There are several reasons for the sustained, cultish adoration that Food Network’s Chopped has engendered. The inherent intensity of watching four incredibly talented people compete against one another. The allure of the mystery basket. The affability and charm of host Ted Allen. However, we can’t overlook the judges. The three judges on any given episode of Chopped are vital to the quality of any given episode. Not only do they decide who wins and loses, but they also give insight on ingredients, provide running commentary on the battles and have to provide interesting critiques of the dishes they eat. All the while, they have to try and make good television.
Over the course of the series’ run several Chopped judges have become food personalities, as synonymous with the show as the words “You’ve been chopped.” Let’s say you had the opportunity to go out to dinner with one of these judges. Who would you choose? Here’s our ranking of the Chopped judges based on how much we feel we would enjoy a dinner with them.
Honorable Mention: Alton Brown
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Thanks to humanity’s affinity for round numbers, we love 10-item lists. Alas, there are only nine Chopped judges that could be considered “regulars.” Only one other judge, Jody Williams, has appeared in more than two seasons, and that was during seasons two through four. That was so long ago, there’s a good chance you may not even recognize her. As such, we will only be ranking the nine primary Chopped judges, but in order to round things out we decided to throw in which “special guest” judge we’d most want to have dinner with. The clear choice there is Brown. He appeared alongside his fellow The Next Food Network Star hosts, Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay, in a special Chopped episode. Alton Brown is the best. He’s funny and smart and seems like a nice guy. Brown also knows quite a bit about food. Of the many folks who have made the rare appearance or two on Chopped as a judge, he’s the top choice by a mile.
Now, on to ranking the big nine…
9. Marc Murphy
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Does anybody have any strong feelings about Murphy? While every other Chopped regular has something distinctive about them, Murphy doesn’t. It would be a little bit of a stretch to say he’s “boring,” but you wouldn’t get many sideways glances for throwing that word out there. Sure, he could probably take you to a cool restaurant, and he assuredly knows a lot about food, but which of these nine would that not be true of? It feels like a dinner with Murphy would be pretty dull, all things considered. You might be better off just eating in silence.
8. Alex Guarnaschelli
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Guarnaschelli is one of the Chopped judges that comes across, on occasion, as being prickly. Perhaps, albeit rarely, she can even be a bit mean. Now, that’s within the context of her being a judge in a cooking competition. That may not carry over to a nice dinner. However, she doesn’t really ever come across as “fun,” unless you are a fan of weird metaphors and analogies, which she is a fan of using in describing dishes. It would likely be an adequate evening, but nothing more.
7. Scott Conant
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Conant is probably a nice guy much of the time. That being said, if anybody on Chopped ever comes across as being a dick, it’s Conant. He appeared on WTF with Marc Maron once and seemed aware of this, and he didn’t seem like a total jerk. Nevertheless, he doesn’t necessarily seem like an overly genial guy or an engaging conversation. If you wanted to go to a great Italian restaurant and get the best thing on the menu, Conant could make that happen. He also might end up complaining about the food if it isn’t perfect, and if somebody made the mistake of putting raw onions in his food…
6. Chris Santos
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Apparently, in 1999 Santos visited 14 European countries to further his culinary education. He’s probably got some interesting stories from that. That’s good, because his actual personality doesn’t seem that interesting. He sort of feels like a poor man’s Aaron Sanchez, in a sense. It feels fitting for Santos to be in the middle of this list. It would probably be a perfectly adequate dinner.
5. Maneet Chauhan
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Chauhan was the last of the regular judges to join the show. Chauhan made her first appearance as a Chopped judge in season six, and has appeared in every season (aside from season eight) since. She seems to have a nice, positive personality, at least gleaning from Chopped and when she was a competitor on The Next Iron Chef. Additionally, Chauhan is an immigrant from India, which is probably an interesting story, and one time President Obama invited her to the White House’s Easter Egg Hunt. That’s an anecdote worth going out to dinner for, one imagines. If you have any interest in Indian cuisine, she’d definitely be somebody to spend an evening with.
4. Geoffrey Zakarian
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Zakarian seems more buttoned-down than his Chopped compatriots. Perhaps it’s the way he dresses, or his fancy eyewear, or his silvery hair. Although, the way he talks, and his mannerisms, also indicate a more laid back persona. Then again, he’s one of the people on Food Network’s hangout cooking show The Kitchen, so it’s not like he isn’t capable of having fun. If you wanted a quiet, but pleasant, evening, Zakarian feels like the best bet in that regard.
3. Aaron Sanchez
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If any of these judges was going to lend themselves to a “crazy” evening, it’d probably be Sanchez. It’s not just because his arms and hands are covered in tattoos. He seems like a fun-loving dude, and an all-in-all cool guy. If you like spicy food, he’d be the guy to go with. Sanchez loves himself some spicy food, and he knows his way around Mexican cuisine as well. Dinner with Sanchez seems like it would be fun, although he’s also probably an acquired taste. Oh, and he loses half a point because only one side of his goatee connects.
2. Marcus Samuelsson
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Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, and raised by adopted parents in Sweden. He went to culinary school in Sweden, and apprenticed in Switzerland and Austria. At 24, he became the youngest executive chef to have his restaurant get a three-star review in The New York Times. He won a James Beard Foundation award. In short, Samuelsson has had a fascinating life. It also seems like he would be good in conversation. On Chopped, he definitely comes across as a guy who would be fun to hang out with. At the very least, he probably has enough cool stories to last one night.
1. Amanda Freitag
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So why is Freitag the Chopped judge we’d most want to have dinner with? Well, to put it as simply as possible, she seems like the nicest and most fun of the bunch. As previously stated, all these people know a lot about food. There’s surely a delineation between some of them, but for the layperson, you will be dining out with a relative food expert. You are almost assuredly going to a good restaurant and getting a good meal. Of all these nine people, Freitag seems like she would be the best company. In fact, she’s downright charming on TV, even when serving as a judge in a pretty intense competition. On a casual evening out, she’s probably even more fun and friendly. As such, given the opportunity, Freitag wins the battle of “Which Chopped judge would make the best dinner companion?”
Chris Morgan is not the author of THE book on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but he is the author of A book on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He’s also on Twitter.