On Being a Contestant on “Chopped,” for Timothy Cipriano

Timothy Cipriano talks about his time competing on TV's "Chopped."

Last November, Timothy Cipriano, director of food services for Guilford (Conn.) Public Schools, was a contestant on the Food Network cooking competition show “Chopped.” Cipriano talks to FoodService Director about taping the show and representing child nutrition in a positive light. 

Q. For those who haven’t seen the show, what’s the premise of “Chopped?”

There are four chefs and each chef has his own station. Each chef is given a mystery basket with four ingredients that must be incorporated into the recipe. There’s an appetizer, entrée and dessert round. At the end of every round, a chef gets chopped. The winning chef gets $10,000. 

Q. How did you get on the show?

I received a phone call two and half years ago from another chef who said, “’Chopped” is looking for contestants, so why don’t you give them a call? They are interested in talking to folks who are involved in school food.” I went down for a screening in New York City. It was an on-camera interview for an hour. They said, you’ll hear back from us in a year or two. 

Q. What was it like taping the show?

I taped the show about a year and a half ago. It was crazy. I chair the Share Our Strength’s Taste the Nation event, which is a fundraiser to raise money for childhood hunger. That event happened the day before I taped “Chopped.” I then drove to New York City. I was running on adrenaline. You’re there with three other contestants you don’t know. The other chefs with me weren’t from school food. 

Q. How important to you was it to represent school food in a positive light on TV?

I was able to talk about what I do in my role feeding kids and ending childhood hunger. That’s what it was really about; not winning the money. When I was eliminated one of the judges said, “thanks for all the work you do for kids.” The show also did two episodes called Class Act where they featured contestants from school meals. One of my chefs from [my previous district in] New Haven won it. It was great to really get the word out that school food is more than just old ladies slopping food on a plate. 

Q. What did you cook on the show?

The first round was smoked turkey gizzards, fresh green beans, canned cranberry sauce, and cheese and green chili tamales. This was a Thanksgiving-themed episode. I took the tamales apart and sautéed them and made them into a stuffing. I steamed the green beans. I took the cranberries and made it into more of a liquid sauce. I sliced the turkey gizzards thin and sautéed them. I had no idea what I was doing. I was winging it. We had 20 minutes to make the dish. I made it through to the entrée round.

They gave us 40 minutes for the entrée round. We were given a 16-pound raw turkey, dried oysters, French-fried onions and a whole pumpkin pie. I took the filling out of the pie and attempted to make a gravy with that. I took the pie shell, the French-fried onions and cut up oysters and put it with some bread and made it into a stuffing. I deboned the turkey and grilled it. The pumpkin pie filling didn’t quite work and it started to break, so I added some goat cheese to it. Then it became too thick. It became almost like a side dish instead of an actual gravy. The judges’ comments were that they were really craving stuffing, which was not a good thing. I also overcooked the turkey a little bit on the grill so it had kind of a charred taste. I was chopped at the end of that round, which is fine because desserts are not my forte.