Gingerly taking on a dessert challenge

March 27, 2019 — by Neeti Badve and Nitya Marimuthu

The following is a verbatim transcript of our thoughts as we faced our “Chopped” challenge.

Our competition was based on the famous Food Network TV show, in which four contestants face off in three rounds — appetizer, entree and dessert — with one chef eliminated or “chopped” each round until one victor remains.

Each round, contestants receive a basket with four ingredients that all must be significantly represented in their dishes. These ingredients range from mundane vegetables such as collard greens to novelty items like squid ink.

Due to our lack of cooking knowledge (how do the Chopped Jr. kids do it?) we decided to simplify our challenge to a dessert face-off. We each selected four items for the other to use, one of which had to contain chocolate. Anything in Neeti’s kitchen was fair play. Afterwards, we’d have one hour to cook and plate our creations.

Nitya: As I opened my basket, I saw a banana, maple syrup, cinnamon and dark chocolate bars infused with different flavors like ginger and vanilla. My brain raced as I tried to conjure up a recipe from my hours spent watching needless food videos, only to draw blanks.

And then it hit me. Maple syrup, banana, cinnamon … I could make pancakes! It did not cross my mind that this was a breakfast food, but that thought would only occur to me later.

Neeti: I opened my basket to find a maple and brown sugar flavored oatmeal packet, plain Rice Krispies, Kirkland-brand Nutella and strawberries. Perplexed by the oatmeal, I started mixing the Rice Krispies and Nutella, hoping some idea would come to me along the way.

Nitya: The ingredients in my pancakes were fairly simple — banana, oats and an egg. As I mashed my banana, I pondered how to incorporate the maple syrup creatively, while including the contrasting flavors of cinnamon and chocolate.

Using my extensive Tasty food videos knowledge, I produced a couple ideas, but laziness got the best of me as I spotted the ginger-flavored chocolate: my second fatal mistake.

Neeti: While stirring (and eating) my Nutella Rice Krispies, I realized I had forgotten the oatmeal, so I did what any professional chef would do and decided to wing it. I followed the instructions on my Quakers oats packet, and voila! Instant oatmeal! (The oatmeal may or may not have overflowed in my microwave). But I was on a roll!

I finally decided on my next course of action: rolling the Nutella Krispies into balls.

Nitya: My two favorite flavors in the world are dark chocolate and cinnamon. The one food item that combines this is the age-old comfort drink Mexican hot chocolate.

I chose to selectively forget some of the spices that go into Mexican hot chocolate. Ginger, cinnamon, cayenne … all the spices taste the same anyway, right?

Neeti: While Nitya started reciting the wonders of Mexican hot chocolate, I got to work on my Rice Krispie balls. However, I found that it was impossible to make Rice Krispie balls with just Nutella as a binding agent, so I mixed in the oatmeal. In that moment, I really understood the stress behind the last-minute decisions professional chefs on “Chopped” have to make.

Nitya: In case you didn’t catch the hint, the ginger chocolate was a BAD mistake. Despite tasting the bar before tossing it in, I chose to ignore the overwhelming gingerbread-like baseline that knocked out any sign of dark chocolate.

By the first taste test, I knew I had messed up horribly. All I could taste was ginger. At this point, I told Neeti that my chances were not looking so good. She agreed.

Nevertheless, I set to work making my pancakes, which ended up looking and tasting like banana omelettes. I added more oats to salvage their consistency, but it looked like my saving grace would have to be the chocolate syrup.

Neeti: While rolling the oatmeal and Rice Krispie balls, I remembered the strawberries, but I wasn’t worried. It seemed that my motto for this challenge was: “Just do whatever comes to your mind, and it will somehow work out.”

And being the culinary genius I am, I realized I could stuff the strawberries with the extra Nutella Rice Krispie mixture instead.

Seeing the frustrated look on Nitya’s face, I started getting overconfident, even pausing in the middle to wash some dishes to show her I had everything in control. My balls were done and in the fridge. My strawberries were cut out and pitted. All that was left to do was plate.

Nitya: Since mama didn't raise no waster, I attempted to fix my mess of a sauce. I added more plain chocolate, maple syrup and some milk, hoping to drown out the discerning taste of ginger.

There wasn’t much more I could do at this point than slather on the chocolate syrup and hope for the best. I added bananas on top to earn some presentation points and hopefully sweeten the unruly dish.

Neeti: I didn’t want to waste my unused strawberry bits, so I proudly piled the pieces on top of each other and poured the leftover Rice Krispie mixture onto it, flaunting my end product to Nitya and my parents.

Nitya: Luckily, Neeti’s parents tried to spare my feelings after the taste test, so they announced that we had tied after being judged on appearance, taste and creativity.

After giving both of our culinary concoctions a shot, I conceded that my pancakes were not a dish I would willingly eat, therefore making me the loser of this challenge. Pancake making is an art best left to the professionals.

So what did we learn?

Two types of spontaneity, yet one worked and one didn’t. Was it the knowledge? Definitely not. Was it the chocolate hazelnut butter? Probably yes. Was it the ginger out to ruin plans? Definitely yes. Future chefs, be warned. A “touch” of ginger can ruin lives.