‘Chopped’: A Contestant Explains the ‘Terror’ and Annoyances Behind the Cooking Competition

Chopped has been a staple of Food Network’s lineup since 2009. In terms of years, it’s the network’s third-longest running show behind Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (still running) and Good Eats, which concluded in 2012.

Unlike Iron Chef America, which films in an arena-like atmosphere, Chopped offers a more intimate look at four chefs as they prepare a three-course meal for three judges. The main ingredient is chosen by the judges beforehand, and the champion earns a $10,000 prize.

What’s it like to compete on Chopped? One contestant spilled the beans.

Josh Lewis got on after auditioning for two years

Chef Josh Lewis appeared on the show in December 2014, as AV Club reports. As viewers know, Chopped contestants discover the secret ingredient as host Ted Allen announces it live in front of the judges. Luckily, Lewis had about four months to strategize for various types of foods he might encounter — from candy and seafood to chocolate and vegetables.

Lewis, currently the chef de cuisine at Lost Dog Cafe & Lounge in Binghamton, New York, initially sent in his photos and bio to try to earn a spot on the show. He detailed how he tried to overcome his anxiety by winning a place among the Chopped alums. 

Lewis got to the interview stage at Food Network’s offices before they said no at first. Two years later, Chopped came calling.

Josh Lewis was on a themed episode in his wheelhouse

When he appeared on Chopped, Lewis worked at Better Being Underground, a sandwich-themed restaurant. The four chefs on his show were all great at making sandwiches, which was the theme for Lewis’s show, so it wasn’t really an advantage.

The day started at 6 am, as Lewis explained to AV Club. The four chefs met in a room separate from the set and drank a lot of coffee. The foursome didn’t even meet the judges until the first round of judging.

When the show began, Lewis had a lot of things to keep track of. The ovens were already preheated to 350 degrees, and the producers boiled a pot of water. Chefs got to inspect the pantry for about 10 minutes before the start time. 

Lewis made it to the dessert round with the theme of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a required ingredient. The chef lost out when he couldn’t find coconut milk as another required ingredient. He felt confident he would’ve won the $10,000 prize had he been able to find the coconut milk in the pantry.

When the judges tried the dishes for 10 minutes following the round, the chef saw the ingredient on the shelf and stared at it. He said it was the only time he felt truly annoyed during the competition.

Producers encouraged trash talk and other behind-the-scenes secrets

Lewis talked about what the atmosphere was like after a round was complete: “Such a relief. But then there’s the terror before the next round. When the timer for each round finishes you have about 10 minutes or so while they get things ready for the judging, and they sit you down in the set, in front of the pantry.”

Ted Allen with Chopped chefs Maneet Chauhan, Marcus Samuelsson, and Marc Murphy at a media event in 2015
Chopped host Ted Allen with judges Maneet Chauhan, Marcus Samuelsson, and Marc Murphy | Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for NYCWFF

Lewis also mentioned the producers encouraged trash talk among the contestants to ramp up the drama. But Lewis couldn’t do it:

“The producers actually wanted us to trash-talk, so to speak. They want you to engage in something for the people watching, and actually said, ‘Try saying this,’ or, ‘What do you think of the way this person did this? How would you have done it? Did they screw up?’ I refused. That’s not me. I’ve seen trash talk on other episodes, but there wasn’t any with us.”

The food served to the crew, judges, and guests at the studio? Ironically, for a network that thrives on fantastic food, Lewis said the catering wasn’t the best: “Not good, actually. Surprisingly. It wasn’t them; the network has some off-site catering company they use. I don’t know who it was, but it wasn’t good.”

Regardless of the food situation behind the scenes, Chopped fans love tuning in. The show is still going strong with no indications of slowing down any time soon.

RELATED: ‘Chopped’: The 1 Dish That Judges Never Want to See Contestants Make