My husband Thom and I have watched Chopped for several years now. Even though we are not big fans of reality TV, there is something about the mix of tasty food, cooking, creativity, and drama that caught our attention. If you haven’t seen it, Chopped is a weekly program on the Food Network that showcases four different chefs each week as they compete to create the most artistic and flavorful dishes in a set amount of time. After watching dozens of episodes, it occurred to me that many of the things we witness week after week is similar to what we all face on a regular basis. That’s when I came up with seven life lessons contained in every episode of Chopped.
#1 We all get a mystery basket every day. Those of you who watch the show know that each of the four contestants receive a mystery basket containing four unique food products. The Chefs must then utilize those four ingredients to make something both visually appealing and tasty for the three celebrity judges. To make the challenge more interesting, the competing contestants must provide an appetizer course, followed by a main course, and finish up with a dessert. Even more difficult is that they only have 20 minutes for the appetizer, 30 for the main, and another 30 for dessert. Following each course the plates are judged and one of the Chefs is “chopped” until in the end, only one Chef remains. The experience is likely more stressful than we can know.
But in so many ways that is what happens metaphorically to each of us every day. We are all handed a set of mystery ingredients and it is up to us what we will create out of it. Some Chefs do it with amazing creativity and grace—winning or losing. Others race around like maniacs barely managing to throw something edible on the plate before the buzzer goes off. Others flat out forget the requirement of using one of the essential ingredients and pay the penalty. Life Lesson: Regardless of what your mystery basket contains each day, you can always create something interesting, savory and uniquely you.
#2 Don’t let the judges intimidate you. Judges are everywhere. It doesn’t matter if you are on a reality television show, writing a blog post or merrily going about your business. What matters is how much we do or don’t let them intimidate and wreck our dreams, desires and inspiration. Most of the Chefs that manage to win on Chopped seem to posses the confidence in their own abilities to weather the storm. Life Lesson: Never let a judge or judgment break your spirit.
#3 Don’t be fooled by appearances. Some Chefs create the most beautiful plates imaginable. Like a work of art you can tell when the judges are clearly impressed. Yet every now and then the judges will cut into a piece of meat that is half raw or something tart and bitter that catches them by surprise. Even worse are when bits of bone or other foreign material are hiding inside. Nearly without exception, the plates with the worst taste are chopped regardless of how beautiful they might look. Life Lesson: What’s inside is always more important than what’s outside.
#4 We can play it safe or we can be adventurous. Each plate prepared by the Chefs is judged on taste, creativity and presentation. Yet in spite of that directive, many of the Chefs put out something they have cooked dozens of times or sometimes something you or I could make in a squeeze. Repeatedly the Chefs who succeed at the biggest challenges often win the show. Life Lesson: Be Bold—don’t be afraid to fail.
#5 Use everything. In every episode each competing Chef must make a plate using the mystery ingredients. Strange and often conflicting tastes like watermelon, canned sardines, pepper jack cheese and zucchini are relatively normal for the show. A winning Chef always creatively uses every item along with a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator. Yet every now and then a Chef will simply forget to include one of the essential ingredients or forget to check the pantry for other items. This reminds me that we often have more options to create a winning recipe than we remember. And sometimes, even those things we think are huge stumbling blocks (like mystery basket ingredients!) can lead to something amazing. We just need to use everything. Life Lesson: Stay awake, aware and use what you’ve got.
#6 Even if you don’t win doesn’t mean you can’t be nice. It’s obvious that no matter how talented some Chefs are, sometimes circumstances work against you and you are chopped. Some chefs are very gracious and manage to depart the show wishing everyone else well despite the obvious disappointment. Others rant and rave throughout the show and if they do manage to be the last Chef standing, do it in such an obnoxious way that viewers are left with a nasty taste in our mouths. This is a great reminder that while winning is nice, being a person that others like to be around is likely a bigger reward. Life Lesson: Respect for others and kindness makes us a winner no matter what.
#7 Never forget we only have so much time. One of the biggest challenges the Chefs face on Chopped is racing against the clock. Not only must they prepare a tasty and attractive dish to stay in the competition, they must use some really strange ingredients at the same time. Not easy. Yet when you think about it we are all on a time clock of sorts, and with the right purpose and intention we all hope to leave something that is “tasty and attractive” for ourselves and others. Let’s never forget that while it might seem we have plenty of time to do what we want with our mystery baskets, our time on Earth is finite. Life Lesson: Use our time wisely and never take it for granted.
While you may not have ever thought of Chopped as an example of a wise and thought provoking television show, I think whenever we are paying attention we can find life lessons all around us. No matter what the program, it’s SMART to remember that watching how others successfully navigate life with grace, wit, humor and wisdom we can learn something and live a more happy and rewarding life.
Photo credit: http://blog.foodnetwork.com Press Photo