Doritos … cake … "cheese" that's sprayed out of a can … these are the things the rest of us might consider guilty-pleasure junk food.
But award-winning chef and "Chopped" judge and champion Marcus Samuelsson doesn't break his commitment to healthy food even when he's in a snacking mood. His favorite junk food?
"I don't know if it's necessarily a junk food, but I love some toasted peanuts and really dark chocolate, combine that. Almost like a Snickers flavor, right? I love that. That's just a good combination, any time of the day," says Samuelsson, who's judging the current season of Food Network's "Chopped All-Stars," which, last week, found his fellow judges duking it out with the mystery baskets.
Chef Scott Conant won the judges' round and surprised everyone when he pulled out a red onion -- a veggie he has protested in numerous episodes -- and surprised them again when he forgot to put it on his appetizer plate.
"That just shows you, you could have done this so many times, but when you're [there], cooking, you throw all that expertise, all that experience, out the door," says Samuelsson, who owns the popular Red Rooster Harlem eatery in New York. "It's just really the block of time and that basket that gets you. I'm lucky with 'Chopped' to be on both sides, to be both a judge and a contestant, and it's equally tough. It's just so different. When you're a contestant, for me, I'm probably a little bit more comfortable, because you're doing your craft, you know what I mean? But being a judge is also … I'm a foodie first. I like to watch and see the intent, and see how hard the contestants work. It's tough on both sides, but I think I'm a little bit more comfortable when I'm a contestant.
"You definitely have so much more compassion for [contestants] after you've competed, though, because you can understand why somebody forgot something. You can definitely see that, 'Oh, I did that.' So I think it's good to be on both sides. It's the life. Sometimes you're a buyer, sometimes you're a seller."
Samuelsson, who earned $50,000 for his favorite charity -- the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program -- when he won "Chopped All-Stars: Judges Remix" last year, will also be at the judges' table for Sunday's penultimate "All-Stars" ep, in which celebs Johnny Weir, Joey Fatone, Laila Ali, and Judy Gold compete to win the last spot in the May 5 finale.
"They're going to be much better than you think, and they definitely surprised us," Samuelsson says of the celeb chefs. "They all had skills, they're all excited, and they have a lot of fun. But more importantly, all cook really good food."
The culinary superstar, whose 2012 autobiography, "Yes, Chef," is being released in paperback on May 21, will return again to judge the season finale; and one day, he hopes, he and his fellow judges will get to put together one of those mystery baskets that have sparked panic in even the most accomplished foodie professional on occasion.
"No, we don't [have input] into the baskets. We would like to, but we don't," he says. "They have their own basket producers, and I think it's really, really … they do an amazing job of doing that."
But if he did get to pack a mystery basket? If, maybe, Food Network decided to do a theme show where the judges picked the mystery ingredients (hint, hint)?
"Hey, that's a good idea. I hope we wouldn't be too mean-spirited, but it would be fun to do it … coming from Africa, I would probably put in some African spices with some Swedish fish [the actual fish, not the candy], and maybe some good bourbon," he says.
One thing he definitely would not include in the mystery basket is anything premade, like the can of pizza sauce or frozen French toast sticks that fellow judge Amanda Freitag found so distasteful in last week's episode.
"As chefs, we want to create our own things, where we know what the flavors are," Samuelsson says. "I think the hardest ingredient [in the baskets] is always the premade ingredient, because raw ingredients, you can actually cook. The chef can figure it out. But ingredients that are premade … there's always a twist with them, like you think it's one thing, but it actually tastes like something else. That is the hardest to convert, and control how much of that will influence the dish.
"But ultimately, you know what I love about 'Chopped'? It's such a family show … you can watch 'Chopped' at home with your family. It also gets us all excited about food, and hopefully, as a country, about making better [choices] about food, eating healthier. We're also just having fun with the family around food."
"Chopped All-Stars" airs Sundays at 9 PM on Food Network.
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