- As a part of the From the Judging Table series, Insider spoke to former and current judges from popular cooking shows to find out the best and worst dishes they’ve ever eaten on TV.
- Antonia Lofaso, judge on shows like “Top Chef” and “Chopped,” said she once got sick after eating a Cobb salad made with century eggs.
- Nancy Fuller, judge on “Holiday Baking Championship,” told Insider she once brought the remainder of a contestant’s cheesecake home because it was so delicious.
- “Top Chef” judge Gail Simmons once had a warm watermelon and blue cheese salad she really didn’t enjoy.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Viewers sometimes dream of getting to sit at the judging table of cooking-competition shows to enjoy the dishes prepared by talented chefs. Other times they’re happy they don’t have to taste dishes that look underbaked, overcooked, or downright gross.
As part of the From the Judging Table series, Insider spoke to former and current judges from popular cooking-competition shows to find out the most delicious and unfavorable things they’ve eaten while judging.
From a century-egg Cobb salad to a perfect cheesecake, read on to learn some of the best and worst dishes that cooking-show judges have eaten on TV.
Maneet Chauhan said she had trouble eating balut, a popular delicacy in Southeast Asia
When asked about the worst dish she’d ever tried while judging, Maneet Chauhan, longtime judge on Food Network’s “Chopped” and author of “Chaat: The Best Recipes from the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India,” told Insider she had difficulty with a divisive dish called balut.
“It’s a fertilized duck egg,” Chauhan explained.
Considered a delicacy in the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia, balut is a duck egg that has been fertilized and incubated for 16 to 20 days before being boiled or steamed.
The resulting dish is a partially developed duck embryo, yolk, and a broth that is typically eaten directly from the shell. Balut is said to have a pleasant savory flavor and a mousse-like texture.
The best dish Chauhan ever ate on TV was an Israeli dessert
Not every dish Chauhan has tried while judging food-competition shows has been as divisive as balut.
The “Chopped” judge told Insider she loved the dessert malabi, also known as Israeli milk pudding, when she tried it on TV.
With centuries-old roots, this milk-pudding-style dessert is typically flavored with rose water or orange blossom and served with peanuts, pistachios, or other kinds of nuts.
Gail Simmons told Insider that a warm watermelon salad was one of the worst dishes she’s ever eaten on TV
Cookbook author and judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef” Gail Simmons told Insider that the worst dish she’s had was on season two of the show.
“I ate a warm blue cheese and watermelon salad that was not enjoyable,” she said.
She also said that a fellow “Top Chef” judge once saved her and the other judges from eating seriously bad seafood.
“In season six, there were some shrimp that had sat out in the sun and gone bad that we almost ate, but Tom Colicchio alerted us to and we were able to avoid it,” she said.
On the other hand, Simmons said ‘Top Chef’ champ Paul Qui’s dishes are some of the best ones she’s tried
After 17 seasons of “Top Chef,” Simmons has eaten “thousands of dishes at this point,” making it difficult to choose just one as her favorite.
But meals cooked by Paul Qui, season-nine “Top Chef” winner, stand out to her. “One simple sunchoke and dashi soup made by Paul Qui always comes to mind,” Simmons said.
Sunchokes are root vegetables with a sweet, nutty flavor and dashi is a stock commonly found in Japanese cuisine.
Nancy Fuller said some of the worst dishes she’s tried were overcooked pineapple and a matcha-flavored cake
Nancy Fuller, a judge on Food Network’s seasonal “Baking Championship” series and the host of her own cooking show, “Farmhouse Rules,” told Insider that “99% of [the dishes] are phenomenal,” but some of them stand out in a bad way.
“One was burned pineapple. I don’t even know how that happened, that was a few seasons ago,” she said. “And the other was a matcha cake and I just said to the girl, ‘You don’t ever have to make this again.’ It was so bad.”
But one contestant’s cheesecake was so delicious that Fuller took the rest of it home
Fuller told Insider that many dishes on the “Baking Championship” series are great, but no dessert’s ever impressed her more than a macadamia-nut cheesecake.
“I, for the first time, put a dessert under my desk to take home with me. It was that good,” Fuller said. ” … It was the best flavored cheesecake I’ve ever had. It was macadamia cheesecake and it had a macadamia crunch on top
She continued, “The flavors were so well-balanced. It was just perfect, you just couldn’t stop eating it. It was amazing.”
When asked about the worst dish he tried, Duff Goldman shared a very memorable one
After being asked about the worst dish he’s had while judging shows like “Holiday Baking Championship,” Duff Goldman recalled one he can’t forget.
“I don’t know about the worst, but the most memorable was hot-dog-flavored ice cream,” he told Insider. “And the contestant wasn’t trying to make it hot-dog-flavored. He just threw a bunch of savory spices in there and it worked out — or [it didn’t], depending on how you look at it.”
For Goldman, one of the best dishes he tried was visually impressive
Goldman, who also judges Food Network’s “Kids Baking Championship,” said one of the most incredible dishes he’s tried is one modeled after a famous work of art.
“The most impressive thing I’ve seen is a reproduction of the Mona Lisa done in a [cookie] mosaic,” he told Insider. The impressive dessert was crafted by 13-year-old Davis Sams on season six of “Kids Baking Championship.”
“As someone who makes art out of food, I am incredibly impressed,” Goldman said on the 2019 episode while judging the dish.
Antonia Lofaso had such a bad memory of eating a century egg that she didn’t eat regular eggs for a year
When asked about the worst dish she’s ever eaten while judging shows like “Top Chef” and “Chopped,” restaurateur and chef Antonia Lofaso was quick to recall one of her earliest judging-related memories.
“Oh, God. It’s so funny because I know exactly what it was. It was my first judging job, ‘Cutthroat Kitchen.’ The contestants had to make a Cobb salad and one of the whammy ingredients was a century egg,” Lofaso told Insider.
For those unfamiliar, a century egg is not actually 100 years old. It’s a highly fermented, preserved egg known for its dark color, potent odor, and sharp, mineral flavor.
Lofaso explained that century eggs are “meant to be used as a seasoning agent in a dish to bring that funk” but the contestant put two full century eggs on his dish.
“I was so nervous that I wasn’t listening when he explained that he’d used the entire century egg as the actual egg in his cobb salad. I took one bite and I almost threw up,” Lofaso added.
She continued, “I ended up swallowing it, but as soon as I got back to my dressing room I threw up. It actually made me not eat just regular eggs for quite some time. There was like an entire year where I didn’t go near an egg.”
Lofaso has had some deliciously memorable dishes, like a blue-cheese ribeye
When asked about some of her favorite dishes, Lofaso recalled judging the Food Network’s “Iron Chef.”
“It was amazing to eat dishes from Alex Guarnaschelli, Bobby Flay, and their competitors because the show is really about incredible dishes,” Lofaso told Insider.
One of the most stand-out dishes, though, was a beef steak flavored with cheese and onion.
“Guarnaschelli did this ribeye that she wrapped in blue cheese and green onion and it was so delicious,” she said. “I loved it so much I made something similar in a competition two years later.”
The worst dish Carla Hall had while judging included an odd combination of flavors — chocolate, orange, and peppermint
Food Network’s “Baking Championship” shows often feature challenges that encourage contestants to pair unique flavors.
But “Halloween Baking Championship” host and judge Carla Hall told Insider that the pairings aren’t always delicious.
“One [contestant] decided to do peppermint, orange, and chocolate. Orange and chocolate? Great. Chocolate and peppermint? Great. Orange and peppermint? No,” Hall said.
“You have given me toothpaste and I have forgotten I brushed my teeth and drank orange juice. Medicinal and yucky,” she continued.
Hall said that some of her favorite bites while judging are those that spark nostalgic food memories
For Hall, special memories can make a dish even better.
She told Insider that while judging “Halloween Baking Championship” she disagreed with her fellow judges on a rum cake that they felt was soggy. To her, the dish was wonderful because it reminded her of a personal memory.
“It reminded me of one of those rum cakes that I’ve had at the airport in the Bahamas,” Hall said. “It was like all of these memories came flooding back, it was like ‘Ratatouille’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I love this.'”
Ultra-spicy dishes are the hardest for Damaris Phillips to eat while judging
Damaris Phillips, a judge on Food Network’s “Guy’s Grocery Games,” told Insider that although most of the dishes she tastes are great, some cooking challenges are more difficult and unpleasant to judge than others.
“The hot competitions can get a little aggressive,” Phillips said. “So on ‘Guy’s Grocery Games,’ every now and again, they’ll do ‘heat masters’ and you’re supposed to bring the fire and sometimes those ultra-spicy dishes are so spicy that your palate is blown out and your tongue is tingly and numb.”
But Phillips said one of her favorite dishes is a beef stroganoff cooked by a ‘Guy’s Grocery Games’ contestant
When asked about the best dishes she’s eaten while judging, Phillips said that she has a weak spot for any pasta dish and one, in particular, stood out from the rest.
“One time somebody made beef stroganoff in a ‘Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives’ competition on ‘Guy’s Grocery Games’ and I ate the entire bowl,” she told Insider. “I hadn’t had beef stroganoff in a while. That’s not really a dish that you see out in the world often, but it was so good.”
She added, “I remember being like, ‘Dang, sour cream and noodles are so delicious.’ I can still think about it.”
Chris Santos recalled certain chefs, not particular dishes, as being the best throughout his extensive judging experience
For an experienced chef, restaurateur, and judge like Chris Santos from “Chopped,” choosing just one dish as the best can be a lofty task.
“By my math, I’ve eaten over 1,500 dishes on the show so it’s hard to name just one,” Santos told Insider.
“But I remember vividly that chefs Angie Mar, Melvin ‘Boots’ Johnson, and Adriana Urbina all made dish after dish after dish that just wowed the heck out of me,” he added.
Chicken feet top the list of the worst dishes Santos has tried
On a show like “Chopped,” contestants are given a box of mystery ingredients, including some that may be unfamiliar and difficult for some chefs to cook.
Santos told Insider that some chefs don’t know how to properly prepare chicken feet — most importantly, the talons should be removed before they are served.
“Being served those chicken feet with the sharp talons still attached is rather … unpleasant,” he said. “It has happened many times.”
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