The Ingredients Marcus Samuelsson Would Never Put In Chopped Mystery Baskets

Any fan of the culinary competition show "Chopped" knows that contestants are tasked with making dishes out of often bizarre combinations of ingredients. The show has been on the air for over 15 years now and contestants have faced baskets filled with everything from dangerous mystery ingredients to less common ones most chefs are unlikely to have encountered before, like rooster testicle and pig uterus, as judge Maneet Chauhan dished to Mashed in an exclusive interview.

So, given some of the ingredients previous contestants were challenged to cook with, where exactly does chef and judge Marcus Samuelsson draw the line? While the show's judges don't currently have the opportunity to weigh in on the mystery basket contents, Samuelsson definitely has some strong opinions on what he'd never include. However, his picks aren't anywhere near as strange as many of the items that have been used over the years.

When assembling mystery baskets for contestants, there's one category of food Samuelsson would never consider placing in them — anything prepared or pre-made. (This even includes something as seemingly innocuous as pizza or pasta sauce.) It's not because Samuelsson wants the chefs to be as challenged as possible, forcing them to make every single component from scratch. On the contrary: he feels that working with pre-made, packaged, and prepared ingredients is a much tougher task than handling even the most unusual raw ingredients.

Why Samuelsson dislikes using these ingredients

According to Marcus Samuelsson, whipping up a good dish is all about the chef's ability to taste the ingredients and adjust based on their expertise. Even if a "Chopped" contestant encounters an ingredient they've never previously cooked with, tried, or even heard of, simply sampling it and figuring out what the flavor is like could guide them toward conceptualizing and executing a stellar dish.

Prepared or pre-made ingredients, on the other hand, pose a huge challenge because, as Samuelsson told Yahoo! Entertainment, "there's always a twist to them, like you think it's one thing, but it actually tastes like something else." Many of these ingredients are already pre-seasoned or contain different factors that might surprise you while cooking. For example, using a pre-made frozen waffle in a dish and using waffle batter you craft are two completely different cooking experiences. Packaged ingredients are much more of a wild card than even the strangest raw ingredients. So, since Samuelsson wants the chefs to be able to truly showcase their skills in the kitchen and create innovative dishes from the zany mystery basket ingredients, he'd rather give them a fair playing field with raw ingredients.