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Gambling with your restaurant's reputation

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Lots of stuff comes across my desk each day and most of it doesn’t elicit an emotional response. But recently I got a release from the Food Network about a new show called Kitchen Casino. At first I just shook my head, but the more I thought about it the more annoyed I got. Here’s a description of one episode provided by the network:

“Four chefs enter the Kitchen Casino arena prepared to battle for the chance to win the jackpot. In the first round they gamble on the slot machine to determine the parameters for their dish. It proves to be a difficult round when one chef refuses to share a required ingredient. In round two there are high stakes with flank steaks when a chef goes bust after the roulette wheel is just too much to handle. Chips are stacked high in the final round of poker and the chef with the best strategy for incorporating salami, rutabaga, and fruit punch gets a chance to win $30,000 at the winner’s wheel.”

A chef pal of mine refuses to watch any cooking competition shows, saying they are no barometer of how good a cook is. What they may demonstrate is how good a cook is under ridiculous and unrealistic pressure, she says. I generally agree with her. With that said, though, I do enjoy watching Iron Chef because it pits very high-level chefs against each other to prepare five courses in an hour. For the most part, the premise of the show is the gimmick—cooks against cooks to see who can be the most creative. Realistic? No, but who doesn’t like to see a quarterback with 30 seconds left on the clock score? Iron Chef is the culinary equivalent.

I thought the Food Network was pushing things when it came up with Chopped, where four chefs are given a basket of seemingly incompatible ingredients and must prepare a dish that makes sense and tastes good. But I’m usually amazed how well the best chefs can assemble crazy ingredients into a dish that most people would want to eat.

But then some Food Network producer thought it would be a good idea to incorporate a casino gimmick into the proceedings. Kitchen Casino seems to be borrowing from the Chopped premise of providing chefs with the unlikely makings of a dish. But that’s no longer enough. Now chefs must also demonstrate how good they are at casino gambling. I haven’t seen the show and maybe my criticism is premature, but Kitchen Casino has all the makings of a genre jumping the shark.

So many in this industry bristle when they hear the term “hamburger flippers.” It’s demeaning, they say, because even on the lowest levels of foodservice, those who work the flattop provide the valuable service of feeding people. Maybe it’s because I like chefs so much, but I don’t want to see them demean themselves by acting like circus clowns to entertain the masses. The profession is too cool and important for that. Am I just getting too cranky in my old age? Email me.

Michael Sanson, Editor-in-Chief
E-mail: [email protected]
Twitter: @MikeSansonRH

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