Tsogo Sun’s David Van Staden on Chopped SA

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Chopped South Africa is a Food Network commission and follows the same format as the internationally acclaimed series. Each episode will feature four chefs tasked with turning a selection of everyday ingredients into “chopped” until the last person standing claims victory, with a cash prize of R40,000.

David Van Staden is an Executive Chef with us here at Tsogo Sun.  He’s been moonlighting as one of Chopped SA’s judges, and I sat down with him to find out what his experience was like.  If you’ve watched the show (the final episodes are today and tomorrow on Food Network, DStv channel 175, don’t miss them!), please let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

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Being chosen as one of the judges for Chopped South Africa must’ve been quite exciting.  What has the overall experience been like?
Very different, I’m inherently ‘socially dyslexic’ so I tend to hide behind closed kitchen doors as I generally say the wrong thing at the wrong time.  I suppose this ended up as a good thing as I’m told this is what the show is enjoying about me as a judge.

Being such a behind the scenes kind of guy, was it difficult getting used to being in front of the camera?
At first I was very conscious of the cameras, but I eventually got to know the camera men and focused on them.  Thankfully, they were a lot fun and together we caused a few “cuts” and re-takes.  The camera work became part and parcel of the entire project and I slowly got used to it.

What has been your biggest learning from being on the show?
I learnt that the show is real.  It sounds strange, but from the outside I have always presumed that there was an element of staging or polishing during the filming process.  After this experience I can say hand on heart that Chopped is a really tough competition, and definitely not for sissies.

How have you taken on the role of “mean judge”, does it come naturally?
Haha, ask the contestants 🙂  I think we need to remember that the kitchen is a militaristic environment, and as in the military, at times someone has to bark and someone has to listen, all in the quest for culinary excellence of course.  Most chefs do have a double persona. The one we carry outside the kitchen is generally much calmer and controlled and even labelled as ‘chilled’, then of course the teeth and claws start to show when our passion get tickled.

Has being on the show impacted anything in real life for you at all, have people started to recognise you off air yet?
No, not yet.  But I suppose that it has just been the first season so hopefully if they do start recognising me, people don’t start asking me to say something controversial…I might just oblige.

Any final words?

On a whole one might think that all of a sudden on will wake up and things will be different.  Perhaps your kids might start excelling in every way, you car wont break down any longer, the plumbing will never fail, etc.  But things don’t change, and I honestly hope they don’t in anyway. I am the judge that has been enjoyed (either positively or negatively) on TV and I am that way because I am who I am, I’ve always been this way.  Changing now would just cause an imbalance. Yes, I suppose right now my peers and colleagues do enjoy conversing with me a little more, but I am amazed by their will for my success.  It just shows you our true human positive spirit. If I ever do change or falter from who I am now, I urge everyone I know to be as blatant and honest as I try to be on the show.