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Judges get their just dessert as 'Chopped All-Stars' begins Sunday

March 5, 2011 |  9:25 am

Debbie Lee & Judging Panel_Ep 1 (3)
It’s time to turn the table on the “Chopped” judges.

“Chopped All-Stars" starts Sunday night for a special five-episode series featuring a who's who cast from Food Network, including network celebrities including Duff Goldman of “Ace of Cakes,” L.A. restaurant consultant and former “Next Food Network Star” competitor Debbie Lee and New York chef and “Next Iron Chef” competitor Nate Appleman.

But the delicious highlight is this: “Chopped” judges Maneet Chauhan, Amanda Freitag, Aaron Sanchez and Geoffrey Zakarian –- all chefs -- will face the dreaded chopping block themselves.

“It’s the question I get asked the most,” “Chopped” host Ted Allen said. “People want to know when we’re going to turn the tables on the judges -- those mean, nitpicky judges…Well, it’s here.”

For the uninitiated: Each competition starts out with four hopefuls, who face a mystery basket of ingredients designed to confound them and put their creativity to the test. They must use each ingredient to make an appetizer, entrée and dessert, all while up against the clock. One competitor is eliminated after each round until one chef is left standing.

This all-star series will lead to a finale featuring the winners from the earlier episodes. Week 1 features fan favorites from “The Next Food Network Star.” Week 2 features Food Network stars. Week 3 welcomes noted restaurant chefs. And Week 4 features the “Chopped” judges. The winner will get $50,000 for his or her favorite charity.

If you’re not watching “Chopped,” you should be. IMHO, it’s one of the single best food competitions on TV. The format leaves no time for the backbiting and petty drama that can mark so many other food competitions. On “Chopped,” there’s no time to do anything but cook your heart out. The judges also have plenty of discretion. What you cooked in Round 1 can help –- or hurt -– come Round 3 because the judges can draw on the entire performance to make their decisions.

"The level of competition is so elevated that it's thrilling,” Allen said of the "All-Stars" series. “You're not going to see a whole bunch of people who are nervous around the cameras [like the typical "Chopped" competitor who has rarely, if ever, been on TV.] You’re going to see a bunch of people who are comfortable on set, they know how to make delicious food and they know how to make it fast, and they’re very competitive and they hate to lose." 

He added: “We also have elements of tension that come from places you might not have expected.” Such as “Chopped” judges who don’t like to judge –- or be judged by –- their fellow judges.  “You can see how uncomfortable it makes everyone, they really squirm. Especially Alex,” Allen said with a laugh. "It makes for good TV.”

Alex is Alex Guarnaschelli, whose acid tongue makes her the harshest of the “Chopped” judges. (Although she hardly needs to speak to register her displeasure with a subpar dish. She just lowers her eyelids and glowers.) She will return as a judge in Week 4.

Will “Chopped” fans see the tables turned on Guarnaschelli at some point in the future? “We’ll see,” Allen said.

Allen will Tweet Sunday’s episode live. You can follow him @ChopTedAllen. But if you want to interact with him in the social media world, head on over to his Facebook page, where you’ll find him chit-chatting with fans and answering their questions.

--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: From left, judges Alex Guarnaschelli and Marc Murphy, host Ted Allen and competitor Debbie Lee. Credit: Food Network

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