Beef Cake Mistakes: The Parallels of the “Chopped” Kitchen and a Hinge Date

One of my favorite quarantine activities involves watching an episode of “Chopped” on the Food Network’s streaming service while eating a home cooked meal. My “Chopped” ritual is consistent: I prepare a dish far less advanced than the show’s seasoned chefs and pretend that I would know exactly what to do with a jar of pickled watermelon rinds and a raw squab. I feel as though I am participating in the chefs’ critique as I pour soy sauce on my rice while Geoffrey Zakarian details a dish’s high level of “umami” in its flavor profile.

During a recent Covid scare and quarantine, the title of an unwatched episode of “Chopped” caught my eye: “Beef Cake Mistakes.” “Man, if my dating life were an anthology, that would be the title,” I thought to myself with the sarcastic chagrin of the smiling emoji with the single tear dripping from its eye. And sure they haven’t all been beef cakes or mistakes, but there have certainly been a few suitors who fell in that middle sector of my dating history Venn diagram.

I do not pretend that my single, straight-ish, biracial, cis female perspective on dating holds insights that are relevant to the world’s disparate population of people who date. But I do believe there are universal truths when it comes to matters of the heart. As I pretend I’m pandemic winter’s very own woke Carrie Bradshaw, I want to share a few parallels between the “Chopped” kitchen and the outdoor dining Hinge date that you’re probably dreading.

When I arrive at a date, much like the “Chopped” kitchen, the time clock starts. During each episode, the chefs are given 20 to 30 minutes to impress their esteemed judges with appetizers, entrees and desserts worthy of $10,000. In the context of a semi-decently heated restaurant tent, I give my date and myself a little over an hour to build a connection. If by one hour sparks refuse to fly with the same flourish as Martha Stewart eating an American dish with chopsticks, I usually begin to transition our conversation toward the cold weather or the late hour. In summation: they’ve been chopped.

Now, let’s consider ingredients. The “Chopped” kitchen serves as an apt metaphor for life; we are given an assortment of random ingredients and told to make meaning, even magic if we can, from circumstances completely out of our control. Whether meditating on my own existential dread or watching chefs attempt to use the infamous ice cream machine, I can apply this same principle to a Hinge date.

In every dating scenario, we make choices that we think best address our “ingredients” without truly knowing the right or wrong answer. For example, if I learned from my date’s Hinge profile that they are an actor from Texas with liberal views and agnostic spiritual beliefs, then I’m suggesting an inexpensive restaurant, expressing my relief over the 2020 election results, and probably denouncing organized religion. Just as a chef attempts to make the notoriously challenging risotto, I aim to impress my metaphorical judge while staying true to myself.

Perhaps my dating strategy paints me as a bit of a control freak. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, we all want to win. Whether winning means getting laid, finding a long term partner or perfectly braising a squab, we make choices based on our instincts and prior knowledge, and hope for the best.

My final “Chopped”-Hinge comparison centers around the inevitable possibility of failure. I might undercook the squab, so to speak. Or the squab and I simply do not get along that day — I think you all understand my metaphor. Three out of four chefs will receive Ted Allen’s gentle but firm mea culpa and sometimes it feels as though the odds of my dating success derive from fate rather than careful planning. But I do know that each chef’s journey provides the viewer with a weirdly perfect hour of emotional catharsis. And perhaps, so will my dating journey.

Parade is a Brooklyn-based writer and multidisciplinary creative.