Marcus Samuelsson Reveals What Really Happens Behind The Scenes Of Chopped - Exclusive

Turn on the Food Network on any given weekday and there's a good chance an episode of Chopped will be on. The show has been in production for more than a decade, and there are nearly 50 seasons at this point according to the Food Network. That means hundreds of episodes, featuring thousands of hopeful chefs and as many mystery basket ingredients to overcome. What viewers see when watching Chopped is a whirlwind of action; Frantic chefs darting between their stations and the pantry, racing against the clock to whip up a mouthwatering dish without slicing off a finger or starting a kitchen fire. The time runs out, and then a panel of judges immediately taste and critique the finished plates, in a miraculously clean kitchen studio. 

In reality, what we see is made possible after hours and hours of hard work by dozens of producers, camera and audio crews, editors, and more — and that's all for one episode. It's hard to imagine how it all comes together. Luckily, we got some inside info from a Chopped veteran. Recently, Mashed spoke with acclaimed celebrity chef, cookbook author, and Chopped judge Marcus Samuelsson. During the exclusive interview, Samuelsson (who has been a judge on the show for more than 20 seasons) revealed details about what really happens behind the scenes of Chopped – and let's just say it involves long hours and a lot of emotions.

Emotions run high behind the scenes of Chopped

If you've watched your fair share of Chopped episodes on the Food Network, you know that things can get intense. There's the shock of opening up the mystery basket, the frustration and determination to plate a solid dish on time, and the joy or disappointment over the judges' reactions. Not to mention, so many of the chefs competing on the show have a heartwarming backstory and high stakes on the line. It's enough to make you cry sometimes.

Chef Marcus Samuelsson says it's all real — those emotions are definitely there, running high behind the scenes of Chopped. Between the judges, the contestants, the producers, and the crew who are spending hours on end together, "we're laughing, fighting, crying, loving like a restaurant family." And that's exactly how they prefer it. Samuelsson says "our favorite episode is always when the lunch ladies [come] or cooking with firemen or the kids," and it's all because of the stories. Samuelsson admits that even after "hundreds and hundreds of episodes I've done, I still end up weeping afterwards."

There are a lot more people in the room than we see on camera

On TV, it looks like there are about eight people in the studio during a Chopped competition — three judges, four competitors, and Ted Allen, of course; but in reality, it's a packed house. According to chef Marcus Samuelsson, there are easily more than a hundred people on the set of Chopped when an episode is being filmed. But rather than being stressful and chaotic, Samuelsson says "it's really a family environment."

"People don't see that, but it's what Linda and Vivian and the team... everybody's built," Samuelsson added, referring to the show's executive producers, Linda Lea and Vivian Sorensen (via IMDb). Samuelsson estimates there are "140 people on set," and "a lot of them have been there from day one," so they feel connected to and very invested in the project. "And it's diverse in every way you can imagine... a big restaurant family," says Samuelsson.

Filming a single episode takes a whole day... plus some

Chopped features a 20 minute appetizer round, plus half hour long entrée and dessert rounds. That's less than 90 minutes of cooking, with a few comments from the judges between each elimination. Quick and easy, right? Wrong. According to chef Marcus Samuelsson, it actually takes hours on end to create a single episode. Samuelsson admitted there have been days they walked in at 6:00 in the morning and didn't leave until 11:00 at night. That's a 17-hour work day! 

It makes sense when you think about it: The contestants need time to walk the pantry and get familiar with the space, then there's the actual cooking part, plus all the cleaning that has to happen in the studio before they film each round of judging. Surprisingly, according to Samuelsson, it's the judging itself that really drags things out. The chef told Mashed "It's a long day, and it's all because of matters of taste." Samuelsson said he and his fellow judges "take pride in keeping it just about the food and that experience." Samuelsson admits that sometimes a round comes down to the smallest things that can make or break a dish, so the judges take their sweet time to taste everything on each plate, analyzing the flavors, textures, and techniques thoroughly... "all those small steps that could have and should and all of that stuff," as Samuelsson puts it.

You can find chef Marcus Samuelsson on episodes of Chopped, as well as season two of Selena + Chef, now streaming on HBO Max.