HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >
Dec 6, 2009 01:22 PM

Home chefs on Chopped?

I was just watching an old Chopped episode, where 3 of 4 contestants said they had no professional training -- and they are current head chefs of nearly unknown restaurants on the East Coast.

What made the episode interesting was that these contestants weren't so well rounded, and many basic mistakes were made.

This had me wondering: how would a top-notch home chef do on this Chopped episode?

I think a home chef would fare well on the show, as long as said home chef had adequate speed, ingredient knowledge, creativity, grace under pressure.

I don't know about you, but I'd sure like to see a home chef knock off one of three of the pros in a given episode...

What do you think?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The original comment has been removed
    1. I don't see the Chopped kitchen as anything particularly special. Its not a 'restaurant kitchen' as you say, its a combination oven and a bit of counter. There are no specialty machines, there's nothing in that kitchen set up that I don't have here at home. There could be some gadgets an average home cook might not have, but the serious home chef that would apply for the show no doubt has them. Its also not a restaurant kitchen in that there are no sous chefs, no prep, no help in other words. The home cook deals alone on a regular, if not daily basis.

      I'm heading into my "open" kitchen shortly and there is no one around to prep for me, but the distractions will exist: missing stuff from the pantry (despite best effort), people around, noise from the TV across the way that will be on, an always 'helpful' dog that likes to sit right on the invisible Do Not Cross line and drool, the phone will surely ring at least once, and as the smells build there will be lurking from the 'customers' and the inevitable "when's it going to be ready?" I think the Chopped kitchen might actually be tranquil in comparison!

      Time pressure: A short order diner cook has pressure. The chefs at the 3 star? Different kind of pressure - there are assigned stations, you do your thing when told and the other's do theirs. Its a machine not a solo heroic world saving effort every night. If it is the latter, well, somebody needs to get control and fix the machine. And yes, I saved the world just last night, I hope tonight goes better :)

      So I need to go, because for some reason my 'customers' are far more willing to wait for food in a restaurant than they are in their own home.

      1. re: Tmrock

        This was a reply to another person's post that said a home cook could not handle what they called the 'restaurant kitchen' of Chopped, the time pressure, etc. That original post is gone now.

        1. re: Tmrock

          Thanks for the clarification - I was a bit confused!

    2. For me its a matter of exposure, well roundedness. Some of the pros are very narrow in their cuisine, their experiences and the restaurants they work at / own are usually focused on one particular cuisine as well.

      The pro chef that has been through a good culinary school has at least had some broad range of exposure to world cuisine - even if the depth is not there, its something that can combine with good knowledge of food and technique that might spark a solution.

      The pro that is self taught might not have that broad exposure, depends on the chef's background. BUT the self taught can also bring a different perspective, a different way of working with something that the schools don't have and this has given some of them an edge.

      A good home chef that cooks a wide variety of cuisine and enjoys improvisation would certainly have a good chance in this sort of competition.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Tmrock

        Tmrock - those are great points.

        I assume there are dozens if not hundreds of home chef candidates who would be qualified to compete on Chopped. If the show's producers put on a search, I am sure there would be plenty of applicants.

        Screening them will be the tricky part - because if they are not fast enough, or don't have the flexibility to create dishes with the mystery ingredients, the episode would flop...then again, if it were a really bad flop, then that would make for some good TV! LOL.

        1. re: Tmrock

          Its an interesting thought... I am sure you could find someone competitive, if they put it out there..

          But I would point out these challenges..

          1) Knife skills - most home chefs probably don't have to chop and prep as evenly or as fast as a restaurant-acclimated chef would be comfortable with.... not just a matter of training, but of practice.. how many of us have diced or brunoised a couple of dozen onions in a short period of tme.

          2) Heat - if the are working on commercial cooktops, a home chef might get thrown off by the level of heat they can put out. With home chefs investing in higher-output ovens and cooktops, this might not be as much of a concern..

          3) Plating.. home chefs might not have the eye for plating that's needed.. contrast, garnish, color variation..

          But it would be an interesting experiment - sort of like the College Challenge on Jeopardy..

          1. re: grant.cook

            Well we've seen lots of speedy knife skills - and the resulting cuts.
            And we've seen several more laid back and relaxed chefs win. Speed might not be the issue as much as the precision. I can make pretty, but not automatically and on high speed :)
            So knife skills certainly a point of possible failure, and yes I'd say thats one point for the pro.

            The ovens are GE Monogram I think. Nothing special about them, and the opposite of heat seems to be the rule: we've seen several chefs have an issue with the oven not heating fast or or hot enough. Pots on the stove taking more time than they think to come to boil, etc.
            I'd say the serious home cook, home chef we are talking about likely has the higher end appliances and would be equally frustrated or rattled a bit. I know one gourmet power cooking couple that has some super duper high BTU output equipment that seems to be nuclear powered or something. Makes me nervous just to put on the tea pot compared to my own little rattle trap at home. So this one is probably a draw.

            Plating, yes could be the main issue. I know I don't spend too much time fiddling with the stuff and its usually family style eating anyway. Power couple mentioned above has never served us anything but family style either. Odds are with the pro on this one.
            So another point for the pro.

            So then it boils down to which one made the best tasting food, was consistent throughout, had that much vaunted and very difficult connection between all three dishes.

        2. Thre are probably some home cooks who could do it. I could not. No way would I be fast enough or calm enough under pressure. Home cooks don't have the training to think on their feet like that _ at least not the ones I know. And the ingredients they get are hard! There's often something quite obscure that I would not know how to prepare.

          5 Replies
          1. re: NYCkaren

            I'm with you, it's the speed that would get me. And some of the ingredient baskets are very difficult combinations.

            1. re: jeanmarieok

              I think if I knew what I was doing - the time wouldnt be a problem for me, and I'm pretty familiar with allot of obscure items...My biggest challenge would be thinking of what to do right there on the spot. I like to think of myself as creative in the kitchen, but I don't think I would be able to think so quickly under such pressure.

            2. re: NYCkaren

              Obscure would stop me cold too. Just no exposure either through cooking or "book learning" to so much out there. That's one area where I think a culinary school grad has some advantage - exposure, however slight, to a wide range of ingredients. Some little thing in the back of the mind "oh yeah, that's a XYZ, its like ABC, and I know how to cook ABC so I'll cook XYZ like ABC"

              1. re: Tmrock

                Tmrock, Grant, NYCKaren - thanks for adding your opinions.

                I think the College Jeopoardy analogy is a great one. Some things would have to change in order for home chefs to hold their own on Chopped..even if all 4 contetsants were home chefs:

                1) less obscure ingredients
                2) more time to complete the dish

                And in general - these folks would have to be prequalified - abililty to plate dishes, diverse enough skill set to do dessert, appetizer, main course with no problems.

                1. re: kaysyrahsyrah

                  I think separating the wheat from the chaff would be very difficult. Shows cost money so can't afford to spend too much looking for contestants. Probably have to fall back on the "won a blue ribbon at the country fair" sort of thing.

                  But hey, keep the ingredients tough, the time the same. After all IF the notion is that there are home cooks out there that could compete, then they should compete with the same rules.

            3. I have never seen the program you are all discussing as I do not watching television, but do get some programming via the net. I read above where some one claims they would enter the show if they had auditions, and well, well well... Gordon Ramsay is looking for some pawns. Dallas is the hot bed for contestents for any reality programming. Guess we give good television?