The Food Network’s “Chopped” is one of the network’s best shows. I posted something about the show last summer regarding the judges and how harsh they were, but they have since lightened up, or seem to have done so. The show keeps getting better and better, too, and part of the reason for that is the excellent casting. Lucky for us, we had the privilege to speak to the show’s casting director, Beth Schiff, about how the process works in choosing contestants for “Chopped,” and some other burning questions you may or may not have when watching this awesome show.

Premium Hollywood: How did you get involved with Chopped and what did you do before this?

Beth Schiff: I have been involved with “Chopped” since the first season. I have been casting for over 14 years. I started in commercials and industrial films, which I still do, but recently I have been working on mostly cable TV projects.

PH: How does the decision process work from application to audition to show taping?

BS: There are always so many factors that go into casting–gender, age, skill (if applicable), appearance, personality, geography, availability–just to name a few. For “Chopped,” it’s a videotaped interview that is submiited to the producers at the production company, and then to the Food Network for approval.

PH: What are the key things you look for in a contestant?

BS: Skill and personality. Can you make something out of nothing and have fun doing it? Can you make a $10,000 meal out of our mystery baskets? And why should the Food Network choose you?

PH: Have you ever been surprised, either pleasantly or unpleasantly, at the choice of a contestant after the show had been taped?

BS: There have been a few contestants that I thought would not do that well that have won, and others where I thought they would kick ass and went out in the first round. It’s a game. It’s anybody’s game. So skill is important, but strategy and focus are key.

PH: Do you also choose the judges and/or how does that process work?

BS: Judges are chosen by the Food Network. I do sometimes cast guest judges, who are usually New York restauranteurs.

PH: Can we expect anything new or exciting for future seasons of Chopped?

BS: We are really thinking creatively — fun holiday episodes, and chefs with various backgrounds, championship rounds. Stay tuned!

Chefs, or chef reps, here is what Beth is looking for in casting for the show: “I am seeking competitive passionate skilled chefs, in specific geographic areas – NY Tri State area, Boston, Philly, DC and Atlanta and Chicago. All must lie within about 50 miles from the city center. You must be available for a one day shoot/competition in our studios in NYC sometime in September, October or November. All chefs must fill out the application online at