The past year has been a bit of a whirlwind for Rhubarb pastry chef Kaley Laird. While working last year as executive chef at San Francisco’s Aveline, Laird decided she needed a change. She quit her job, and, while planning a cross-country trek to reunite with her family in New York City, she thought she might as well also try out for the Food Network program “Chopped.”
“I grew up watching that stuff, shows like ‘Top Chef,’ says Laird. “I thought it would be fun to do.”
She made the cut, and the 28-year-old Arden resident will be featured in the episode that airs locally at 10 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9, on the Food Network.
“Chopped” is a competitive cooking show featuring host Ted Allen that challenges chefs to create a meal in a limited time using mystery ingredients. Those ingredients range from the fairly pedestrian (quail, zucchini, strawberries and avocados make regular appearances) to the decidedly adventurous — yak meat, reindeer pâté, fermented soybeans and bull testicles have all had their turn in the spotlight. The chef who creates the meal deemed most exceptional by the panel of celebrity judges wins a $10,000 cash prize.
Laird, who joined the staff at Rhubarb in February, says filming for the episode took place in December. Segments were shot in San Francisco to provide biographical background, and the competition itself was filmed at the Chelsea Market in New York City.
Other than the location, contestants are not allowed to say how they fared or talk about specific details of the competition before the program airs. However, Laird was able to share that the title of her episode is “Snail Snafu,” which she says gives away a little bit about what to expect in the show.
Although the “Chopped” format puts contestants in stressful situations and often forces them to lose their composure, Laird says she felt “supercomfortable” during the filming of the competition. “I really enjoy being under pressure,” she says. “It was a really great experience and actually one of the funnest things I’ve done in a really long time.”
She adds that she hit it off with the other chefs who appeared on the show, and they’ve kept in touch since the filming. Although she’s not particularly nervous about appearing on television, she says, “I’m interested to see how they’re going to show me … how they’re going to set me up. It’s a completely different experience doing the show from what you would guess from watching it.”