Ted Allen Dishes on Zachary Quinto & Meghan Markle as ‘Chopped’ Judges

Credit: Dave Jackson

Don’t lie. At some point you’ve tuned into one of the many Chopped episodes over the years. Part of what makes this show so irresistible, outside of its handsome judges like Chris Santos and fiery competitors, is the man who has proudly taken on the role as host: Ted Allen.

A good portion of the LGBTQ community has been familiar with him for almost two decades ever since he made his debut on the original Queer Eye alongside Carson Kressley, Kyan Douglas, Thom Felicia and Jai Rodriguez

And he remains relevant all this time later thanks to Chopped and the numerous books and television appearances he’s made since first appearing on the beloved Bravo series. 

Ted chatted with Instinct about how life has been during COVID with his husband Barry Rice, why Zachary Quinto & Meghan Markle stick out to him as some of the best Chopped guest judges and what’s next for him as his career continues to soar.  

What has been the peak and pit of your life since COVID began?

The best part about it is that I’m lucky enough to own a home and have savings and I can afford to have food delivered to the house. I have a husband, a small group of friends who I can trust, who are being as careful as we are, so I don’t feel like I have that much to complain about.

We have three layers of people: people we don’t know and can’t trust. There are people comfortable sitting outside with us but don’t want to be indoors with us. And then we have friends that we know are taking this as seriously as we are. We wear masks anytime we leave this house, and don’t get me wrong I hate them, but when I see people without masks walking around these days it makes me angry because they’re the ones who are going to infect. It’s really selfish. It’s a matter of protecting one another. I believe in science and understand how this thing is transmitted so that’s what we have to do. The longer people refuse to do it the longer we’re going to be in a pandemic.

It’s funny. When this all began I thought, “Oh great. I’ll have all this time to cook and write recipes and catch up on stuff.” And I have caught up on some stuff, I’ve done all kinds of repairs to my house that needed to be done, but the tricky thing about the pandemic is that when you are responsible for cooking everything, on those times that you don’t order in, it’s a lot of work! It’s not the vacation that I originally envisioned.

As I said, the best thing for me is that I feel fortunate and have also been giving to some organizations because of that. Because I know that a lot of people live alone, particularly in this town, and I feel for people who are on their own in a time like this who don’t have resources to make this situation a little easier. Being able to order food and have it delivered here is a luxury and not everybody can swing that.

My colleague Marc Murphy and many others from Chopped are involved with City Harvest, an amazing group that helps get people fed all the time, and they are busier than ever as you could imagine in this pandemic. And I think most people who are involved in a group like that have stepped up their support and do what they can for our neighbors.

What about you and your husband during this pandemic. Has it strengthened your relationship?

I can’t say that we’ve come to any profound discoveries. We’re super boring to start with. It’s funny, I live in a brownstone with neighbors whose yard touches my yard with one is in their 70’s and the other is in their 80’s. She recently told me the following: “You know this hasn’t changed our lives at all! We don’t go anywhere!”

As for Barry and I, he runs a business so we have had to venture out for clients who are picking up items that they’re buying but much of what he does for work can be done online.

Got it. And have you been able to do any Chopped episodes during COVID?

Yes. I’m very grateful that we were able to shoot a full season of Chopped this year. Not every TV production can swing that. It cost a lot of extra money. We had multiple registered nurses, got tested three times a week and had all these very strict rules about masks. The whole crew was divided into different pods and you were only able to be in a room with people from your pod. And it worked! We had nobody turn out positive but that’s expensive and a lot of work. I really respect our production company for being able to pull that off and we logged 50-something episodes despite the pandemic.

Did you have a particular episode of the show that resonates with you all this time later?

Yeah. I’ve had a lot of really fun days on Chopped. We’re somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 episodes over 12 years which we’re super grateful and lucky. Not every show lasts that long and gets that many episodes ordered.

I have a lot favorites. Certainly I’m happy with the ones with a room full of firefighters. Who isn’t? We also have some fun with people from the Armed Forces but my favorite episodes we’ve ever done have been with school lunch ladies which we immediately corrected to school chefs. We’ve informed them that we were not going to call them lunch ladies which is inappropriately gender specific anyway and diminishing.

One woman stands out in particular in my mind. Cheryl Barbara from New Haven, Connecticut. People who work in school cafeterias aren’t paid extravagant amounts of money yet Cheryl spent her own money to buy backpacks and stuff them filled with pasta and other foods that will stick to your ribs and give them to kids who were less fortunate. The reason for the backpack was that nobody would know that they just got a donation for food. She has stuck with me over the years as someone who is so selfless and has played a role in teaching when it comes to stretching your dollar with groceries. She’s providing a service that’s goes above and beyond and that touched us all a great deal.

Outside of the mainstays has there been a guest judge you’ve enjoyed the most over the years?

We’ve had so many great ones including Zachary Quinto who appeared on Chopped Junior. Meghan Markle was also fantastic. She guest judged before becoming a princess but was with Prince Harry at the time so we knew she was going to become one. By the way when they told me that they were going to do Chopped Junior I was worried about chopping children. It seemed so cruel!

A little birdie also told me you’re a gigantic music fan. Any new artists you’ve discovered while stuck inside or ones that you’ve reintroduced yourself too?

I have a friend named Jason who used to work at Capitol Records and would shower me with CD’s, that was the medium we used to use. He turned me onto Sparklehorse, Ryan Adams and a whole bunch of other great stuff.

We just reconnected and he sparked my interest in a band called Eyelids, who are interesting. The last band I saw before the pandemic was Destroyer which is really all about a guy named Dan Bejar who also is a member of the band The New Pornographers. Here’s the thing about The New Pornographers, because I’m friendly with them and had them over to my place pre-COVID. They drank all my good tequila once but then a month or two later replacement tequila arrived in the mail. So they’re very courteous rock stars.

And finally what do you have in the works that our audience should know about?

Right now Chopped is on hiatus. We’ll be shooting later in the year so in the meantime I’m getting ready to do some other stuff like researching a book about my dad.

What do you think?