Skip to main content

Today's Family Magazine

Chopped! Host your child's next birthday with a party themed after the TV show

Aug 12, 2016 07:45PM ● By Today's Family
By Stacy Turner

To celebrate birthdays, over the years we’ve taken our daughters and their friends ice-skating or to a movie, and they’ve had their share of slumber parties. This year our 12-year-old wanted to do something a little different. After having spent an obscene amount of time watching the Food Channel, she decided to invite her friends over and host a ‘Chopped’-style cooking competition.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, Chopped is a Food Network show where contestants face off against each other to prepare an appetizer, entree and dessert in three individual rounds. In each round, they are supplied with a few unusual items, called ‘mystery ingredients’ that somehow must be incorporated into their dish. Some of the more interesting mystery ingredients have included kumquats, rattlesnake meat, jimaca, crickets, soda, and canned brown bread. On the show, competitors have a pantry of food and cooking supplies at their disposal. They create each course in a limited amount of time, and at the end of each course, a panel of three guest judges "chops" a chef who fails to measure up in terms of taste, presentation and creativity. The last chef standing at the end of three rounds takes home bragging rights and a cash prize.

The show’s competitors have included chefs, home cooks, and even young aspiring chefs who compete for scholarships to culinary school. To celebrate our daughter’s birthday, we decided to host our own version for 12-year-olds, creating three teams of two ladies each. Their challenge would be to create a beverage, salad, and pizza.

For our party version, we used colored bandanas to signify our three teams; two red, two blue and two purple. Contestants each closed their eyes to pick one -- matching bandanas became teammates. Since the three teams were sharing one kitchen, we decided to allow a full hour for them to make all three courses with the mystery items provided. Since the birthday girl wanted to be a competitor, she left the selection of the mystery items up to me, with the caveat that her dad, sister, and I would need to serve as judges to critique their creations. Since our chefs didn’t have as much kitchen experience as many TV competitors (and we knew we’d have to eat their work), we tried to stick with simple ingredients, which included prosciutto, funky cheese, spinach, radish sprouts, and dried blueberries. We provided an assortment of pizza crusts and sauce for each team, as well as access to anything in our fridge, freezer, and pantry.

After each team chose their workspace and opened the ingredient baskets, we set the timer, and the fun began. There was a blur of activity, as knives, cutting boards, and baking sheets were handed out and the oven was preheated. One team grabbed the blender and searched the freezer for smoothie add-ins while another team figured out how to use a manual can opener for pizza sauce. Another team sorted through leafy greens to choose salad ingredients. Just like the host on TV, we kept our eyes on the clock, telling them how much time remained, until at last, the timer buzzed and the teams were done.

Each team was very professional as they presented their creations, sharing which ingredients they included in each course. One team blended cucumbers with dried blueberries to make a light and refreshing drink (it tasted better than it sounds) for the beverage round, while another chose to use the berries with fresh spinach for the salad round. Each team chose a different crust and experimented with toppings and presentation. It was fun to hear them explain the choices they made, while they waited expectantly to learn which team was the winner. Surprisingly, every dish looked and tasted different, but luckily, none were culinary disasters. The kitchen, however, was a different story.

After our success with this competition, we’re looking forward to trying out new ingredients, and looking for new contestants, as well. A dessert round could be fun, or maybe a progressive dinner to spread the courses and the cleanup around to different homes. Plan your own event; even if you get ‘chopped,’ you still get to enjoy sampling new culinary creations.