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Allen talks about “Chopped” judge and friend Scott Conant, who recently opened Mora Italian in Phoenix.
An Arizona chef will be “chopped” this weekend, and Food Network star Ted Allen will be there to run the play-by-play.
Allen, host of the cooking competition “Chopped,” will host the “Secret Ingredient Cooking Challenge” on Saturday and Sunday, April 29-30, at the Maricopa County Home Show. Two local chefs — John Collura, creator of Mangia Mangia Sauce, and John Chambers of Sogno Toscano — will compete both days, cooking with Arizona ingredients from “mystery baskets.”
A New York resident, Allen has been the host of “Chopped” since it debuted in 2009. The show pits four chefs against each other in a three-round contest that covers appetizers, entrees and desserts. Each round, the chefs have to prepare a dish using mandatory ingredients that don’t usually go together. One chef is eliminated each round and the winner receives $10,000.
“Chopped” is in its 33rd season — with multiple seasons airing during the year — and there have been many iterations, from “All-Stars” to “Chopped Junior.” Producers are recruiting contestants in Phoenix and Scottsdale for several upcoming seasons.
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Allen has written several books, including two cookbooks: “The Food You Want To Eat: 100 Smart, Simple Recipes;” and “In My Kitchen: 100 Recipes and Discoveries for Passionate Cooks.”
The dish on ‘Chopped’ and Scott Conant
We spoke with Allen about “Chopped” judge and friend Scott Conant, who recently opened Mora Italian in Phoenix, and about how the show stays fresh after so many seasons.
Question: What ingredients come to mind when you think of Arizona?
Answer: There’s probably not a lot of local seafood (laughs). We’ve had cactus on “Chopped” a lot, including prickly pear and cactus flowers. I think about beans and chiles, like ancho chiles. I love Mexican cooking and variations on it.
Q: What makes a “Chopped” competition so difficult?
A: Even if we told you what we’re going to give you, it’s not easy to prepare a dish that looks pretty and tastes good in 30 to 40 minutes. Yes, chefs have to work fast like they do in a restaurant, but everything in a restaurant is tested and tested and tested, so nothing is left to chance. A chef in a restaurant has her own tools, her own stove, her own point of view, but when she’s thrown a mystery basket, she has no time to think about it. The pressure of the cameras and the fact that she has a reputation to uphold, with judges watching every move, is really scary.
Q: How do you think “Chopped” has continued to be a success after all this time?
A: When you shoot a show as long as we’ve shot, one of two things happen: You get tired of it or you constantly make it better. We have a 12-hour shoot day and on the production side, we’ve tightened everything up and made it as efficient as it can be. We have our own colorful language and the place is like a finely tuned sports car. We trust everyone and they’re a heck of a lot of fun to work with.
Q: Why do people keep watching the show?
A: The judges are great and really know how to describe the food in a way that’s vivid, so hopefully the viewer can understand. The show is honest, and based entirely on what the food tastes like. Cooking is a craft that is deeply important to all the judges, and they take it really seriously.
Q: What is a little-known fact about “Chopped”?
A: Viewers might not realize our baskets are not random. We have a committee that argues at length about what goes into the baskets. Each basket has an idea in it. We might have lavosh, silken tofu and tomatillos, so maybe we are looking for a play on grilled cheese and tomato soup. The basket has to be hard, but attainable.
Q:Why do you think there haven’t been a lot of Arizona chefs on “Chopped?”
A: I think i’ts just by accident. Because we have to shoot a bio package on each chef, we like to shoot at the restaurants, and we have to send a crew. We pick four or five cities at a time that will fill up our season.
?Q: Are you going to visit Mora Italian while you’re here?
A: Scott promised me a table, so we’ll see if he keeps his word. I’ve eaten a lot of Scott’s food and I use his cookbook too, and he’s an incredibly gifted chef… He has such a delicate and nuanced style of cooking, and he can take something as mundane as cornmeal and turn it into something sexy and delicious.
Meet Ted Allen at Maricopa County Home Show
Where: Arizona State Fairgrounds, 1826 W. McDowell Road, Phoenix.
When: Secret Ingredient Cooking Challenge begins at noon Saturday and Sunday, April 29-30, inside the Plaza Building (guests are encouraged to arrive at 10 a.m. to get a guaranteed seating wristband). Meet-and-greet runs from 1-2 p.m. both days.
Home show: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 28-29; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, April 30.
Admission: $8; $3 for ages 3-12; $1 for ages 60 and older from 10 a.m. to noon all days; free for everyone from 4-6 p.m. Friday. Half off with military ID. Free admission with donation of five items (cans of fruit, beans or vegetables, peanut butter, tuna or a 24-pack of water). Donations will go to St. Mary’s Food Bank.
Details: 602-485-1691, maricopacountyhomeshows.com.
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