That’s show business for you.

By Bridget Hallinan
Updated May 09, 2019
Credit: Photo by Carolyn Fong.

If you’ve seen even one episode of Chopped, you know how chaotic it is—and aside from the obvious creativity it takes to turn ingredients like cotton candy and beef jerky into a world-class meal, that’s what makes it so fun to watch. You agonize over contestants frantically plating in the last 10 seconds; you groan as they forget their pan on the stove and burn their meat. And no matter how long each round is, they’re always running across the kitchen, with everything seemingly placed as far away as possible. As it turns out, according to host Ted Allen, that’s all part of the plan.

“Our set was designed to be inefficient on purpose—remember, we’re trying to make entertaining television! We want our chefs to run all over the place, because that’s exciting,” he told Food & Wine via e-mail. “So, the plates are 50 feet away from the refrigerators. In real life kitchens, you want a layout that’s functional and efficient and reduces the number of steps you have to take.”

Allen added that the chefs have very little counter space to work with—“less than you would have in a New York City studio apartment,” he said. (Barring the dessert round, when the two remaining contestants have a lot more room to breathe.) Counter space is crucial to a functional kitchen, he says, and since the Chopped contestants don’t have much, they have to “work clean”—in other words? Clearing dirty dishes and empty containers away as soon as they’re done using them, to maximize the space.

With these revelations, it should come as no surprise that the show’s dreaded ice cream machine—often a battleground in the dessert round—is meant to cause conflict too. Last year, Marcus Samuelsson revealed at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen that there’s only one ice cream machine on purpose. “We want it to be a run for that, right?” he said. “It’s really for creating that level of semi-chaos. It’s really like cooking on a treadmill. It’s not easy at all.” So if you ever end up on Chopped, a word to the wise—you might want to stick with cake.

Now that you know all the ways you can design an inefficient kitchen, Allen also gave us tips for planning an efficient one—from, as aforementioned, maximizing counter space to splurging on an extra beverage fridge. Or, you can check out his top recommendations for appliance and kitchen tools too, and find out what he calls “the heart of the kitchen.”