TV REVIEW: In a revelatory episode, Food Network's Chopped replaces their usual fun full-of-themselves cheftestants with four down-to-Earth "lunch ladies" and the result is great TV with an emotional punch.
By Robbie Woliver
Chopped, one of TV's best food shows, had its best episode when it schooled us about lunch ladies. (Credit: Food Network)
Paying tribute to the until-this-episode thankless job of being a school lunch lady, Food Network's always-enjoyable series Chopped elevated these women to well-deserved "chef" status, in this Emmy-worthy episode.
10 moments that will make you tear-up:
1. The four contestants were not only smart and crafty cooks, they were also gracious competitors who were incredibly supportive of each other, as opposed to the usual gang of egotistical, back-biting chefs featured on the series.
2. The contestants were so honored, amazed and thrilled to be on the show, constantly commenting on how important it was to be recognized for the hard work they do as opposed to being the butt of jokes.
3. One contestant told the all-star panel of judges, which included White House Chef Sam Kass, Amanda Freitag and Marc Murphy, that being recognized on this show and by these well-regarded chef-judges was so important to their self-esteem, because in many cases lunch ladies are so lowly regarded they aren't even allowed in the teacher's lounge.
4. These women couldn't be more concerned about their students' health and well-being, and they were all incredibly knowledgable about nutrition.
5. One contestant, Cheryl Barbara, has such an impoverished group of students she services, she packs them food on Fridays in a knapsack so they have something to eat on the weekends. Their school, and her work, is the primary source of nutrition for her students, with who she seems to have a one-on-one relationship with. As are her fellow contestants, Cheryl is an inspiration.
6. One contestant comments that the $10,000 prize is more than she makes in a year.
7. The judges refuse to call the contestants "lunch ladies" and refer to them as "chefs," bringing the contestants to tears.
8. Yes, one wore a hairnet. But, hey, another used molecular gastronomy (the thickening agent ultratex)!!!!
9. No sore losers here. Unike the regular show format, all of the contestants came out at the end to heartily congratulate the winner.
10. Cheryl was the winner (thanks in part to a drool-inducing Grilled Cream Cheese and Fruit Sandwich dessert drizzled in chocolate). When they brought out her excited students (and young daughter) who were drowning her in hugs, all the judges, crew and, I'm sure, viewers were wiping back tears.
IN OTHER WORDS: Kudos to Food Network for opening the curtain and allowing us to see the talent and knowledge these women have and realize the important work they do. Yeah, that and a first-rate competition with a lot of weird ingredients.
CHOPPED RATING: 9/10
CHOPPED LUNCH LADIES EPISODE RATING: A+/10
LUNCH LADIES' EMOTIONAL IMPACT RATING: Box of tissues/10
Have your own rating or comments you'd like to share? Please do so in the comments below.