If there are two things that America really loves, it’s food and TV — so it should come as no surprise that we have become thoroughly addicted to our cooking shows, whether they’re educational, entertaining or both. Our national obsession was thoroughly skewered in the South Park episode “Creme Fraiche,” which is proof enough that we just really love watching celebrity chefs cook food we can’t have. There’s no better way to work up an appetite.
Four chefs are given a basket of mystery ingredients and ordered to prepare a dish containing each ingredient, competing for a prize of $10,000. 20 seasons later and Chopped is still going strong. Contestants range across the spectrum from military personnel to teen chefs, and a few have appeared on Hell’s Kitchen.
The random assortment of ingredients during each round pushes contestants to be creative and innovative in their approach, and there appears to be quite literally no limit. Animal crackers, quail, gummi bears and yak steaks have all appeared at one time or another, though — to the producer’s credit and to the contestants’ relief — not all at once. (We shudder to think of what that dish might have tasted like.)
Chopped is known for being an intense show, in part due to the stress of the mystery ingredients and the set time limits, but also because contestants tend to be a good deal looser with profanity than what typically appears on Food Network. Still, the network seems to have taken it in stride and embraced the irreverent obscenity along with its high ratings and popularity.