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I have a question for the producers of Food Network’s “Chopped”….

And that is, do you instruct the judges to be so bitter and critical, or did you just choose judges that you thought would fit that bill? The show, in its second season, is becoming more unwatchable by the episode, and not because the tempo of the show creates pressure that occasionally causes a contestant to slice off a fingertip or serve raw poultry and fish bones. It’s because of those judges–the likes of Alex Guarnaschelli, Aaron Sanchez, Amanda Freitag, and Geoffrey Zakarian–who sit on their high horse and just rip these poor chefs to shreds.

If you haven’t seen the show, let me give you a brief synopsis. Host Ted Allen (who is the show’s lone bright spot) introduces four chefs, who are usually restaurant owners, head chefs, or seasoned sous chefs, who will go head-to-head in a competition of three rounds. Each round, they are given a basket of mystery ingredients–ingredients that usually do not go together, maybe like duck breast, avocado, maple syrup and passion fruit. They have to create an appetizer, main course and dessert–but after each round, one contestant is “chopped,” or eliminated, until the dessert round pits the two remaining chefs, who square off for a $10,000 prize.

And if we didn’t have a reference point, it wouldn’t be such a big deal, at least to me. But even Bob Tuschman, Susie Fogelson and Bobby Flay of “The Next Food Network Star” are gentle to their contestants by comparison. And if you watch “Top Chef” or the awesome new “Top Chef Masters” on Bravo, the judges have the utmost respect for the chefs that are competing. But not on “Chopped.” It’s like they go out of their way to be vindictive. Alex is the most guilty here….she has these steely eyes that cut like a hot knife through (are you ready for the pun?) Butter (the name of her NYC restaurant if you missed the joke). And if a contestant dares to try and speak while she’s speaking, she cuts them off abruptly, saying, “you can speak when I’m finished!” like a fifth grade teacher reprimanding a student. But it’s not just her. If one of the contestants doesn’t plate their dish in time, undercooks or overcooks something, doesn’t use a key ingredient properly or leaves a bone or shell on the plate, or drops a spatula on the floor and wipes it off before continuing, the judges react as if someone just made fun of their mother, or kicked their dog.

Even if the dish looks like there is no way they can say something bad about it, Alex and her cohorts always find something bad to say….ALWAYS. To make matters worse, they sometimes let contestants slide for the wrong reasons, such as not watching the clock or serving undercooked chicken–when others may have clearly been more creative but added a bit too much jalapeno that made poor wittle Amanda Freitag reach for her water.

Look, I like the show and the concept of it. But can’t these judges lighten up a bit? Get the sneer off your faces, “Chopped” judges and producers, and just have fun with it. There is no good reason for you to be pissed off at the world, and if you continue to be so, we’re just not going to watch.

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