Two Bay Area chefs are set to compete in a special spinoff of ‘Chopped’

For chef Victor Aguilera, appearing on the 420 version of “Chopped” was partly a chance to redeem himself.

Out to avenge a loss on Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen,” Aguilera, of Arepas en Bici in San Francisco, saw his chance with “Chopped 420.” The show — which also features Oakland chef Solomon Johnson of The Bussdown as another contestant — became both a chance to win it all on a competition show, but also an opportunity to address the stigma of marijuana consumption.

“So this is one of the main reasons why I did the competition: I wanted to break that taboo of marijuana being bad and scary,” Aguilera said. “… I use it a lot for my anxiety and depression — it’s just a plant and it comes from the earth, it’s given to us and it has a lot of medicinal use.”

For “Chopped 420,” all the rules are the same for this special ($10,000 prize, three chefs doing timed cooking), but the surprise basket ingredient will contain a marijuana food item for the chefs to work with, along with a special “cannabis pantry” for them to explore.

Marijuana-fueled cooking shows are growing in popularity, with “Bong Appetit” on Vice and “Cooking on High” on Netflix. But with the arrival of “Chopped 420,” Aguilera and Johnson say they felt this signals more of an acceptance of marijuana into the mainstream.

“I think [‘Chopped 420’ is] making it more acceptable,” Johnson said. “… But I think that the show’s main purpose is to actually help break down stigma that is directly associated with medical marijuana. A lot of people that have bad things to say about medical marijuana have probably had bad experiences with it, especially with edibles. … Whereas this competition, it’s changing people’s lives, giving hardworking people an opportunity and a platform to showcase their talent — and at the same time, educate the consumers about the magic of medical marijuana.”

Chef Victor Aguilera of Arepas en Bici in San Francisco, is another Bay Area competitor on

Chef Victor Aguilera of Arepas en Bici in San Francisco, is another Bay Area competitor on “Chopped 420” which was shot in early 2021.

Michael Moriatis

Both Johnson and Aguilera are well versed in cooking with cannabis. Despite both having the stereotypical homemade “pot brownie” experience for their first foray into marijuana and food, they’ve since elevated their own cooking with cannabis. Aguilera previously catered meals for the staff at a marijuana farm, and Johnson explored cannabis and food as he went into culinary school.

“My love for cannabis obviously grew as my career did, because [of] the aches and pains that come with working the line on a consistent basis, [which] is more or less the reason why I medicate,” Johnson said. “I just got more curious the more I learned about food, the more I wanted to try to see what I could figure out on my own. Infusing more savory stuff, than sweet, learning more about whole flower extractions and flavorless infusions with distillates and tinctures and things like that. So it just started getting really fun.”

Besides moving past the stigma of working with marijuana and exploring its culinary side, both Aguilera and Johnson credited the show with getting them moving and motivated again after the pandemic devastated the restaurant industry. Aguilera started his popular Venezuelan arepas pop-up during the pandemic, making everything from home, but said he’s been trying to find his passion again, and that the competitiveness of the show allowed him to “go out there and try to represent my family and my country.”

For Johnson, not having an opportunity to work when he’s “used to going 110% every single day” in a restaurant kitchen, he felt like going on the show was an opportunity to “spread my wings without any restriction.”

“It’s been so long since I’ve been able to go full throttle, full speed, like I don’t have to worry about cleaning or anything — I just have to leave it all out there,” Johnson said. “And I think that was the most exciting thing for me, because I just felt like a sports car in a garage [like], ‘Oh well, I’ll break it out in summer.’ With the pandemic, I just had to sit at home and not do anything, but as soon as we got into the competition and I actually started cooking, I got really, really comfortable because I hadn’t realized how bad I needed that feeling again. It felt like being on the line and in the middle of a dinner rush, and it’s like, every second counts, you know what I mean? So that was really, really exciting.”

“Chopped 420” will be available for streaming on the Discovery+ platform starting Tuesday.

Rebecca R. Ammons

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