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'Chefs Vs. City' comes to L.A., turns the tables on Chef Aaron Sanchez

September 9, 2009 |  2:36 pm

Aaron Does Chef Aaron Sanchez have an enemy at Food Network?

Sanchez stars in the new series "Chefs Vs. City" -- think "Amazing Race" for the food and travel set. Each week, Sanchez and his long-time friend Chris Constantino drop into cities all across the country to compete against a pair of local chefs in a series of food challenges that serve to show off a region's culinary and travel highlights.

Sounds all well and good. But so far this season, Sanchez has been sent charging across the blazing hot desert, force fed like a foi gras duck, cracked his elbow in a serious fall, subjected to sub-zero temperatures -- and berrated by sidekick Constantino at every turn. Friday night's show finds the pair in L.A., and while we cannot give anything away, we can say that Sanchez does battle with some chili peppers -- and doesn't necessarily get the better of them.

"I'm telling you, I have been put through the ringer, sometimes I'm like "Is someone out to get me?'" Sanchez joked during a recent telephone interview. "Chris and I didn't necessarily know what we were signing up for. But I am really enjoying this."

It's a starkly different side of Sanchez than the one that Food Network fans normally see.

If you watch "Chopped!" -- and if you don't, you should -- you'll recall Sanchez as

an exacting judge, almost regal in his bearing, and patriarchical at that: While he does not spare competitors his wrath, he almost always has something encouraging to say to them, as if he sees something of himself in their eyes.

"I have this serious judgmental side to me," Sanchez conceded, "but I think it's also important to see me making fun and making a fool of myself." After all, said Sanchez, a New York restauranteur with XXX, XXX, and XXX to his name, it's only fair. "How can I judge people if I'm not willing to subject myself to competition?"

All fun and games aside, Sanchez said he and Constantino signed on to "Chefs Vs. City" as a way to travel the country meeting fellow chefs, artisan foodmakers and craftsman, and eating at some of the most legendary restaurants along the way. "Who wouldn't want to do that?" he said.

That's not to say that there haven't been a few bumps. Like the fall he took in the season opener. He was racing out a door onto a New York City sidewalk when -- splat! -- he took a hard fall, landing on his elbow. "I took a nasty, nasty spill," he recalled. "I thought I was seriously hurt." But he was professional enough to ask whether he should redo the shot again, without the fall. "But [the crew] looked at me like 'Are you crazy?' They said "We loved it! Can you fall like that again for us'" so we can get it from another angle? "I'm like 'No, I have no elbow now. I hope you are happy.'"

Luckily, there was no lasting damage.

Sanchez said he thinks "Chef's Vs. City" has given him greater insight into the pressures of competition. "I think I'm a little more patient. A little more understanding. And, I have to say, also a little more demanding of myself and others."

That could either be good news -- or, very very bad news -- for future competitors on "Chopped."

--Rene Lynch