The Yoga of ‘Chopped’

Before filming his episode of Chopped, which aired December 17 on Food Network, Kripalu Executive Chef Jeremy Rock Smith had said no to several cooking competition shows. It just wasn’t his thing, he thought. But then he had a little epiphany.

“I realized I was afraid,” he recalls. “It was a matter of pushing into serious discomfort.” He decided to try his own “yes” experiment—and two days later, Chopped called.

The first-ever competitor from a yoga center, Jeremy used all the tools of both his trade and the Kripalu approach of riding the wave—starting with a deep breath when he opened the basket of mystery ingredients at the start of a cooking round. (In case you’re not familiar with the show, Chopped includes three timed cooking rounds—appetizer, main course, and dessert—with each round followed by a judging panel and the elimination of one of the contestants.)

“When I opened the basket, and before the ingredients hit me, there was a moment of pause,” Jeremy said. “I was taking deep breaths, trying to hack the vagus nerve”—the nerve that modulates the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that helps us to calm down and relax. “Then, when that timer starts, everything just goes away and you’re in the moment. It was a great practice of accepting things as they are and not being attached to the outcome. It felt really good to push through the discomfort and insecurities, and just be vulnerable."

After scoring kudos for his appetizer, a Thai-inspired fish cake made with fish sticks and BBQ sauce, the Culinary Institute of America grad was eliminated in the second round, which involved chicken feet (he forgot to clip the nails—insert "eww" emoji here). But Jeremy says he’s not particularly competitive, so for him, Chopped was about having fun and sticking with the kind of cooking he loves.

“There were a few times throughout the process where I could have taken an easier route—like just dropping something in the deep fryer—but I wanted to stay true to who I am, which is all about cooking healthy,” Jeremy says. “I had a fantasy that I’d open my basket and it would be four ingredients like quinoa, kale, tofu, and kimchee, and everyone else would be aaaagh, and I would be like, I got this.”

As far as being in front of the camera, that came easy to Jeremy, who teaches Kripalu programs throughout the year and offers weekly cooking demos as part of Kripalu R&R programming. He’s no stranger to being judged, either, or to distractions and time pressures—he’s been a line cook in fast-paced restaurants, plus he has three kids. “It felt kind of like being at my house when we haven’t gone grocery shopping and we have to make dinner asap.”

Ultimately, Jeremy had only one real goal, he says: “Do not cut yourself in front of millions of people. You don’t want to be known as the guy who cut himself with a peeler. I figured, if I can achieve that, everything else is gravy.” Mission accomplished!