The Food Network is dominated these days by reality-TV-style cooking shows, and one of the best of them is Chopped. Hosted by Ted Allen, it pits four chefs against one another in timed matches with mystery ingredients. It's often more drama than cooking, with chefs splattering one another with hot liquids and stealing ingredients.
It also seems entirely fixed.
The show that exemplified this first aired January 29. The first round set the stage for a match that seemed picked by the producers.
The four chefs were asked to cook appetizers using sake, grapes, and chicken
wings. All in 20 minutes. Only one chef managed to fully cook the
wings, but the worst offender was John Sierp, executive chef at
White Cloud Catering in New York City. His dish had to be the most disgusting plate ever served on Chopped.
first tried to deep fry his wings, but when the oil didn't get hot
enough, he switched to boiling them. With time running out, he took
them out of the water and dropped them into butter and hot sauce that didn't stick to the wet, uncooked chicken skin. The
finished product looked rubbery, white, and entirely inedible.
finish, he plated them with a lettuce leaf, some grapes thrown on the
plate, and what looked like a bowl of store-bought ranch dressing. The
sake appeared to be missing entirely.
It seemed that there was
no question Sierp would be "chopped." But no, the judges axed Linda Laestadius, the pastry chef at the Bear Cafe in Woodstock, New York.
had produced what appeared to be three well-cooked chicken wings and
one that had some pink in the middle. She also produced a grape and
sake salad that the judges raved about.
Reached by phone in Woodstock, Laestadius says she's not sure why she got chopped.
felt it was really weird," she says. "I'm not sure exactly what
happened. As far as I know, nothing's fixed, but we are not there when
we are being judged, so I don't know if there is somebody influencing
So what could have been the motivation behind the
decision? Laestadius, a native of Sweden, has a sweet, quiet demeanor.
But a sweet, quiet demeanor doesn't equal stage presence.
Meanwhile, Sierp works as a New York City firefighter on the side and has a
personality as big as a ladder truck. He has appeared on TV several times,
including with Martha Stewart, Bobby Flay, and Rachael Ray. The
producers must have known they had a crowd pleaser with Sierp. Losing
him in the first round could lose viewers.
So Laestadius went
home, and Sierp moved on to the entree round, where he produced a dish
of catfish that was simply thrown on a plate cafeteria-style. Judges are supposed to consider presentation as a main criterion, but
Sierp moved on to the dessert.
In the final round, Sierp finally got chopped. He lost to Justin Gaines, executive sous chef at Zanaro's Italian Restaurant
in White Plains, New York. Gaines produced plates all day that looked
better than Sierp's -- but then, so did the other contestants.
For his part, Sierp says he doesn't think the show is fixed. He answered that question by email:
No, I definitely don't think it's fixed. They edit a lot of the comments out,
and the other apps were worse than mine. If it were fixed, I would
have won. My entree was actually better than both of the competitors (it was
only sloppy on the plate. they LOVED every component), and my dessert was
better than his was. They all said that also. I spoke with the judges the
night the show aired. They all thought I should have won, but that I lost
because his wings were cooked, and mine weren't. They really do argue about who
they think should win, and that's the winner in the end. They don't show A LOT
of the happenings that go on.
For his part, Ted Allen couldn't be reached. Food Network spokeswoman Lisa Krueger
said he "is not the appropriate person to give answers to these
questions..." Instead, Krueger forwarded an emailed response from Allison Page, vice president of programming for the Food Network:
Chopped is not fixed. We rely solely on the opinions of the three judges in each episode to eliminate contestants in each round and select a winner in the end. Each judge will have their own opinions on the executions of the contestants' dishes, but they come to a consensus every time and agree on who will be eliminated.
If the show is fixed, it wouldn't be
the first time the Food Network has lied to its viewers to build the
drama on one of its reality-TV-type shows. Earlier this month, Krueger admitted that the vegetables used on an episode of Iron Chef were not from the White House garden, as had been claimed on the show.
So is the show fixed? Aren't all reality TV shows?