2017 is starting off with a bang!  We are mere weeks away from a new president being sworn in, Russians invading our internets, and hate crimes being committed left right and center.  But rather than focusing on all that doom and gloom, I want to devote this post to something that I am truly passionate about: the judges from the Food Network show Chopped.

If you aren’t familiar, Chopped is a cooking competition reality show.  Four chefs compete across three rounds (usually appetizer, entrée, and dessert) with one chef eliminated (“chopped”) at the end of each round.  Each round, they are given a basket of “mystery ingredients”—generally rarely-used or distinct items—they must incorporate into their dish.  Food Network milked this simple premise into over 400+ episodes/specials.

Unlike other cooking shows such as Top Chef or MasterChef, the audience doesn’t really have time to form an attachment to the chefs competing.  The chefs are there for one episode, quickly eliminated, and all their personal sob stories about why they are competing are totally interchangeable.  It is truly the judges who shine brightly on this program.  So, here is the definitive ranking of the judges from best to worst (as well as a few remarks on their fashion sense).

1. Marcus Samuelsson — The gold standard of judges. If you see him on the panel, you know it is going to be a good episode.  Marcus is the most knowledgeable and insightful judge of them all, and his discerning palette quickly weeds out the unready.  Moreover, watching him compete against his fellow judges in the specials is sublime.  It is almost embarrassing how easily he outclasses every single one of his peers.

Fashion: Mirrors his cooking style—bold, eclectic, bright, global—and he wears it with panache.

2. Amanda Freitag — Perhaps a controversial choice for the number two slot, but a personal favorite of mine.  While she may not be the most technical or discerning judge on the panel, she makes up for it with screen charisma.  Charming and delightful, she is the judge that most encourages the chefs and will always have a kind word.  Her signature move is to bury her face in her hands if she thinks a chef isn’t going to plate in time.  Also, she usually seems a bit high/drunk, so that is fun.

Fashion: Usually a white shirt and dark blazer, i.e. the Olivia Benson.

3. Aarón Sánchez Probably the second best judge from a technical standpoint, Aarón is a very measured judge.  He is all business, which provides a nice balance to some of the other judges who are mostly there to wisecrack.  He nicely balances criticism and praise and is the most well rounded judge.

Fashion: Usually a neutral shirt/jacket combo sans tie, subdued and balanced like his judging persona.

4. Scott Conant — A perfect blend of Amanda and Aarón.  He loves to joke around with his fellow judges, but he buckles down when it comes time to actually taste the food.  He is the lord of all things Italian, and chefs need to be bring their best pasta game if they want to impress this bearded beauty.

Fashion: Comfy.  Scott and his coiffed hair usually go for the suit and sweater vest combo, which I am not normally a fan of, but he pulls it off magnificently.  It must be his perfect red beard that allows him to pull of this look.

5. Alex Guarnaschelli — Essentially tied with Scott for 4th place, I consider her to be the “heel” of the show, which is not a bad thing—every good reality show needs a Simon Cowell.  She is the judge most often grilling the chefs and taking them to task for their errors.  Her incisive criticism has humbled many a cocksure chef.

Fashion: Blouse/jacket combo, statement jewelry piece such as a necklace or earrings, paired with a furrowed brow of confusion that a chef served such a mediocre dish.

6. Marc Murphy — is a marvelously mediocre judge.  He has a carefree demeanor but lacks the screen presence or technical knowhow of his fellow judges to really make him stand out.  He floats along in the middle, firing off one or two zingers an episode and joking around with host Ted Allen.  His signature sitting style is slouched slightly too far back and to the right.

Fashion: Similar to Aarón’s but worn with more irreverence.

7. Chris Santos — poor Chris Santos, he seems to exist solely so that the producers can make sure he receives the dish that has ingredients left off the plate.  Perhaps that is why he seems perpetually grumpy.  His signature catchphrase is, “The X didn’t make it on my plate, so I can’t speak to that.”

Fashion: Some dumbass graphic t-shirt/suit jacket combo, or just a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up so we can see his rad tats, brah!

8. Maneet Chauhan — the least likeable of the “villains” of the show.  Perhaps it is because she was the last judge to join the panel, she comes across as inexperienced in her judging.  Her criticisms come across as aggressive and awkward.  She is similar to Richard Blais when Top Chef made him a judge, and he came across as a petulant child.

Fashion: She shines despite her personality, and she adds a nice pop of color to the usually muted tones of the panel.  Project Runway guest judge when?

9. Geoffrey Zakarian — a soulless husk of a body playacting at being human with all the appeal and personality of white bread.  His cold, calculating demeanor is not unlike that of a reptile, giving credence to the theory that he is in fact a lizard person.  There is something off about him, like CGI Tarkin from Rogue One, or that person who you know is weird but you can’t quite figure it out and then someone tells you, “Oh yeah, they are in a cult” and it all makes sense.

Fashion: Usually some dumb blue/grey suit covering his clammy skinflesh.

Paul Menn
Paul ('10) lives in Grand Rapids with his wife, Emma ('10), and cat, HandsomeMarcoCat. He loves board games, Babylon 5, and honey-curry chicken. Everything else is negotiable.

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