Top Chef may get more attention (particularly since the arrival of grumpy English critic Toby Young who memorably compared one chef’s dish to cat food), but my vote for the best food-competition show on the air is Chopped. It’s the first thing I’ve wanted to watch on the Food Network since I got bored with Alton Brown’s antics.
Chopped is hosted by Ted Allen (who left Top Chef to work for Food Network), and it has a pleasing whiff of Iron Chef: Judges watch the chefs cook their dishes, and comment on ingredients and preparation. In addition, the chefs are given ample time to discuss their choices. It gives the show a leg up on Top Chef, which has always focused more on the food and less on the drama. And it makes me very hungry, even when contestants are trying to work gummi bears into a dessert course. The Food Network is currently airing a “mini-season” of four Chopped episodes.