Confession time: So, I have a new lunch ritual…

Well, when I’m not in the middle of 1,353 deadlines anyway, which was basically the case all this week. But when my work day isn’t quite so insane, I make my salad, pour myself a glass of green tea sweetened a bit with citrus and watched an episode of Chopped.

Yes, thanks to my glorious DVR, I have pretty much the perfect, commercial-free lunch-time entertainment. And I’m digging this show so much, in fact, that I’ve been having dreams about what I’d do with my own mystery basket if I were the one competing (for the record, mine always seems to have tilapia and honey, something I’m pretty sure I’d never eat together).

In addition to marveling at the sheer inventiveness of chefs who can make a dessert out of Cheez-Its, watermelon and curry powder, I guess what I love most about Chopped is the opening reel when the chefs talk about their cooking experiences, the inspiration behind their culinary creations and lastly, what they’d do with the $10,000 if they won.

Most days, I need tissues nearby when I’m watching. Today the guy who won was planning to finally propose to his girlfriend because he could afford a ring now. A few days ago, someone wanted to take her ailing mother to Paris. Some of the winners want to finally start their own restaurant, while others can finally afford a car. Or new shoes for their kids.

For some, it’s really more about the bragging rights of being a “Chopped” champion than the money, an affirmation that he/she is ultimately doing the right thing with his/her life since so many of these chefs leave successful but non-inspiring careers behind.

Yeah, I’ll admit, it’s sort of like watching Extreme Makeover, but with food.

What also adds to the whole experience is watching the judges in action. While they don’t always agree with each other (and the deliberation is never short of entertaining), they’re almost always fair. And unlike some judges on reality shows who thrive on being snarky, I feel like their criticisms are always constructive, which makes watching all the more worthwhile.

Well, that, and feeling almost as stressed as the contestants when they’re trying to whip up the perfect appetizer in 20 minutes…it’s quite a thrill, and I’m not even competing!