Here's How Mystery Baskets Are Chosen On Chopped

Leave it to "Chopped" contestants to successfully turn pork rinds into a fancy appetizer, beer into a delicious sauce, and turkey into a dessert (via ScreenRant). When it comes to mystery baskets, no ingredient is off-limits and each one seems more impossible to transform than the last.

While Alton Brown curated the baskets for the "Chopped" five-part special "Chopped: Alton's Maniacal Baskets," the person behind the ones for every other episode is left unacknowledged. Well, it's not just one person, according to host Ted Allen, but rather a whole team of people who facilitate the selection process (via Food Network).

Most viewers assume the ingredients are chosen at random, but the culinary producers of Food Network's culinary department carefully hand-pick every ingredient, and the only random element of the selection process is which set of contestants get which mystery baskets. "The staff that picks them has long tortured meetings in which they argue whether anything is possible with a given group of ingredients," Allen explained to Food Network in the behind-the-scenes feature. "They don't want to make a basket that's impossible, just incredibly difficult."

The mystery baskets take a long time to put together

Ted Allen's perspective, however, only scratches the surface, as "Chopped" culinary producer Sara Nahas-Hormi further elaborated, "Every single ingredient is researched and a document is made and given to the judges" (via Design*Sponge). Nahas-Hormi's day begins at 6:30 a.m. sharp at Chelsea Market in New York, where the "Chopped" kitchen is located, and everything unfolds from there. It begins with one main ingredient, and after the "long tortured meetings," that Allen described, to Food Network, complementary flavors are added to ultimately create a complete basket.

Though the ingredients hardly ever seem related, they are all connected in some way, and the culinary producers make sure of it. For the episode that included a mystery basket with duck and vanilla ice cream, Nahas-Hormi revealed to Design*Sponge that duck actually pairs well with vanilla, so adding it in the form of ice cream was just a way to make things challenging. All the mystery baskets follow the same formula. Despite how much of a mystery the baskets seem, as it turns out, there's a rhyme and reason to every single one.