Famous cooking-show judges share the 9 ingredients they want chefs to stop using so much

Many judges who spoke to Insider are fed up with truffle oil. GPritchettPhoto / Shutterstock
As part of the "From the Judging Table" series, Insider spoke to past and current judges of popular cooking shows to find out which ingredients the participants would not use as often.
There are more creative alternatives to bacon and cinnamon.
Several chefs and judges told insiders that truffles and truffle-flavored ingredients are being overused.
Scallops are popular because they are easy to cook, but some judges think they are used too often.
You can find more stories on the Insider homepage.
The jurors at cooking and baking competitions try many dishes - but culinary professionals are also fed up with some popular flavors.
As part of the From the Judging Table series, Insider spoke to past and current judges from popular cooking shows about some of the most common ingredients that competitors use.
Read on to learn nine ingredients these famous judges can no longer eat.
Cinnamon is often overused in baking competitions.
Cinnamon isn't always the most creative or smartest choice. Kseniia Zagrebaeva / Shutterstock
Duff Goldman, author of Super Good Baking For Kids and longtime judge on the Food Network's Holiday Baking Championship, told Insider that while cinnamon is a traditional holiday spice, he likes it but prefers it when the contestants get more creative with their seasonal flavors.
"I like cinnamon, and a lot of the shows I judge are about the holidays, but it's nice to see variations," Goldman explained. "I like it when people use other spices and flavors instead of cinnamon, such as traditional ginger, Chinese five-spice or anise."
A chef could do without artificial caviar, an ingredient made by molecular cuisine.
Some competitors make their own caviar. Shutterstock
"Iron Chef" star Cat Cora told Insider that artificial caviar drops are often overused in cooking competitions.
She explained that such trends are often sought by competitors when they want to impress the judges with innovative techniques.
The process of making artificial caviar includes gastro-molecular powders like xanthan gum and a molecular gastronomy technique called spherification.
Spherification wraps liquids in a gel-like substance, creating small balls that burst in the mouth like real caviar when consumed. Almost any liquid can be used, creating a unique combination of texture and taste.
Several judges said truffles, truffle oil, and other truffle-flavored ingredients are used far too often.
Truffles may be luxurious, but they don't have to be in every dish. Chloe Pantazi / INSIDER
Top Chef and Guy's Grocery Games judge Antonia Lofaso said that many attendees believe truffles add value to their dishes, but often this is not the case.
"Truffle oil or butter are always the ingredients that people throw in and think, 'Oh, it'll be perfect now because it has truffles in it,'" she told Insider. "It's weird. I always say, 'Oh God, don't do it!'"
Chef Aarón Sánchez, who served as the judge on MasterChef and Chopped, agreed, noting that sometimes the flavors can overwhelm a dish.
"Many attendees will only throw truffle oil and truffle salt on dishes to save the dish, but it's a delicate but powerful ingredient and must be used carefully," he told Insider.
Chef Jamika Pessoa, a former Next Food Network Star contestant and judge on Sugar Showdown, said she doesn't mind the ingredient as long as it's not used afterwards.
"Truffle oil sounds fancy when you describe the dish, but attendees usually save it until the end when the clock is ticking," Pessoa told Insider. "You pour it in at the last minute and so overwhelm the dish."
Seasonal ingredients like pumpkin spice and eggnog can be taken too literally in holiday competitions.
Halloween isn't just about pumpkin spices. gsk2014 / Shutterstock
Chef Carla Hall, host of "Say Yes!" Podcast and judges on the Food Network's seasonal baking competitions told Insiders that sometimes chefs aren't creative enough with their flavors.
In particular, she said, she was sick of seeing pumpkin and eggnog in these seasonal challenges.
Hall said when it comes to seasonal dishes, competitors should try to capture the essence of the ingredients instead of using them literally.
"Eggnog is a difficult ingredient to use. If you take eggnog straight out of the box and bake it, it won't stand up," Hall explained. "So what's in eggnog? You have nutmeg, a little bit of cinnamon ... you have to amplify those flavors, otherwise it won't read and it could be milk too."
Bacon isn't a very creative ingredient.
There are more creative ways to add meat to your dish. Gras-Lifeisgood / Shutterstock
"Bacon doesn't make everything better," Pessoa told Insider.
Although she said she loves bacon, she wishes that the participants would be more creative trying to develop their dishes.
"Just the word 'bacon' makes people smile, but there are other ways you can get that quick smoke taste and texture," Pessoa said. "Such as browning smoked sausage."
Sriracha is a popular spice that is widely used in competitions.
Sriracha is a popular spice. Erin McDowell / Insider
As a food journalist, cookbook author, and longtime Top Chef judge, Gail Simmons has tried countless dishes - and she had plenty of sriracha.
This popular chili sauce is known for its flavor and acidity, but it's just too often used by participants, according to Simmons.
While pork belly is versatile and tasty, it's too often used in cooking contest shows.
Pork belly is aromatic and fatty. TalyaAL / Shutterstock
Cora explained that pork belly, a flavorful and fatty piece of meat, is an ingredient she uses too often when judging cooking competitions.
According to Executive Chef Richard Blais, known for his time at Top Chef and his experience at Cutthroat Kitchen and Guy's Grocery Games, pork is often used in competition because it cooks quickly and is versatile.
It is such a "forgiving" ingredient that he recommends it to beginners looking to improve their skills at home.
Scallops are another form of protein that are often overused.
Scallops can cook very quickly. DronG / Shutterstock
Simmons also said that competitors tend to overuse scallops in their dishes.
According to Lofaso, scallops are likely a popular choice for timed contests because they cook so quickly.
When it comes to Christmas shows, attendees often try to use ingredients that aren't realistic in season.
Holiday Baking Championship participants may wish to avoid the summer fruits. Reuters
Goldman, a judge for the Holiday Baking Championship, announced that the Food Network's seasonal baking shows are filmed three to eight months in advance.
Because of this, Hall told Insider, competitors often feel inclined to use ingredients that are inappropriate for the season the show is based on.
"It's hard because we're doing the Holiday Baking Championship in the summer, so if you see berries it's a trap," Hall said. "I always say to bakers, 'If you see strawberries, you have to make jam out of them' because there are no fresh strawberries this season."
Continue reading:
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