Competitive Grilling in the Great Outdoors: Ted Allen on the Challenges of Chopped Grill Masters
For the second time in the show's history, Chopped headed out of the studio and into the great outdoors for Grill Masters. The cast traded in their dress shoes and city blacks for boots and overalls — well, almost! Production moved the entire crew to Queens County Farm on the outskirts of New York City to tape the special grilling tournament, premiering July 14 at 10|9c. FN Dish caught up with host Ted Allen to chat about the challenges the location posed as well as the challenges the competitors will face.
"We're a studio show, for the most part, and you forget how easy you have it shooting indoors," says Ted, referring to the fact that Chopped tapes at Food Network headquarters in New York City, which is a whole lot comfier than roughing it in the Tucson desert like the cast and crew did for the previous Grill Masters season — just think sand everywhere. For Season 2 everything still had to happen outdoors, and even though a more convenient location was chosen, it didn't mean it would be that much easier — there was still the chance of inclement weather, among other uncontrollable factors.
"When you shoot outside you can only shoot until the sun starts to go down, and then you're done. You have to get it done before that," says Ted about the challenge that just lighting the tournament arena poses when you're dependent on the sun, which doesn't take cues from the lighting director. "As soon as the sun is up you've got to roll," he adds, which means an early start to the day for everyone. But on the flip side, they're up to the challenge when it means working outside the studio for a change. For the cast and crew, including himself, "it's like a field trip," says Ted. "You're outside — it's something totally different, and we love it."
And the best part about being outside for a cooking show is, of course, the cooking. With Grill Masters, chefs and competitive barbecuers have come from around the nation to try their luck with the Chopped mystery baskets. But for the barbecuers, for whom every hour of cooking time is precious, the time constraints of Chopped are the biggest challenge. This is not the place for real low-and-slow barbecuing, Ted points out. Besides that, their range of expertise might also be a limitation: "Most of [the barbecuers] spend their … career focused on one or two things, cooking perfect brisket or perfect pulled pork." That's not enough for Chopped: "We require you to do much more than just that," says Ted. That focus on one thing might be a hindrance.
The competition will weed out the weak from the strong when it comes to cooking experience, testing the chefs' ability to think creatively on the fly when faced with unfamiliar ingredients. That is the rub of Chopped. What else is there to expect? "There are twists and turns in every episode of the tournament, some good surprises, and that's what we're after," says Ted. "I hope the viewers like it. I think they will."
Tune in Tuesday, July 14 at 10|9c to watch the premiere of the five-part Chopped Grill Masters tournament.