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.


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    Amanda, who’s on screen appearance is soft and has an uninhibited demeanor, is the least technically astute judge on Chopped. In my ranking shes #9.
    Her unsuccessful competing against her colleagues (first chopped in the chopped judges competition) sets the tone for that ranking.

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      This was ENTIRELY amusing. Your Geoffrey Zakarian review is funny and thought provoking.
      Hope the “Secret” comes out soon. There is definitely “something” peculiar about him. Thank you.

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      Excellent order! Marcus Samuelsson is the consumate professional and with Scott, Amanda and or Maneet, I know we’re in for a great session.

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        Manner is just a gal that has a rich husband. She is without a doubt the worst judge on the show. She needs to be sent back to her eatery that her husband pays for.

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      Amanda finds something good about the dish that’s why. I like her positive position.

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    Without a doubt, Marc Murphy is the worst Chopped Judge, closely followed by Amanda Freitag, Maneet Chauhan, and Chris Santos. None of these judges have any credibility. They do not have any REAL presence on any Food Network Show and have not won any serious competitions. They should be removed from Chopped.

    Jeffrey Zakarian is the BEST Chopped judge. He is extremely talented and informative, he is also a very successful competitor and an Iron Chef. He can also make more than Curry Chicken and has very successful restaurants.

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    You are so critical on Chopped! I would love to see you in a challenge!

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      There’s an art to giving criticism and Amanda is a master at it.

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        Yes !! And she is the worst chef judge. Gets her butt kicked everytime she competes.
        HATE her ” mean ” look.

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    Commenters are in no way qualified to speak to the judge’s “credibility.” Apparently these judges are a polarizing subject, my partner and I found ourselves becoming very defensive at some of these brash descriptions of the judges! “A soulless husk playacting as a human..” Come on now, Zakarian seems to me one of the more informed judges on the panel. I’ll admit he’s not as emotive as Guarnaschelli, granted. I will also say Alex is more balanced than you give her credit for; I think she can be empowering as much as she is critical. Chris Santos is absolutely a tough judge, though you mention nothing of his necessary questions he asks the contestants. I agree with some of the commenters that we don’t share your hard-on for Freitag though. She is sweet, but number 2? Here’s my list as follows:

    1.Alex Guarnaschelli
    2.Scott Conant
    3. Jeff Zakarian
    4.Maneet Chouhan
    5. Aarón Sánchez
    6. Marcus Samuelsson
    7. Amanda Freitag
    8.Chris Santos
    9.Marc Murphy

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      PLEASE…. get rid of Jeff Zakarian.
      He is a smart ass… as well Chris Santos. If they are that miserable..let them leave. 2 worst judges.
      Amanda also has zero business judging. Never EVER beats the other judges while cooking. And when she cometed against the contestants, they GAVE her the win. She did not earn it

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    Chris Santos is unnecessarily nasty to the contestants. I always know he will make sure to never give a positive review… he’s got to get the competitors almost in tears. CHOP HIM FROM THE JUDGES PANEL.

    I think Alex is scary but honest. She is a real pro. The same goes for Jeffrey and Scott. I like Mark, too. I would love to eat Marcus’ food. Another outstanding chef and judge. The others are all okay, although Aarón appears arrogant in his delivery.

    Finally. Ted is a superb host and sensitive to the challenges facing the competitors. I can’t imagine being in such a pressure cooker (excuse the pun) competition.

    • Paul

      I regret not mentioning Ted when I wrote this post. He is the perfect host, sublime in his role.

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        I feel alex is the best judge by far honest and fair. Scott hell he nice to look at lol. Maneet i enjoy watching her i think she is to the point. Amanda just seems like she lost half the time and speaks so slowly. But she does give encouragement to contestants i love that abou her. Aaron he seems like a nice guy and very clear on what he feels needs approvment. No real opions on others.

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    This isn’t a bad list. However, it needs a few corrections. I think people are way too hard on Maneet and too easy on Alex (boring, not as tough as everyone seems to think—remember when Chef Malik went off with a bitter diatribe against the judges and she just sat there? )

    I also like Zakarian, lol—love him or hate him, he brings a lot of personality to the show. I’d rather listen to him than Santos or Murphy any day.

    Here’s how I’d rank them:

    1–Scott Conant

    2–Amanda Freitag

    3. Geoffrey Zakarian

    4. Aarón Sánchez

    5. Maneet Chouhan

    6. Marcus Samuelsson

    7.Alex Guarnaschelli

    8. Marc Murphy

    9. Chris Santos

  7. Avatar


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      PLEASE CHOP Maneet, Santos, Scott and Geoffrey. They are super critical, HORRIBLE judges! I turn the channel when they are on!

      • Avatar

        I respect your list and opinions, but each judge has their personality. Like Alex is the diva and Amanda is the positive and happy one. Marcus is the intelligent one. Geoffrey is the elegant one. Marc is the carefree one like you said. Scott is the one who is joyful and goofy judge in a good way. Aaron is the hardworking one all about business like you said. Chris is like a cool and carefree guy just like Marc, but with an edge. Maneet is new and was the last judge to join, but I like her style so I’ll say that she is the stylish one of the group.


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