If your kid is most at home in the kitchen, you may consider throwing a cooking themed birthday celebration. If your kid is also a fan of Food Network, consider why you should base the party on the hit cooking competition show, Chopped.
The Chopped Kitchen
The actual Chopped studio kitchen has enough ovens, appliances and counter space to accommodate four chefs, all cooking at the same time. Chances are your kitchen does not have this same type of set up, but that does not mean you can’t throw a Chopped party that’s just as much fun as the Food Network program. You can either adopt the format of the show to suit the abilities of your home kitchen or find a location that provides more cooking space.
- Local firehouse: Rent your local firehouse banquet hall. They often have a large kitchen with ample space for several cooks.
- The park: If the weather is warm, host your Chopped party at a park that has several barbecue grills available to use. Just make sure your collection of mystery ingredients includes items that could be cooked on the grill.
- Your backyard: In keeping with the grill idea, purchase a few portable grills (the disposable kind they sell in the supermarket for tailgating or camping) and host your Chopped grilling party in the backyard.
- Small appliance chopped: If you have enough counter space at home, you can do a version of Chopped that uses slow cookers or toaster ovens instead of traditional ovens (ask friends to borrow theirs for the day, so you have enough appliances to accommodate your guests). Note that slow cooker recipes used would have to rely on pre-cooked ingredients to save on overall cooking time.
In keeping with the Chopped format, it is probably best to limit your contestants to four people, or four teams. You may even choose to pare it down to three teams and eliminate one of the courses from your competition. This all depends on the amount of time, space, ingredients and party guests you have.
Like the television version, your own Chopped game will need judges—and a host. So, you can break up the party guests into contestants and judges, or ask a few parents to stick around and fill those roles. Chances are they will have just as much fun as the kids.
The Cooking Challenge
The way the competition works on the show is this: Four chefs start out in the kitchen. Each chef gets a mystery basket with the same four ingredients. These ingredients are usually a bit on the obscure side, or a combination of foods that one wouldn’t normally put together. The four contestants then have 20 minutes to each create an appetizer that incorporates all of the mystery ingredients (they also have access to a pantry of basic other ingredients to use). When time is up, the appetizers are presented to the judges, who decide which chef will be “chopped” from the game. The remaining three chefs each get a new mystery basket and have 30 minutes to create an entree. At the end of the entree round, another player is chopped. The remaining two cooks each get another mystery basket and another 30 minutes. This time they need to prepare a dessert dish. The judges then decide who will be the last to be chopped, leaving the last remaining chef as the winner.
For your home version of the show, you can follow the same format or adapt it to suit your party plan. For instance, if you have more than four guests who want to participate, you can change it up to be four teams of two or three players.
Another variation would be to do only one or two of the course rounds or have your young cooks compete two at a time, and then have the winners from each of those, compete against one another until you have narrowed it down to the last two chefs for the final round.
If time and oven space is an issue, you can use pre-cooked foods in your mystery basket. For instance, you can use deli sliced meat instead of raw protein ingredients, or already baked cupcakes as the base ingredient for the dessert round.
The selection of ingredients and coordinating the actual preparation and cooking events will likely be the biggest challenges you have when planning a Chopped birthday party, so give yourself plenty of time to work out these details. In addition to your mystery basket ingredients, you will need to supply a collection of pantry basics that the kids can use as well. Remember that in addition to the ingredients and cooking times, you’ll need to have enough utensils and cooking supplies for four teams of players.
Because the preparation for this party can be almost as big of a task as hosting it on the actual day, you might want to ask another parent or two to pitch in and help with the planning and gathering of ingredients. You might also want to have some adults (or older siblings) on hand on the day of the party to assist the kids in the kitchen as they compete in the Chopped Challenge. (These folks would be in addition to anyone you enlist to serve as the judges.)
One might think that a cooking birthday party would eliminate the need to plan a party menu. Because this is a Chopped theme party, however, you will probably need something edible to feed your guests. The combination of ingredients might be fun to create concoctions for the competition, but it is quite possible that no one else will want to eat these creations. Of course, some of the dishes the challengers make might be quite tasty, but it is still best to plan for the opposite and whip up a tray of tea sandwiches or order a couple of pizzas and a birthday cake to feed your hungry players.
You don’t have to decorate much for a Chopped party, but it could be fun to hang up a couple of signs with the show’s logo and give out chef’s jackets or aprons and hats for guests to wear. You can also give the judges name tags that read the names of some of your favorite Chopped judges. Your party chefs might also like name tags; why not give them blank ones and let them make up some funny cooking-themed names like Stir-fry Sam or Captain Ketchup.
The competition is not only the theme of your party but also the entertainment. If you have extra time, however, you can introduce your guests to some of these fun cooking party games.
Another fun way to pass the time at a Chopped party is by watching episodes of the show. You might even do this before the challenge portion of your party, so everyone has a clear idea of how the game is played.
Party Favors and Prizes
On the show, the winning prize is a check for ten grand. At your party, the winning prize is likely to be something much less expensive. Some ideas for items that can be used as prizes and party favors include:
- A set of cooking utensils
- Oven mitts or pot holders
- A chef’s apron
- A chef’s hat
- A mini-mystery basket (filled with ingredients they will enjoy such as items needed to make S’mores, ice cream sundae topping, cake mix, and frosting or hot cocoa and marshmallows).
- Recipe box and index cards
- A cookbook (maybe one authored by a Chopped judge)
- A current issue of a cooking magazine
- Beverage mix (such as lemonade or fruit punch) and a travel cup