What to you get when you mix Top Chef (where a bunch of unknown chefs duke it out week after week in cooking challenges for bragging rights and prizes) with Iron Chef (where two well-known chefs and their crews create a 5-course meal around a secret ingredient in a one-hour competition simply for bragging rights)?
CHOPPED! with host Ted Allen (of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and Food Detectives) on Food Network, Tuesdays at 9 Central time (with repeats throughout the week).
In this 30-minute show 4 chefs compete to survive 3 elimination rounds and win $10,000.00 as the last chef standing. They create one dish each round: the first round is a starter, the second is an entree, the third is a dessert. They are given 30 minutes for each round (the show is edited) and an identical basket of secret ingredients (a new basket each round). The chefs must use each ingredient in the basket (a little or a lot, but it must be included) along with additional items from what looks like a dream pantry. (Please Ted, one show walk us around the pantry!)
But wait, there's more—
If you enjoy food shows here's one you can actually play along with at home! It's simple. Dick and I started doing it with episode one and we can't stop. (Actually, Dick says he can stop at any time but is amused at how much I enjoy it.) All you need is a way to record the show (VCR, DVR, Tivo) so that you can PAUSE the show at appropriate moments.
So, turn on the recorded show and listen to the intro. Ted will explain the rules of the competition and there will be brief info bits on the 4 competing chefs. (You can do a little profiling and take side bets on which chef you think will win based on the contestants' micro facial expressions and demeanor, but like I said that's a side bet thing; and don't forget to profile the judges as part of the equation.)
As soon as Ted reveals the ingredients of the basket pause the show. You've now got 1 minute to come up with something to do with these items. You have to use them all and it has to be a starter. And you also have to think about how you are going to plate it.
We work on the honor system here so I usually get all excited and start blurting out what I would make, knowing that Dick won't claim it. If you aren't in such a trusting relationship you might want to write things down on a piece of paper and then read them off after the minute is up.
You and your fellow home players are required to keep each other honest: e.g., No Roz, even you do not have time to make yeast dough in 30 minutes.
Since we haven't had a tour of the pantry, and only get an occasional shot of the bounty that's shelved there, we've decided that pretty much any "normal" (e.g., peppers of many varieties) or well-known "specialty item" (truffle oil, even truffles, it is a chef competition after all!) is available to you. If you are playing with an Anthony Bourdain fan you might want to set some parameters on the pantry contents.
Once you make your commitment, sit back, and watch the rest of the round and see what the 4 chefs came up with. Repeat with rounds two and three.
Sure, you don't have to actually get up and make anything in the time limit (it is the honor system that you could actually make it in that time frame), but then you don't win $10,000.00 either when you come up with something better than the TV contestants (remember presentation counts!). The best thing is you don't have any dishes to clean up.
The other best thing is that you start your mind thinking about all the different ingredients out there waiting to be brought home for experiments.
Go ahead. Tune in this Tuesday. Play along. When the show is over you can always call someone's bluff and ask him to make his disputed dish. That's phase two of the play at home version, but invite friends over for that "proof" meal to keep it friendly.
Creativity under pressure. What could be more delicious.