I love watching Chopped. I watch regular seasons; Chopped Champions; Chopped All-Stars; Chopped Grill Masters; marathons, and I confess, I watch re-runs. This cooking competition is endlessly enjoyable to watch, not only for the spectacular plates, which, after all, we can only see, but in its utterly simple structure that allows so much creativity and brilliance to be presented. It also speaks to our cultural ideals–not just our ideal meals.

In case you are one of the few who are not yet acquainted with Chopped, allow me to introduce you. It is a TV Food Network cooking show with four chefs competing for a $10,000.00 prize. There are three rounds: appetizer,entree, and dessert. In each round, the chefs are given a basket of three to five ingredients (usually four), all of which must be used in some form in their dishes. The chefs also have access to pantry and refrigerator ingredients, but the focus must be on the basket ingredients, which are not usually prepared together. Each round is timed: twenty minutes for the appetizer round, and thirty minutes each for the entree and dessert rounds. The competing chefs are judged by a panel of three renowned chefs who critique the dishes and decide based on presentation, taste, and creativity. The judges must determine which competing chef must be eliminated from the next round. Who will be chopped? Thus, the appetizer round starts with four chefs competing. The entree round has three remaining chefs competing. By the dessert round, the last two competing chefs will be judged not only on their desserts, but on their entire meals. The winner gets $10,000.00.

The show is so enticing because it appeals to many of our appetites. On the most basic level, Chopped is a cooking competition, so while it may not actually fill us with food, we have a natural desire for food. (DO NOT WATCH IF YOU ARE PHYSICALLY HUNGRY!) It is also exciting competition and “feeds” the part of us that enjoys sports (and prize money). Beyond the obvious, the show has evolved to embrace certain features that we strive for as a culture. We hunger for rules that apply to all. We thirst for excellence and consideration. We savor the go-getter.  We crave beauty and inspiration. Technique matters, but ultimately it has to taste good.

Chopped is a meritocracy. The chefs who compete,while mostly American, are truly a cross section of America.  Talented, extremely hard-working people, regardless of background or even current job title, compete. Sometimes, when the chefs are immigrants, or new residents, their incredibly hard work and overwhelming desire to succeed is inspiring. Those who are competing from (and occasionally for) other countries, are in love with Chopped, and want to participate in that bit of America and “bring it home”. Young, not-so-young, male, female, white, non-white, straight, gay, professional, amateur…all compete in the Chopped kitchen, as long as they prove their abilities and play by the rules.

The main rule is to use all of the basket ingredients. As any Chopped lover knows, however, it is never enough to merely have the basket ingredients in the prepared dish. The goal is to transform the ingredients. This is the most inspiring part of the show, and it speaks to our cultural aspirations of transformation. How can we transform seemingly disparate elements?

Sure Chopped is fun cooking competition, but it is also nourishing. Those of us who can devour a Chopped marathon, appreciate the fortitude of the contestants. We sympathize with their often difficult life circumstances and admire their resourcefulness, not only in the kitchen, but in doing what they can do to improve their lives and the lives of their families and communities. This theme is emphasized on Chopped, and yes, gives Chopped it’s distinctive flavor. We admire these traits also, and are delighted to see excellence showcased with a dose of deference to earned authority and wisdom, as well as creativity, beauty and transformation amidst healthy competition. These are the very traits that we parents and teachers and other leaders seek to instill in our children.

Ok. So Chopped is just a cooking show, but the themes are also a recipe for success; for transformation. Let’s get cooking!

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