We spoke with Ted Allen about his favorite judges on the show, the worst Chopped disaster, and the Chopped at Home Challenge. The challenge returns this week, allowing food fans to put their cooking chops to the test. The first round is comfort food and the only catch is that you have to use Sargento cheese products in your dish, which is a far cry from jellied eel or durian, for sure. The four winners, after submitting several rounds of cheesy innovations, will win $5,000 each and be able to compete in a real-live Chopped episode at Food Network’s studios.
The Daily Meal: What’s your advice for entering the Chopped at Home Challenge?
Ted Allen: Whatever you own and love to make, just go for it. We always tell people on Chopped do things that are true to you. Don’t try to cook for the judges; cook things that have gone over well in your own home.
One of the most popular cheesy comfort foods is mac and cheese. What, to you, makes for a perfect macaroni and cheese?
I always make a béchamel sauce with Cheddar. I also like a crusty breadcrumb top layer with maybe garlic, smoked paprika, or chipotle sprinkled on top of that. I respect technique that creates gooeyness. I also always use milk instead of cream in my béchamel sauce so it’s cheese-forward and not too cream-forward.
What’s the worst disaster you’ve seen on Chopped?
The game is designed to trip you up, of course. Those are things producers love, but I just want people to do well. There was once a guy who got nothing done except one plate had three edamame on it and the rest of the plates were totally empty. He just froze and wasn’t able to get anything done. I absolutely sympathize, but no one has ever touched that record in terms of an epic fail.
If you were to compete on Chopped, which judge would you want to review your dish?
I love them all. They’re totally different, but I’d lean toward Chris Santos or Amanda Freitag. I like the way they analyze food. They’re both deeply sincere and knowledgeable. I’ve seen some judges on other shows who seem to only want to promote themselves. As for who I’d least like to see judge me? Definitely Alex [Guarnaschelli] or Scott [Conant]. She’s so smart that you can’t get anything past her. It’s not a good idea to try, and she knows it. It’s always fun when someone tries to play games with any of those two. Scott has a strong BS meter, believe me. It never works.
Is there an ingredient you’ve seen on Chopped that you wouldn’t eat?
Oh, plenty of them! We just did an episode with dried fermented scallops, and a lot of people didn’t know what to do with them. It’s a great ingredient for umami, but a strong flavor, so you don’t want to use a lot of it. Also chicken feet are tough. My favorite weird ingredient is whole chicken in a can. It’s actually really great. It makes me happy in a satisfied, but horrified way.