What Chopped Contestants Really Know About The Mystery Boxes

For those unfamiliar, "Chopped" is a food show featuring Ted Allen as host, which pits chefs against one another in a three-round elimination battle to have them cook unique apps, entrées, and desserts using items from mystery baskets they are provided. The baskets hold ingredients that are unknown to them until the competition starts and possibly unknown to them even after hearing what they are. 

This format is so popular it has sprung copycat at-home versions, like the one created by Frugal Minimalist Kitchen, who used it to get her family excited about cooking ingredients she would otherwise have likely thrown away. According to Food Network, some of their craziest mystery boxes have held things like buddha's hand (a citrus fruit), geoduck (a type of mollusk), squid ink, cold-smoked kippers (a herring), vegetable yeast spread (a familiar topping in Australia), and black garlic.

It's easy to assume the chefs are given some forewarning so they can make sure to research how to use these out-of-the-box mystery basket ingredients, but how much do these chefs actually know about what's in the box?

What are they hiding in there?

Whether the ingredient is an easy, well-known one or extremely difficult, the answer is always the same. Turns out, the chefs on "Chopped" know nothing about what is going to be put in front of them. In an interview with contestant Michael Vignola, Tasting Table determined that the mystery box is always just that: a mystery. Vignola suggests that the better contestants arm themselves with pantry items with which they're familiar, so that they are comfortable with as much as possible and can more easily figure out a way to incorporate the unknown ingredient in, even if they're unfamiliar with it.

He notes that the contestants always have to come up with things "in the moment", saying, "I had never seen any of the basket ingredients beforehand, and they don't give you any extra time to come up with ideas." Hey, this proves "Chopped" and its outrageous challenges are as authentic (and possibly traumatizing) as can be!