6 lessons I’ve learned about the workplace from watching Chopped


Crystal Spraggins, SPHR

I’m a big fan of the television show Chopped, which airs on the Food Network.

On the show, four chefs battle for a $10,000 prize. To win, they’ll need to survive three rounds of competition, during which they’ll prepare an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. There are serious time constraints (20 minutes for the appetizer and 30 minutes each for the entrée and dessert), and the chefs must use and “transform” all the ingredients in the basket received at the start of the round. When the dessert round ends, the judges review all the dishes of the final two remaining chefs and choose a winner.

The show is a lot of fun, and I always look forward to seeing how the contestants will incorporate say, pigs blood or chewy gummy snakes, into their food.

However, the competition is about more than food, and you can learn a lot about work in general from watching the show. For example …

1. Details matter

It’s not unusual for a judge to declare a dish fantastic and then criticize the chef for a few kernels of hard rice or not enough croutons on the plate. Why? Because there’s something of value at stake, and only one chef can win.

There are parallels to commerce here. Companies are in business to make money, and sometimes the only reason a customer chooses your product instead of another is because she likes the lettering on your package better. (Trust me. I shop like this for deodorant all the time.)

2. Sometimes your victory is the result of your competitor’s bad luck or foolish mistake

If your competitor:

  • Slices his finger and gets blood on the plate, or
  • Accidently drops a piece of meat on the floor (and then plunks it back in the frying pan without batting an eye—ew!), or
  • Forgets to add the chocolate-covered peanuts (a basket ingredient) in his dish, and

… is automatically eliminated, that’s no reason for you to hoop and holler in celebration. You were just handed a gift, my friend, and your response should be to say a humble “thank you” and then quietly get back to honing your craft. Remember, there’s always another competitor waiting to benefit from your mistake.

3. Diversity is a very good thing

Each chef gets the same basket of ingredients, but because they (the chefs) have differing backgrounds, experience, and skill levels, they use the ingredients in varied ways. In fact, it’s pretty rare for dishes to be replicated and certainly not in their entirety. (For example, two chefs might make salads, but then each will use different vegetables to complement the basket ingredients.) Seeing what each chef can do with the baskets is a big part of the show’s draw, in my opinion. Without this diversity, the show would be a real snooze.

4. Creativity has its limits

In the business world, we love to talk about the benefits of creativity, and growth is dependent on taking risks. However, a good leader recognizes when creativity should take a back seat to the tried and true. It’s wonderful to be bold, but if a chef daringly combines two flavors she’s never mixed before, and the result tastes like cat urine, she’s going home.

5. It’s generally better to play nice

By and large, I agree with the judges’ opinions, but on occasion I come away thinking they made a mistake, like when they chopped Lauren Von Der Pool, personal chef of Venus and Serena Williams. The judges claimed that Lauren was chopped because her taco was soggy, but I think they lied. Lauren got the boot because her attitude stank. She rolled her eyes at her competitor more than once and refused to make small talk. While I’m not unsympathetic to Lauren’s position (when I’m focused on work I don’t care to be interrupted by someone else’s inane blather either), at work it’s better to self-regulate and keep your bad thoughts to yourself.

6. People work for more than a payday

Sometimes chefs tear up when asked what they’d do with the prize money, because money is important and provides opportunity. However, when asked why they’ve decided to participate, money usually doesn’t rate. Instead, chefs talk a lot about validation—having their talents and abilities publically proven worthy—as well as the desire to be a good role model for family.

What work lessons have you learned from reality television?

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  1. 8 FUWRLD 14 May
    The chefs on chopped are amatuers and O'Doyle rules! Lauren was terrible. Put the sauce in the wrap, not under it. You think Taco Bell puts sauce on the outside of the wrap...NOO!
  2. 7 "She tried it" 01 Feb
    She was talented and Beautiful but girl that attitude.. I can't. I know attitudes and she was the queen 👑
  3. 6 Diana 26 Jan
    Lauren got chopped!!! Lol!!! I jumped for joy! Good luck finding a real job. Her sauce under the taco was truly ridiculous. Who eats taco with the sauce underneath the taco?!!! What? Lauren's food and attitude both match very well. Sucks! I hope she never works in a restaurant. She would run off all of the customers. She would be fortunate if someone didn't give her some of her own medicine! Oh, I personally have seen many minorities win on the show. I too am a proud minority!!!
  4. 5 brenda lee 12 Dec
    I am tired of the "chefs" using "chopped" and similar programs as a billboard to promote their agenda.....or hoping to get a leg up if mom has cancer or dad died last year or they need the money to complete their "reassignment surgery" or blah, blah, blah.....IF they are still angry about a rough childhood, leave it at home.....slug it out with mom, not a contestant you don't know!
  5. 4 Disgusted 09 Jul
    Diversity on Chopped is a joke. Every single episode - like clockwork - it is either the minority or the woman who goes home first or second. Every. Single. Time. And if it is a minority woman - forget about it. If you don't believe me, then just watch9 the episodes - over and over again - season after season - this is the trend. Despite their "diverse" judge panel - which is also Questionable. The producers are clearly sending a repeated message to the viewers.
  6. 3 Who922 07 May
    That is so funny! I just watched this episode last night and was so happy she was "chopped"!! Her attitude was beyond annoying! And the girl that she was being annoyed by won it all!! As soon as she was "chopped" my wife said, "she wasn't chopped because of her food, it was because of her attitude!" The girl that won never mentioned the money. She was so happy that she was dealing with her fears and self worth problems. Nice insight in your article!
  7. 2 Crystal Spraggins 05 Feb

    I wouldn't call diversity a buzzword, although I agree that many are tired of hearing about it. But keep in mind that homogeny without talent isn't so great, either.



  8. 1 JW110 23 Jan

    Diversity is an overused and overrated buzzword.

    Diversity without talent and experience is well, simply a bunch of different people.

    What the author really is emphasizing is creativity based on life experiences and experience is a good thing, just like over-creativity can be a bad thing when the product isn't tested before going public...


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