Kitchen Casino: Mondays at 9 Eastern on Food Network
It’s pretty amazing to see the lengths that the kitchen competition sub-genre has gone to since the dawning of Iron Chef on Japanese television 20 years ago. Numerous innovations have occurred in the format as it has matured, including Chopped mixing in a multi-chef elimination concept, and Cutthroat Kitchen added a crazy sabotage angle to the proceedings. Tonight, Food Network adds a random element to the competition with it’s bizarrely titled Kitchen Casino.
Kitchen Casino, hosted by reality TV fixture Bill Rancic, mixes the high stakes world of gambling with high pressure world of cooking. Three different cooking challenges are in play, based loosely around slots, poker, and roulette. As is typical for the genre, the dishes for each challenge are placed in front of a panel of judges that combine a mixture of culinary and celebrity worlds. The chef who survives all three challenges is declared the winner and will walk away with a cool $30,000 jackpot.
The most notable aspect of Kitchen Casino is how incredibly forced everything feels. The show seems to be very fond on spending it’s time forcing the contestants to spit out as many canned quotes as possible. This overcanned nature extends out to host Rancic, who comes off alarmingly wooden in a subgenre where the hosts tend to lean more towards theatricality. The end result are cheesy overblown stakes that feel even more egregious when you realize exactly how weak the payoff actually is (let’s just say the average mid-90’s Jeopardy winner walked away with a comparable sum).
This woodenness wouldn’t glare as much if Kitchen Casino’s format wasn’t painfully over-contrived. The first round revolves around a secret ingredient and cooking style built around a slot machine motif, but the even with a redundant 5 minute second spin twist doesn’t make this round feel inspired. The second round, kitchen roulette makes for a lively format, but the spinning kitchen stations don’t feel like the best execution of the format. The final round, which is poker inspired, has the final two chefs trying to put together dishes from a list of five ingredients – three of which are common and two of which are held to each chef.
The most damning thing about Kitchen Casino however, is how empty it feels once you get past all of the canned dialogue and gimmicks. One of the reasons that I have devoted countless hours of my life to watching Top Chef and most of Food Network’s lineup at various points in the past is as a form of culinary inspiration, and Kitchen Casino sidelines the kitchen to a ridiculous degree. Outside of some very quick descriptions of what they’re doing, the show instead wastes it’s time on forced chef banter and awkward play-by-play during the end of the competition.
The Final Verdict: There might be a viable 30-minute version of Kitchen Casino, but this is the weakest variant of chefs facing off for a mediocre payoff (after advertising a $30,000 payoff, the actual payoffs will likely be in the ballpark of $8,000 to $12,000) I’ve yet to see. It’s not very often that a show feels too busy while simultaneously feeling like there is not enough substance to actually fill an hour of TV. Skip this one and watch some Chopped or Iron Chef reruns.