive review of your entrée, they have to actually be able to eat it. One “Chopped” contestant received much ridicule for presenting overcooked, rubbery steak (despite its wonderful reduction.) She then was criticized for undercooking her fish entrée. Incorrect preparation of food often introduces certain health concerns. This unfortunate fact is what’s on the judges’ minds as they “chop” the show’s offenders.

Tick Tock…

That huge impending clock looming overhead (not to mention the crowd’s murmuring countdown) is a huge source of contention with the contestants. They are instructed to perform three major tasks within 20-30 minutes: conceive an amazing idea, execute with flavor, and present with sophistication. Often, chefs run out of time either due to over-planning or a serious blunder. The result is that food is undercooked, underdressed, and incomplete. Judges whose entrées have missing sauce, raw meat, and sloppy plating-will not have much confidence in your ability to execute under pressure. If you consistently prove that you can’t work quickly, you’ll have trouble convincing customers that they’ll receive their meals on time.

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