What It Was Really Like To Compete On Food Network Chopped

Back in January, I was featured on an episode of Food Network Chopped. Here’s the full episode if you want to watch it

The whole thing came to fruition over 2 years ago, before I had any idea I would ever be working at Barstool Sports.

Back when I was a sophomore at UW- Madison I started a catering business, The College Cook, with the goal of bringing home-cooked meals to college students who had no idea what they were doing in the kitchen. 

That spiraled into catering parties and eventually, I partnered up with a local Madison bar, The Kollege Klub, where I wrote, and ran my own late-night bar menu. Every Thurs-Sat from 9 pm-2:30 am I was behind the grill pumping out my food, it was awesome. 

From that, I was able to parlay opening a full pop up brunch restaurant that I ran every Sunday with a team of talented local cooks.

The brunch restaurant was short-lived when I decided on a whim to take the little money I had made cooking and buy a one-way ticket to Thailand, where I began what I called “The College Cook World Tour” I ended up cooking my way through most of SE Asia and eventually linking up with The Wonton Don in China, but that's a different story for a different time.  

It just so happened that around the same time I was doing everything with the College Cook Chopped was casting contestants for a college episode of the show. I guess I was in the right place at the right time and had just the right branding so that if anyone was doing a basic social media search for College Cooking I would pop up. 

I remember being somewhere in Nepal when I got the email asking if I would like to participate in the show. Of course, I accepted immediately.  

Fast forward a few months to when I’m back in New York now working as an intern at HQ 2, on June 21st, 2018 I filmed the episode. 

It was 5 in the morning on the day of the competition and I was walking into a Mcdonalds on the upper east side, where I was told to wait to be picked up by a runner from the show. The other contestants were already there. I sat down with them, introduced myself, and started feeling them out. 

They all sounded way more prepared than me. I felt like I often did in school when you walk into a test feeling great and then talk to the people around you and find out they spent wayyyy more time studying and still didn’t feel too confident and you realize ‘oh shit maybe I should have studied a little more’’

I procrastinated practicing for Chopped, and although I had nearly 4 months to prepare I did next to nothing to get ready (Aside from the spoof video Donnie and I made in china)

It was around 6 AM when we finally arrived at the studio. We were greeted by a producer who took our phones immediately, they were to be returned when you left the competition. Paperwork, wardrobe, and a walkthrough of the set took us to about 7 AM. The first round of the competition was set to start at 8:30 am, which left us an hour and a half to kill in that small kitchen room they always show contestants sitting in on TV. 

This was the worst part of the competition. Once the initial small talk was over there wasn’t much else to talk about amongst us. I mean at the end of the day we were all there to win, so we sat in silence for an hour. The other dude brought a poetry book, which I thought was a jackass move.

8:30 AM rolled around and it was time to get cooking. When I saw that Martha Stewart was one of the Judges I had to do a double-take. 

I didn’t have much time to process that I was about to be cooking for an absolute legend of the game. As soon as we got to set, Ted Allen gave a quick intro and it was game on from there.

Let me be the first to tell you there are no smoke and mirrors behind the scenes of Chopped. The clock is real and it fucking moves fast, and the ingredients are in fact, a mystery. For editing purposes they make you open the basket twice so you get about a 15-second head start on the clock to start planning your dish. 

I don’t really remember most of what happened from the clock starting to the buzzer going off. I was in autopilot mode, the first thing my head thought of I went with, which ended up being a meatball. Having spent the last 4 months in Asia those flavors heavily influenced my dish. 

I looked down at my plate once the buzzer sounded, and I honestly thought it might be over for me. My meatball had completely fallen apart. 

But luckily, as I said on the show, the flavor was there and it came through with a bang. I was safe for another round.

Here's another thing about chopped that isn’t apparent from watching it on TV. It takes a long time between finishing cooking and the actual judging process. We all clear the kitchen while the crew resets and collects our final plates, then we re-enter the studio for the judging portion. 

You spend most of the day alone in a green room. By the time any of the food reaches the judges, it is cold. There's nothing that can really be done about this, all the competitors have to deal with it and the judges are good about being able to take this factor into account when tasting the food. 

The judges are way more helpful than how they come across on TV. Besides Martha, she was one tough motherfucker. Honestly, I think she forgot she was judging college students because there were times she let us HAVE it. Most of that didn't make it to air.

I didn’t mind though, it was Martha fucking Stewart I was just happy to be in the same room as her.

After surviving the first round I was much more comfortable in the kitchen. I told myself going into the day that as long as I wasn’t the first one Chopped I would feel accomplished. I had a blast for the remainder of the competition.

I was all over the place, running back and forth between the pantry and my station, throwing pans, burning my hands, and swearing up a storm. I was honestly surprised by how much clean audio they were able to pull because after the first round a producer pulled me aside and told me to cool it on the F-bombs. 

Every round came right down to the wire for me and in every round, I made something I had never made before in my life. The dish I made in the second round was my favorite of the three, making bread and a stew in 30 mins was not something I thought I could pull off. 

All in all my ambition may have gotten the best of me when I thought it would be a good idea to use the anti griddle to make a shaved ice in the dessert round. 

I was way over my head at that point, in hindsight, I should have dumped everything I had into the icecream machine and hopped for the best. In the end, I still scraped together what I thought was a championship-worthy dish but alas the powers at be did not think so and I was chopped. 

I spent about an hour after I got chopped recounting the whole day on camera for the narration shots they use. This part sucked, I had to act all chipper after just having lost a very winnable 10K. The producers could tell it was the last thing I wanted to be doing and helped make it a little better by sneaking me a few beers.

By the time I left the studio, it was already past 8 PM, a 15 hour day total to film a 30 min TV show. 

Although I’d love to have that 10K sitting in my bank account, I’m still very proud of what I was able to accomplish. I was able to make it to all three rounds, and just being able to cook for legends like Martha Stewart, Amanda Freytag, and Scott Conant was a win in and of itself. 

I think really what the show did was give me major confidence in my ability as a cook. Hearing Scott say he’d love to have me in his kitchen and that we did better than some professional chefs was a pretty cool feeling.

So no, by definition I may not be a professional chef, but I’d be nowhere without cooking, it's such a massive part of my life. If I never got the incredible opportunity to be working at Barstool, I’d be in the back of a kitchen somewhere, burning my hands, throwing pans around, and cooking up a storm.