You might not think those who can hit, kick or shoot can also slice, dice or saute, but the opening episode of “Chopped Tournament of Stars,” a five-part special edition of Food Network’s “Chopped,” might convince you otherwise.
Premiering Sunday, March 9, it brings together celebrities from different walks of life to compete head to head in cooking challenges. The winners from the first four episodes face off for the championship in the finale on April 6, with a $50,000 grand prize going to the charity of the victor’s choice.
The premiere episode “Sports Stars!” pits four ex-athletes — 1999 World Cup heroine Brandi Chastain, NBA enforcer Charles Oakley, and Olympic gold medalists Greg Louganis and Jackie Joyner-Kersee — in various challenges.
Alex Guarnaschelli, who is a judge on the episode with Marc Murphy and Geoffrey Zakarian, was impressed but not surprised by the athletes’ skills.
“Understand that nutrition plays a huge role in athletes’ lives,” she tells Zap2it, “and one of the most nutritious ways to eat is to cook your own food. So they definitely brought that, Brandi in particular. She cooks for her family; she loves food. That really comes through. When people love food and they love cooking in their everyday lives, they tend to excel in the kitchen.”
But Guarnaschelli was caught a little off guard by the case of nerves that came over Chastain as the competition wore on.
“She just was really easy and confident in the first round, as I remember,” Guarnaschelli says, “and then I think she got to the next round and she got nervous, like ‘Oh, my God! Wait a minute, I’m going to get chopped if I do this.’ And then she kind of got tensed up. We generally find the opposite. You know, they’re really nervous in the first round. Once they make it to the second, they relax a little because they have the lay of the land. She was kind of the opposite, and that surprised me.”
As for Oakley, a 6-foot-9-inch power forward for five teams in a 19-year NBA career, Guarnaschelli found him “surprisingly graceful at the stove, which if you think about it isn’t surprising, considering athletes are really graceful in general. But yeah — very elegant, delicate touch, a lot of testosterone and a lot of finesse at the same time.”
All the athletes brought skills from the competitive arena to the tournament, which Guarnaschelli says served them well on the show.
“I think no one would dispute that ‘Chopped’ is a highly athletic television show,” she says. “I think they’re used to working against the clock; I think they understand time constraints; I think they understand that there’s a crucial moment with every dish just like there’s a crucial moment in any game or any match. And I think that understanding is really useful in the kitchen.”
Ensuing episodes are “Rachael vs. Guy!” with alumni of “Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-Off” (March 16); “Comedians!” with Tommy Davidson, Sinbad, Gillian Vigman and Robert Wuhl (March 23); and “Actors!” with Lucas Grabeel, Michael Imperioli, Peter Scolari and Tasha Smith (March 30).