12 Times Food Network Judges Were Brutally Honest

It's safe to say that the Food Network has come a long way from its earliest days. These days, Food Network is a titan of cooking and food-related programming, and Food Network shows heavily fall into two categories: shows that teach you how to cook something, and competition cooking shows. For competitive cooking shows, such as "Chopped", "Cutthroat Kitchen", "Food Network Star", and "Guy's Grocery Games", honest feedback from the judges is expected and often one of the best parts of the show.

Sometimes, though, the judges get a little too brutally honest. These instances featured blunt honesty about the way a contestant had prepared their dish or failed to prepare their dish. Whether the judges didn't understand the concept, didn't like an ingredient, found a fatal flaw with the dish, or the chef couldn't prepare all of their ingredients in time, these moments on Food Network featured someone on the judges' table telling it like it was without making any effort to soften the blow.

Scott Conant comes down onJoshua Whigham over raw red onion

Everyone has heard by now: Scott Conant doesn't like raw onions. Truth be told, Conant is actually fine with red onions when they're properly prepared, but raw red onion overpowers the palate. Both Ayesha Nurdjaja and Joshua Whigham included raw red onion on their appetizer dishes in a "Chopped" episode, with Conant making clear that he wasn't a fan of their presentation.

Nurdjaja listened to that advice, but Whigham did not. In the entree round, Whigham topped his beef tenderloin with gruyere cheese and raw red onion, leading to Conant's memorable reaction. "I don't understand why the onions are there after we told you, especially myself, that I don't like raw onions," Conant said. "You used them in the first course already, yet they're here and I taste them. It kind of makes me angry. If you're not going to listen to me, then I'll just stop talking."

Whigham defended his dish by claiming the onions added freshness, but Conant fired back, "If you make it to the dessert course, please don't use raw onion."Whigham initially joked that he was thinking of an onion jam, but ultimately heeded Conant's advice for dessert. It wasn't enough to win: Joe Dobias' strong first two dishes and Whigham's mistakes with the raw onion left him in a hole that was too deep to overcome.

The Chopped jusges tell King Phojanakong he has no place in the competition

If you really want to watch brutality from the judges, check out the earliest episodes of "Chopped". Not only were the judges still finding their footing, but so were the contestants. These days, "Chopped" judges are more restrained and have spent enough time on both sides of the table to hold back harsh criticism.

Not so back in Season 1, where King Phojanakong exited after making striped bass with rice in the entree round. Despite rice not being a basket ingredient — and admitting that he rarely used instant rice — Phojanakong included it as his side, leaving Amanda Freitag to complain that the rice was far too bland.

When the judges deliberated, Freitag's comments paled to what Scott Conant had to say. "His rice was overcooked, the fish was overcooked and the sauce didn't come together. Frankly, I feel that King has no place in this competition. He didn't show up in the first course and he definitely didn't show up in the second course."

When the contestants returned, Conant was blunt in chopping Phojanakong: "I'm going to try to control my anger toward the food I've had. None of your cooking components came together at all. Taking into consideration the two dishes you've presented us with today, you can't move forward."

Geoffrey Zakarian said Jonathan Jernigan's dish failed on three levels

Scott Conant's criticism of King Phojanakong alluded to a failure in the first course, but he survived because Jonathan Jernigan's appetizer was even worse. Jernigan prepared seared sesame chicken wings with buckwheat pasta, using celery and string cheese as a garnish. The judges held nothing back. Amanda Freitag immediately started by saying her palate hadn't been teased at all, and Conant followed by calling it a cop-out that Jernigan had taken two basket ingredients and used them as a garnish. "You're a chef; that's what you do is develop flavors. You don't put it on a plate and expect it to be what it is," Conant told Jernigan.

When the "Chopped" judges deliberated, Conant said the dishes made him angry and Freitag said she wanted to cut both of them. In a series first, host Ted Allen told Jernigan and Phojanakong, "The judges, frankly, were offended by your dishes, and they were strongly inclined to chop both of you. However, they decided to give one of you another chance."

Allen then revealed Jernigan's dish, and Geoffrey Zakarian delivered the finishing blow: "Jonathan, you were chopped because your dish failed on all three levels: on creativity, on presentation, and certainly on taste. We all thought it was just awful, and you were chopped." It's hard to do worse than that  — although some chefs have come close.

Marc Murphy felt Zoe Feigenbaum would have been better not serving anything

Considering the show has gone on for 58 seasons and "Chopped" has attracted all kinds of contestants, it's possible that Marc Murphy's seen a worse dessert by this point. But considering this came in season 17, this still covered a lot of ground. During the dessert round, Zoe Feigenbaum attempted to make a Baked Alaska using bubble tea, papaya, coconut butter and chocolate-covered bananas, but she made the bizarre decision not to put the bananas in the ice cream maker.

Murphy wasn't having it, saying that he was speechless and that it appeared to him that Feigenbaum had cut the papaya in half and shoved the frozen banana in. When Feigenbaum defended her dish, both Murphy and Alex Guarnaschelli said it didn't work. Murphy said the result was a mishmash of flavors that weren't working for him, and it only went downhill from there. When the judges deliberated, Murphy further described it as "raspberry papaya chocolate frozen banana" before saying Feigenbaum's dish was so offensive she'd have done better not to serve anything at all.

After all that, Feigenbaum somehow still won. Kent Rollins accidentally cut himself and got blood into his food, meaning the judges couldn't taste his food at all. Sometimes, being a "Chopped" champion means you made the fewest mistakes.

Madison Cowan gets disqualified on Tournament of Champions

"Tournament of Champions" is the crème de la crème of Food Network's competition shows. Every competing chef has opened restaurants, won competition shows, and proven themselves in the culinary world. So it doesn't lend itself to much brutal honesty. It does bring in some of the toughest judges, but even with them, it's clear they're nit-picking when a contestant presents a dish.

This is as close as "TOC" gets to brutal honesty: chef Madison Cowan becoming the only chef to fail to plate anything in "TOC"'s five-season run. Cowan lost track of time in his matchup with Amanda Freitag and couldn't get his dishes plated. He even tried taking a dish off his heat source with no oven mitt to get plated in time, burning his hands in the process.

It was to no avail. Cowan only got one component of the mandatory four, and host Guy Fieri stepped in and said that because Cowan hadn't completed the dish, his dish wouldn't advance to the judges. Instead, he would be disqualified on the spot. Fieri then explained that because of the standards of the competition, he couldn't bend the rules for one chef. Even though he was sure Freitag would have been fine with it (and Freitag nodded in agreement), he wasn't going to set that precedent. Not brutal in terms of language, but brutal in terms of bluntness in the moment, given the pressure.

Ondre'a Duverney cross-contaminates her Cornish hen

The episode "A Cornish Mess" is one of the most infamous in "Chopped" history because everyone made a chop-worthy mistake in the entrée round. Host Ted Allen, normally neutral and friendly, summed it up thusly: "That entrée round did not go well at all." One chef failed to cook his Cornish hen properly, another forgot to chop one of her Cornish hens and served a tiny portion, and then Duverney made the worst mistake of the three by putting her cooked Cornish hens back on the same cutting board where she'd had the raw hens.

As any kitchen veteran knows, that's a serious error with cross-contamination. After an awkward silence following Duverney's description, Scott Conant wasted no time explaining his issue. "I can't eat this. You had the raw product on the cutting board and went back on the same cutting board. Over a million people a year get salmonella poisoning from poultry, and I'm not going to put myself in jeopardy by eating this."

Chris Santos then took Duverney back to her station and showed her where she'd placed the cooked chicken, telling her that while he didn't want to embarrass her, the judges just couldn't risk it. The judges probably would have been harsher if not for the fact that Duverney had lost her sister a week earlier. However, it wasn't enough to save Duverney; she was chopped after the entree round.

Simon Majumdar sends Matthew Grunwald home for being a doofus

The "Evillicious Tournament" finale of "Cutthroat Kitchen" featured four memorable contestants who supposedly knew how to play the game. Key word — supposedly. Matthew Grunwald showed otherwise when he intentionally tried to sabotage his own dish at a cost of $31,500.

In the first round of the tournament finale, the chefs were assigned spaghetti and meatballs, with one chef making spaghetti and sauce and one making meatballs. Jernard Wells bought the right to decide who would make what component and chose to make spaghetti, while having Grunwald make the meatballs on his dish. He immediately regretted that choice, as Grunwald used the next sabotage to confiscate all of Wells' salt. With the chefs' funding increased to $50,000 for this episode, everyone had money to burn, and Grunwald spent to prevent Wells from using salt. His reasoning? Without salt, their dish would be the worst, and he'd simply have to beat Wells to advance to the next round.

One problem: Grunwald's meatballs ended up dry. Just as important, Wells managed to get salt out of canned tomatoes, and judge Simon Majumdar sent Grunwald home. Afterward, when Alton Brown explained the sabotages, Majumdar buried his head in his hands in disbelief that Grunwald had thrown Wells under the bus. Majumdar used typical English bluntness: "He should have been sent home for being a doofus."

Brooke Egger makes a taco in a quesadilla challenge

"Cutthroat Kitchen" naturally lends itself to brutal comments from the judges. When contestants get hit with sabotages and the judges are instructed to only care about look, taste and how well it met the challenge, the judges won't hold back.

Brooke Egger found that out in a quesadilla challenge where she'd had her cheese swapped out with a tuna melt and had to use a torch as her only source of heat. Without a good source of cheese, she tried to sell her dish as a "surf-and-turf" quesadilla to judge Simon Majumdar, highlighting her shrimp. Majumdar immediately called her on it, saying that it was a taco and not a quesadilla. It went downhill from there, as Majumdar took a bite and said, "It's incredibly salty. I can feel my blood pressure rising after that." After touching on the shrimp being cooked well, Majumdar reiterated his initial comment as his parting shot: it wasn't a quesadilla, and it was far too salty.

Surprisingly, Egger survived that round because one of her competitors made an even worse quesadilla. She wouldn't make it past that; she fell short on a chicken noodle soup challenge in the next round when she added habanero peppers to her broth.

Wolfgang Puck gives Jyll Everman a lesson in risotto

"Food Network Star" is designed to be brutal. The contestants were trying to get their own show on Food Network, so Bobby Flay, Alton Brown, and Giada De Laurentiis held nothing back. They wanted to put each contestant through the ringer to be sure they could handle the demands of their own show.

For them to find criticism in taking things too far took a lot, but that's what happened when Season 7's Jyll Everman served risotto at a dinner party for Wolfgang Puck. Everman sold her dish as a sweet corn risotto with grilled asparagus, oven-roasted tomatoes and Parmesan, but the words were barely out of her mouth before Puck registered his displeasure.

Puck told her that her dish was not really a risotto, then rose from the table and stunned everyone by asking to enter the contestants' kitchen and show Everman how to make a risotto. Bobby Flay buried his face in disbelief as Puck told Everman that a risotto must be liquid and served on a hot plate. As Everman told the camera that she wanted to cry her eyes out, Puck went step-by-step through making a risotto, then brought her back and told Flay to look at the dish that "she" had made.

Once the judging was finished, Everman said part of her wanted to go home after being so embarrassed. She got her wish: she lasted one more episode before exiting.

Eric Shelton serves Simon Majumdar a fishing lure

First rule on a Food Network competition show (well, besides these weird rules): never serve the judges anything inedible. You will get called on it, and it's probably going to send you packing. Eric Shelton forgot that rule in the final round of his episode of "Cutthroat Kitchen" and made one unfortunate decision when he got all of his tools swapped for a tackle box: he chose to include some of the rubber worm lures from the tackle box on his plate.

Judge Simon Majumdar wasn't amused. He picked up one of the plastic worms and stretched it before rhetorically asking Shelton if it was plastic. As Shelton answered yes, Majumdar began his lecture: "Never put something on the plate that could kill somebody if they don't know what to eat. Don't assume anything; you just don't know whether people are going to eat it or not. Thankfully, I know."

Less thankfully for Shelton, the fact that Majumdar knew the garnish was inedible ended up being his downfall. Majumdar awarded the win to opponent Leah Eveleigh. Shelton didn't agree, stating that his diners at home would have gotten his take and known not to eat the garnish. While that might be true, his diners at home weren't the ones giving away up to $25,000.

Jet Tila creates a meme with chicken nuggets

During "Cutthroat Kitchen's" run, there were several buzzwords that would come up when chefs got hit with sabotages. "Rustic" basically meant "sloppy," "Grandma's version" meant "the version they'd make if they had no decent tools or ingredients", and "deconstructed" was code for "defeat," so much so that judge Antonia Lofaso called it "the D-word".

None of those were as memorable as when regular Food Network competition judge Jet Tila created a meme in judging Chef Dre's dish on an episode of "Cutthroat Kitchen." Chef Dre had been hit with a sabotage of having to make chicken piccata with chicken nuggets and opted to simply bake the chicken nuggets without transforming the ingredients. Dre then tried to sell the dish as a "breaded chicken piccata with a lemon jasmine rice." Tila immediately called him on it, stating, "This is chicken nuggets." Short, simple, to the point, and so devastating for Dre's chances. Tila eliminated Dre at the end of that round and his parting comment proved even more devastating: "I wish you'd given me a little more effort in that plate."

When you make a dish and your flavors just don't work, that's one thing. When you don't put in the effort, you deserve to go. Even Dre knew it, saying flatly, "I don't think I turned those chicken nuggets into chicken piccata."

Alton Brown tells Danushka Lysek the presentation starts when the cameras roll

Most contestants on Food Network Star were genuinely excited to be there competing for their own show. Season 9 featured a notable exception in Danushka Lysek, who barely seemed to care about her performance at all.

When Alton Brown announced a "Chopped"-style challenge for the contestants, Lysek gave a noticeable eye roll at the start of the challenge. Once the challenge began, Lysek said that she had made a batter for her hot dog out of boredom while waiting for another cooking ingredient, perplexing guest judge Alex Guarnaschelli.

She then barely sold her dish, leading fellow contestant Damaris Phillips to say that she didn't seem at all excited to be there either in her presentation or her cooking. Lysek retorted that she was calm while cooking and didn't need all the "smoke and mirrors," but the damage was done as far as Alton Brown was concerned.

Brown, visibly agitated, told Lysek, "I know that you think the presentation starts when the clock starts. Everything that happens in front of the camera is presentation. All of it." In the final judging of that episode, Brown held nothing back. He told Lysek, "At best, your food is simple. More of a concern, you literally perpetuate an 'I don't care, I don't want to be here' attitude."

And that was it for Lysek. She didn't survive the episode, leaving her to claim that she did care ... to the camera, after it was far too late.