"Just how far is a chef willing to go to win a cooking competition?"
I have $100,000 of cold, hard cash in this case. Four chefs get $25,000 each. If they want to leave this kitchen with any of the cash, they have to survive three culinary challenges—and each other—in a game where sabotage is not only encouraged, it's for sale!
—Alton Brown in the opening to Cutthroat Kitchen.
In what can be best be described as "Choppedfor psychopaths", Cutthroat Kitchen is another competition show from Food Network, hosted by Alton Brown. The show premiered on August 11, 2013.In this game show, four chefs are given $25,000 to start off the show. Each round has a target dish each chef must create; the dishes are simple for experienced chefs, and are typically to be prepared in 30 minutes. They have 60 seconds to go into the pantry and get all the ingredients needed to make their dish. After the shopping portion, Alton conducts an auction in which the item up for sale is either a disadvantage to inflict upon other chefs or a sole advantage for him/herself. To keep things interesting, there will also usually be a surprise auction or two during the cooking stage. After each round, a guest judge will critique their dishes. The criteria? Taste, presentation, and representation of the target dish. However, chefs are not allowed to discuss with the judge the sabotages they were given. Whoever had the worst dish was eliminated and has to return the money to the briefcase.The third round is slightly different in which chefs will get the same 60 seconds to shop, but they will start cooking right afterward. All auctions in the final round take place during the cooking. At the end of the day, the chef who is left standing will keep the money they have left.The companion Webisode, Alton's After Show, takes place after the cooking and has Alton showing the judges some of the sabotages that the chefs inflicted on each other. This generally has the judges realize that's why a dish tastes so funny as well as give their take on how to make the most of the sabotage (especially for the swapped ingredients).
These are the tropes up for sale. Who will give me $500?:
All or Nothing: The "All" is subverted, the "Nothing" is straight. The winner doesn't keep the full $25,000 but whatever he/she has at the end. But all the losers have to return their money before walking away. Really subverted in Celebrity Editions where the losers get $5000 for their charity and the winner gets upgraded to $25,000, so spending money really is no object. Do note that Alton pulls a positive version of I Lied on the celebrity edition to get them to play the game normally.
In addition, each judgement is done solely on the dish currently in front of the judge. Made an outstanding dish last round? It won't stop you from getting the axe this round.
As You Know: Before starting some dishes, Alton will describe the dish in detail while noting that the chefs have probably made said dish a hundred times. It's debatable whether this is for the chef's benefit or the audience's benefit.
Auction: A major part of the game. Remember the $25,000 they got at the beginning of the game? They have to use that money to auction. The minimum is $500, unless Alton notes that the sabotage is especially diabolical in which he ups the minimum price to $1,000. One also has to be prepared for the mid-round auctions.
Auction of Evil: You have chefs bidding on the items to sabotage each other. How could it not be one?
Audience Participation: You're actively encouraged to suggest sabotages of your own via Twitter or the Food Network forums for possible future use.
Batman Gambit: Pretty much required to play the game properly. Sometimes, it's better to throw away an auction and eat the punishment, especially if you are to keep any money, and especially if there are other auctions coming up. And sometimes it's better to game the auction so that even if you were to eat the punishment, it won't hurt you in any way.
Many chefs choose to let an auction go and accept whatever sabotage comes their way because they know or realize that they can turn it to their advantage with a little creativity. See also Unishment below.
Beard of Evil: Alton grew one specifically for this show, though he's obviously not evil in other Food Network Shows. Compare his demeanor from Cutthroat Kitchen to Food Network Star, where he has to keep the beard for Cutthroat Kitchen.
Berserk Button: Just like Chopped, the judges do not like calling something on the plate anything other what it really is, similar to You Keep Using That Word. Also, inedible objects on the plate. While misleading names won't necessarily get a chef eliminated if the dish turns out better than the competition's, putting something inedible on the plate (a forgotten piece of plastic wrapper or a fish hook, to name two) is a surefire ticket home.
Beware the Nice Ones: The "nicest chefs" are often the chefs that win the game. Don't ever underestimate the silent or nice chef. They may hit you with all of the sabotages in a later round.
Blatant Lies: Oh Alton. You enjoy telling everybody that some of those sabotages came from your own home (like the heat gun you thought was your hair dryer) or that they're... trinkets.
Blessed with Suck: Alton decides to give the chefs superpowers during a Hero Sandwich challenge. Said superpowers are a Hulk hand (which is a large glove that's closed into a giant fist) or a Wolverine claw (which resembles a knuckle-duster with knives sprouting from it) that competitors have to wear for the round.
Brand X: Often used in sabotages that involve replacing fresh pantry ingredients with pre-packaged ingredients. For example, one sabotage replaced an opponent's cheese with "Nick's" (Ritz) cheese-and-cracker sandwiches.
Alton: "Now this ingredient has a trademarked name for...spiced ham..." (Spam)
Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: The show's logo encapsulates how the kitchen works. Hanging from a rack are a spoon, two spatulas, and an axe.
Bribing Your Way to Victory: The auctions invoke this trope by offering a way to help yourself and hinder the competition. Part of the appeal is seeing how these play out.
Briefcase Full of Money: Alton Brown walks down the stairs with one to start the show. The (prop) money is worth $100,000, and each chef takes two stacks of $12,500 to use. However, whoever is eliminated has to bring back the money to the briefcase.
Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : Did your sabotaged implement suddenly implode on you? Too bad, Alton has another one. In the Breakfast Sandwich challenge, one chef had her heat source replaced with a paint peeler. Since she covered the heat gun with a metal basket in hopes of heating the basket, she overheated the gun and short circuited it. Alton promptly gave her another one to use.
Caustic Critic: Although the judges on this show are rather reasonable, they could come off this way because they don't know what the chef had to endure. Until they find out in the Webisode. Or until they actually play the game themselves; see below...
Alton: "[Judge] has no idea what sabotages you've inflicted on each other, and guess what? They don't care!"
Celebrity Edition: Four of the judges: Simon Majumdar, Jet Tila, Geoffrey Zakarian and Antonia Lofaso play the game themselves for charity in "Judging Judges". Jet Tila admits he's gained a new respect for the competitors he judges. As it's an episode where they're playing for four charities, Antonia wins the full $25,000 for hers, while the other charities get $5,000, in a twist on the usual "winner keeps what's not spent" rule.
Chained Heat: A common sabotage is to force two or more chefs to share some quality time together. For example:
Making two chefs share a cooking apparatus.
Binding two chefs together with an oversized apron.
Forcing three chefs to only use cooking utensils chained to the center of the stations, or to the "Great Wall of Utensils".
Inviting two chefs to a "romantic dinner" where they can't leave their seats.
Cramming two chefs inside a "stuffed kitchen", where there was barely enough room for chefs to fit back-to-back.
Dressing two chefs inside a single Greek himation (which Alton also called a toga).
Asking two chefs to hold hands together for the remainder of the challenge. In the spirit of this trope (and not the show), the chefs did actually help each other. (It also helped that one of the chefs was left-handed, letting both chefs use their dominant hand while facing the same direction.)
Letting two chefs relax on a sofa for the entire challenge in Alton's 1974 living room/kitchen area - with a toaster oven and hot plate on one end of the couch and an old TV repurposed as a prep station on the other. Alton even joined them for a little while.
Alton: "You know, I first kissed a girl on this very couch. And her sister was sitting where you were."
Chekhov's Skill: In one episode, judge Jet Tila was introduced as the "Culinary Ambassador of Thailand". The second round had the chefs make pad thai. His status came up again for "Satay and peanut sauce". Needless to say, if the target dish is a Thai dish, he will be the judge for the day and you better not screw it up.
Combat Commentator: Alton, starting with season 3. Though the chefs do this in interviews after the show.
Combat Pragmatist: You have to play dirty at this game. Whether you bid just to jack up the price to troll your opponent or shut down an auction to avoid getting a sabotage, there is no way to play this game cleanly. The chefs are specifically forbidden from sabotaging other chefs through overt methods other than through the auction.
Comedic Sociopathy: Admit it. One of the reasons to watch this show is to see how funny it is to see the chefs deal with those sabotages.
For the Cobb Salad challenge, one chef was sabotaged into trading three of his ingredients with three of Alton's ingredients. Notably, he traded his perfectly good egg with Century Eggnote It's an egg that has been preserved to the point that the egg white turned into a translucent dark brown jelly and the yolk becoming dark green to black. It's an acquired taste. The chef tried to sell his Cobb salad as a "Cantonese Cobb Salad", but Anotnia Lofaso was turned off by the Century Egg. Three guesses as to what happened to that chef, and the first two don't count.
In a season one episode, one contestant had to make a dessert macaroni and cheese. The chef prepared a white chocolate mac and cheese which he decided to top off with lobster.
In the Club Sandwich round, one chef decided to make his club sandwich with salmon and bleu cheese. See Whammy Bid below.
Corpsing: During the "Fruit Tart" round of "Judging the Judges," Geoffrey Zakarian says with a straight face to the judge that he loves fruit strips, and that they're underutilized. Antonia can't keep a straight face, and Alton must Face Palm to cover his own attempt which he can't fully hide either. The Webisode milks this for humor as this footage was edited from braodcast, from Alton suggesting Geoffrey get an endorsement deal from it, and him thinking he'd get a fund together to put that on Geoffrey's tombstone.
Crazy-Prepared: Alton tells viewers of his aftershow that you have to be crazy prepared coming out of the shopping to account for mishaps and sabotages.
Alton Brown: Never leave the pantry without flour or eggs.
As Simon Majumdar - himself one of the most frequently appearing judges - found out in "Judging the Judges"; he not only forgot several important items for a taquito in the first-round challenge, but took the wrong kind of sausage from the pantry and didn't realize it until several minutes in. He got eliminated.
Forgetting to grab a key ingredient from the pantry during the shopping phase will force you to change your strategy in order to survive the round. For example, in the season 3 "Wheel of Misfortune" episode (also referred to below under Lottery Of Doom), Chef Chris had originally intended to keep a very low profile to preserve as much of his $25,000 stake as he could. However, he forgot the stock (for French onion soup, that round's challenge), and was forced to start bidding actively and heavily at once in order to handicap the other contestants. He pulled the win out, grossing $7,200.
Crossover: Shed a tear, if you will, for the poor the Food Network Star contestants, as Alton subjects them to a special edition of Cutthroat Kitchen, complete with the notorious mini-kitchen! Again, like the similar example in Chopped, the rules are relaxed (2 minute shop time, everyone cooking only one simple dish, $2500 cash to spend with $100 bidding minimum.) That said, chefs were also judged on how they sold each dish in no more than 30 seconds.
Deadpan Snarker: Alton. He regularly wanders around in the kitchen during the rounds, making sardonic comments to the chefs.
Deaf Composer: One of the regular sabotages features the exclusive right to taste food. Which means the others are, metaphorically, cooking blind.
Death by Genre Savviness: Got an overflowing basket of ingredients just in case sabotages come to you? That won't prevent you from losing it all if there is a sabotage that will wipe out your basket.
In addition, sabotages often go for a song due to the other chefs wanting to save their money for later rounds - that never come thanks to the cheap sabotage dumped on them that they can't handle after all.
Deliberate Injury Gambit: One of the best strategies to use. The most common way this is done is to purposely lose the auction while driving up the price your opponent has to pay - so that you can use the sabotage to your advantage while taking away your opponent's cash for future sabotages.
Do Not Try This at Home: Cutthroat Kitchen is actually one of the more dangerous cooking shows. It's unfortunate that the producers only put this warning at the end of the credits that scroll by very quickly. For example, cooking with a Weber Grill indoors or with a heat lamp? Do NOT attempt this at home without safety precautions. (As a matter of fact, don't even attempt to use a Weber Grill indoors.)
The graphics for the beginning of rounds one, two, and three in Season 1 would only show what round was occurring at the moment. From Season 2 onwards, they were upgraded to show this plus photos of the contestants with their individual names and how much money each one of them had left to spend in the competition.
In both season 1 and 2, while the chefs were being introduced they would show a clip of some of their one-liners in the show, leading to Trailers Always Spoil. Starting in season 3, the producers cut that out.
The type of dish in an given episode can vary between savory-savory-sweet to savory-savory-savory, to savory-sweet-savory. In later seasons, it has stuck to the Chopped structure: savory-savory-sweet (compared to Appetizer, Entree, Dessert).
Evil Laugh: When a sabotage is especially diabolical, Alton will give one of these.
Enemy Mine: Two chefs might be working together on auctions to take out another competitor. And then they will go back to sabotaging each other. This is often a better strategy than to try to "distribute" the sabotages equally.
Engaging Chevrons: Invoked as one category of sabotages. These have to do with assigning a chef busywork to perform before they can go back to their dish. Sometimes it's somewhat subtle (a contestant has all their chocolate taken away and has them replaced with M & M's - that have to be obtained one at a time from a gumball machine) and sometimes it's overt. ("The winner of the auction can force one opponent to unwrap all these pats of butter and reform them into a single stick of butter! It's complete busywork! Who will give me $500?")
If any chef should happen to still be in the pantry after the maximum 60 seconds, Alton will only allow the chef to leave after confiscating one of his/her ingredients within their shopping basket. This happens far less frequently than it used to, but on one memorable occasion, Alton was able to trap three out of four contestants in the pantry and forced them to give him one of the bottles they had acquired in order to be able to escape.
Sabotages features these Equivalent Exchanges regularly. They are known as "swap and assign" where the winner of the auction can swap out a target ingredient for a potentially worse version of the ingredient. This usually affects the other chefs.
Sometimes these include trading in ALL of a chef's ingredients (including anything they're working on at the time of the auction) for what they can "harvest": Geoffrey Zakarian had to harvest ingredients for a Fruit Tart from one of the "Brown Family Farm Fruit Trees" while another had to harvest ingredients for soup and salad from a "garden" in a planter.
"I Can't Believe It's Not Udder" forced a chef in the "tres leches (three-milk) cake" round to trade all milk/cream ingredients for whatever they could milk from "Sally," a prop cow who had three unlabelled udders filled with a different milk ingredient. They couldn't tell what got milked.
One frequent sabotage has chefs exchange their baskets (or even what they've cooked so far mid-round) with each other. This one really stung one chef during a burger challenge - she paid $12,000 for the kitchen's only meat grinder, then was forced to swap ingredients with another chef planning to make an Ahi burger.
"Judging Judges" had Geoffrey Zakarian and Antonia Lofaso trade their stations and had to cook what was there as their own dish. Since Geoffrey also had the mini-taquito kitchen, it was a real double-whammy for Antonia.
Failed a Spot Check: Happens in many rounds (though the chefs have gotten better recently about grabbing and running to avoid this) because of the short 60 second shopping segment. So the best they can hope for is for a traded ingredient via sabotage, and if an opponent happens to notice, they're not likely to get it.
Unless you count what happened on "Judging The Judges"; Antonia Lofaso kept all her money in reserve and let the other chefs duke it out, then in the final round zapped Geoffrey Zakarian - who was down to his last $2,900 - with a sabotage for which she paid $3,000, which required GZ to harvest all the ingredients he needed for his dish off a fruit tree. She won with $22,000, which would have ordinarily been the single largest payout to date, but as noted above, since this was a charity episode, she got the full $25,000 to give to her charity. However, under regular rules, this doesn't count since she technically did not finish round 3 with $25,000.
In the Food Network Star version, where the maximum prize for winning their heat was $2500, Chef Christopher managed the feat by refraining from bidding until the last auction (leading to Alton cracking "And Chef Christopher finally wakes up!" when that happened; as it turned out, Christopher didn't win that auction anyway).
Food Slap: Obliquely speaking, hitting someone with a sabotage of undesirable food. Especially after they have wronged you once.
Funny Background Event: Whenever a judge tastes a chef's dish, Alton stands behind the judge and more or less provides a second layer of commentary using solely facial expressions and gestures.
Spending too much money at once is a great way to screw yourself over later on. The RPG variant of the Auction does not work in this show since $25,000 is all you have for the day. Meaning, if you try to make a Whammy Bid, people may not back down, and in fact could cause you to spend more than you need to. Or you lose the bid and the winner decides to inflict the sabotage on you in retaliation for the bidding war. In fact, Alton tells viewers to never bid in more than $100 increments. A great number of chefs fell because they pissed their money in round 1, virtually giving them no defense in the next rounds.
Also, indiscriminately sabotaging everyone. On a similar token, not considering the opponent's background can backfire on you, such as giving a cheftendernote a chef who incorporates bar tending techniques the sabotage of making a frozen cocktail to go along with the dish, or switching out a Filipina chef's fish for bait for a Fish Fry round. Since it's standard procedure for any cooking competition to meet your competition backstage, it's no excuse to not use their background to your advantage.
Do NOT forget eggs, flour, a source of salt (if not necessarily salt) and sugar (to counteract said salt) from the pantry. In general, forgetting ingredients in this show hurts more than forgetting ingredients in Chopped since you cannot go back to the pantry. Pack extra ingredients to account for the sabotages.
Unlike Chopped or Sweet Genius, using premade ingredients is not a bad thing at all and may actually work better than expected. For an ice cream sandwich challenge, one sabotage was to replace all ice cream flavoring with ice cream pops. One chef thought it would ruin her dish, but the one who got the sabotage used it to his advantage, knowing who the judge was: Antonia Lofaso.
It's amazing how many chefs go into the pantry and go get their stuff, not thinking that a sabotage will affect one or more of the components needed to make the dish. While some sabotages can't be planned for (completely wiping out a basket is a common sabotage), chefs really need to at least think of a plan while in the pantry for what happens if their main ingredient gets taken away. This quote sums it up (from the Steak Dinner round):
Alton: You didn't actually think I was gonna let you keep all that steak, did ya? I mean, come on! I got a reputation to uphold here.
Genre Savvy: For the Poutine challenge, one sabotage was to take away one chef's cheese. One chef saw this coming and left the pantry with ingredients to make the cheese from scratch: milk, salt, vinegar. The chef who tried to sabotage her did not see the ingredients needed to make cheese. Granted, she still had to use the sabotage's cheese (from a frozen pizza) in her dish, but she just mixed it in with her freshly made cheese.
Jet Tila demonstrated this when he came out to judge a round and Alton told him what the meal he was judging was going to be. Jet started laughing and commented that he knew at least some of them would have gone through hell to make it.
In the Split Pea round, you had one sabotage which forced one chef to split half the basket with another chef and you had a split apron which chained two chefs together.
In the Club Sandwich round, the first sabotage was to replace all implements with whatever was in the golf club bag. To drive that pun home, the second sabotage forced the chef to wear what were essentially golf club gloves while being forbidden to touch food with them.
The first challenge in the same episode (that gave the episode its title: "Big Trouble In Little Chinese Chicken Salad") had a running theme as well. The first sabotage was replacing all kitchen implements with tools chained to the "Great Wall Of Tools", the second was replacing all bowls and pots with strainers - specifically, "China Caps", the third sabotage was replacing all of one chef's ingredients with what was inside about thirty steamer baskets, and the mid-round sabotage was forcing one chef to wear a Chinese Finger Trap for the rest of the round.
One notable aversion: for the Chocolate Mousse round, one of the proposed sabotages was to replace a whisk with a moose's antlers. To make mousse, you need to be able to incorporate air into the cream. Since the moose's antlers can't do that, it was scrapped.
I Ate What?: The reaction Giada de Laurentiis had when she saw that she ate old oatmeal. This was in the webisode, by the way. The near-shriek she produced when Alton showed her the highly-unpleasant canned chicken that had gone into one of the dishes she tasted was so memorable that it became a regular clip on the show's promotions.
I Need a Freaking Drink: Redemption Episode, Round 1: Hot Dog. Chef Pink was hit with two sabotages of "convenience store hot dog cooker" as the only heat source and got her buns replaced by soggy buns. After a nearly disastrous round, she made some bourbon to go along with the dish. Subverted as it was not for her: it was for the judge.
Said, almost word-for-word, by Geoffrey Zakarian after the last round of the "Judging the Judges" episode.
Kindness Button: One of the main buttons for judge Antonia Lofaso is the creative use of premade ingredients. Or using premade ingredients to invoke her childhood memories.
Large Ham: Alton, surprisingly. He embellishes in being a sort of Dungeon Master for this show. Some chefs are like this as well.
Not so surprisingly. Alton's always had a sense of humor. His early show Good Eats and his time on Iron Chef America showed how versatile he could be with his humor, particularly in regards to mishaps. He has to play nice on The Next Iron Chef and Food Network Star, but here he's able to use that humor to emphasize the Comedic Sociopathy element.
Laser-Guided Karma: Pissing off everyone early sets you up as the villain for the day. They usually get what's coming to them later, especially if he/she lacks the money to auction. It's also not uncommon for the one person in the round who has no sabotages to be the one who gets the ax.
One chef was near sexually-harassing an attractive competitor so blatantly that one of the other contestants sarcastically told him to just ask her out, and he spent the first two rounds obviously trying to eliminate her. Come the final round, it's down to those two. Cue the Oh Crap look on his face when it was announced the meal was to be cake. And the woman he'd been harassing the entire show was a pastry chef.
Chef Penny ("Chef Davidi" on the show), the resident Food Network villain from Food Network Star, suffered from this magnificently. She was just as rude as she was on FNS and Chopped. But the long awaited comeuppance came during the Chicken Wings round when she started to taunt her competitors for not being able to taste their food, an advantageous sabotage she won. Not long after, she forgot to put a lid on her blender, turned it on, splattered scalding sauce all over her, and the whole mess, blender and all, fell and landed directly in the trash bin.She survived the round, but lost the episode. Bye-bye, Penny. This just so happened to occur in the very first round of the very first episode ever taped, and Food Network has run with the clip ever since.
Lethal Chef: So far, averted. However, judge Simon Majumdar did call out a chef who put out a fishing lure as "decoration" on the plate. In the Webisode, he explains that if you serve that at the restaurant, somebody might choke on it and he has the right to call out things like that.
Let's See You Do Better: One of the chefs came to Cutthroat Kitchen because his wife was complaining about how he says he can do better... except it got the better of him when he decided to use a home grilling machine to cook burgers... and had overcooked burgers and untoasted buns. (This caused a Funny Background Event, by the way, with a quick glimpse of Alton looking on incredulously as the chef gave away the best grill, a classic-style Weber charcoal unit, to an opponent.) He was the first to get cut.
The Load: In the middle of a lobster roll challenge, Alton auctions off an anchor and chain that one chef has to chain to their waist. The chef stuck with this initially downplays it, as she's 'used to cooking with children on my hip', but moving it around starts to become more and more of a liability. So much so that she forgets to take her bread off the grill while messing with the anchor, burning her bread and getting her sent home.
Chefs are not allowed to tell the judge what sabotage they were given. However, there is no rule saying you can't embellish a dish with an ingredient that was a sabotage. For example, while you can't complain about getting your clams replaced with geoduck, you can say that you made "Geoducks Rockefeller". However, the "embellishing" can go a bit too far, causing the chef to hit one of the judges' main Berserk Buttons: You Keep Using That Word.
While Alton Brown is not allowed to tell the chef how to use certain sabotages or what to do with a sabotage ingredient, he can hint it out, and generally uses this to throw a bone to someone who otherwise may not even have a dish to present (see Mercy Mode below). Of course, it goes both ways; when directly asked for help, he has smugly pointed out that he knows exactly what he would do with that sabotage... while walking away.
In one of the Donut dish's sabotages, a chef had all their ingredients taken away and had to throw donut holes into coffee mugs to get them back - each time they sunk a hole, they got one ingredient back. Chef Brian did fairly well, taking about 2 1/2 minutes to get 12 of his 13 ingredients back. However, when Alton demonstrated this sabotage during the after show, Alton just grabbed a double fistful of donut holes and lobbed them all into the mugs.
In the Cubano/Cuban Sandwich round, one sabotage was to have his cutting utensils replaced with a cigar cutter. While you had to use the cutter, Alton didn't say you coudn't lop half of it off to make it easier to cut, which is precisely what the chef did.
One sabotage is the "Wheel Of Heat", where a chef has to spin the wheel for their only heat source every 15 minutes. One unlucky chef spun "Microwave". Twice. And was eliminated due to their meal not being cooked properly.
Two chefs had to play the "Meatball Lottery" where their proteins had to be swapped for either vegetarian ingredients (mushrooms and tofu among them), animal parts like sweetbreads and chicken hearts, or leftovers.
A Funnel Cake challenge had a Cutthroat Kitchen Carnival sabotage, which took away all the chef's ingredients and forced them to toss ping-pong balls into fishbowls to get them back. Each time they sank a shot, they could pick their prize (a tablespoon of sugar, a tablespoon of flour, or one egg.) And if they threw a ball into the red one in the middle, they'd win the jackpot - enough ingredients to finish the challenge! Like the pantry, though, once the chef decided to stop playing, they couldn't come back.
The Doughnut challenge had a variant of the above. You play coffee pong with Munchkins as your pong ball. Unlike the above example, there is no "jackpot" target. You had to sink it one at a time to get it all back.
Matryoshka Object: Dolls, fun. A three-gallon, a one-gallon, and a twelve-ounce set of stock pots, and moving all your food into the next-smallest pot every ten minutes? Not so much. The chef stuck with this one couldn't even get water boiling in the first ten minutes due to the giant pot's large surface area. He did fairly well with the middle-sized pot, but underestimated how much time he needed to transfer his ingredients and ended up losing about half his meat. Using the tiny pot also made him spill his sauce. With such poor planning and all those mishaps, it's a miracle that he survived the round.
Mercy Mode: If it's starting to look like you're having so much trouble that you might not even get a dish plated, Alton will generally give you a nudge in the right direction. Don't count on anything past that, though. The show wants you to be able to at least present a dish (and all sabotages are tested beforehand to ensure that they can, in fact, be overcome). Whether the dish is any good, well, that's not their problem.
In episode 3 of season 4, Chef Enzo, who is Italian, misunderstood what Alton told the contestants to cook and got a brisket out of the pantry instead of biscuit fixings (the challenge being biscuits and gravy). Alton took pity on the poor fellow and advised him to 'fess up to the judge that he had misunderstood. Said judge turned out to be Englishman Simon Majumdar, who cracked to the chef that since Europeans don't have accents and Americans do, it's easy to misunderstand what Yanks are saying. (Cue shot of Alton mouthing silently behind Simon's back, "But I don't have an accent!") While Enzo didn't make biscuits and gravy, his brisket and gravy turned out to be so well-cooked and delicious that he survived the round. That showcases an important point about the judging criteria, by the way - if it excels on two of the three criteria (taste, presentation and resemblance to the challenge dish), the judge will sometimes let a contestant off if their dish doesn't hit the third.
When one chef runs so low on cash that they're rendered impotent in the final-round auctions, they will naturally get socked the very next auction with whatever it is Alton's brought out. However, after this happens, it will almost always turn out to be the last auction of the day. Losing two in a row will happen when you still have enough money to try and resist, but it wasn't until Season 4 that a chef first got poorhoused into two in a row, as he had only $6,500 to defend against someone who still had the full $25,000 to work with.
MacGyvering: What some chefs resort to when sabotaged. Have all your tool replaced by foil? No problem, just make the tools out of it. Most sabotages that fall under "replace cooking utensils" have this in mind. In fact, some of the chefs do mention this trope by name when discussing what they have to do next. In fact, the producers and chefs have been keen on coming up with ways to use non-culinary tools for culinary purposes.
Made of Iron: Got hit with a lot of sabotages and still made those dishes taste good? You deserve that title.
Ms. Fanservice: Antonia Lofaso favors rather low necklines, which give the camera a great view of her cleavage when she leans forward to sample a dish. Many male contestants (and several females) don't exactly seem to object.
No Fair Cheating: If you try to get out of your sabotage, not only will Alton get mad and force you to start over... he's going to take away $500. Some sabotages carry implicit fines that are not spelled out until after the crime is committed.
For example, in a season 3 challenge featuring ramen, one of the chefs had a sabotage requiring her to use ramen bowls to do all her cooking in. She attempted to boil an egg in a regular pot, but Alton swooped down on her and made his displeasure known by taking a spoon, scooping the egg out of the pot and throwing it clear across the room, then docking her $500.
Another chef was forced to wear "Auntie May's" gloves while being warned specifically NOT to touch food with it. Inadvertently, that chef did get those white gloves soiled... and was docked $100.
Not too long after the ramen episode, the fine started to be weaponized, forcing a chef to concentrate on a certain task while they cook - balancing an egg on a spoon, for instance, or keeping off of the floor by standing/walking on cake boxes - and docking them $500 every time they fail at it. So far, the most forked over in this fashion is $2,000, for allowing four eggs to fall off the spoon. However, one chef did make it out unscathed.
Not the Intended Use: Have you seen some of the tools in these sabotages? Things like paint peeler, flood lamps and ironing board were not meant to be used in the kitchen. On the more mundane side you have muffin tins being used as mixing vessels, ladles for cooking AND mixing, and gravy boats for mixing AND cooking biscuits & gravy. As long as the producers and food stylists can find a (feasible) culinary use for these items, those tools are approved for sabotages.
One of those outside-context sabotages was the "convenience store hotdog cooker". While you can easily make hotdogs and toast the buns on it (which was the point of the round), good luck trying to cook anything else on it since that is your only heat source.
How about a full-kitchen equivalent of the "Easy Bake Oven" from "Cutthroat Kiddie Kitchen"? To elaborate, it's a fully-functional kitchen setup made for children. It has a toaster-convection oven, a induction stove, and other small tools. The chef who got this had to do all of the cooking there.
This sabotage is one of Alton's all-time favorites, and was on proud display in "Judging The Judges". Not one but two chefs got zapped by this one. First, Geoffrey Zakarian was "awarded" the sabotage by Jet Tila, then on a later auction, Zakarian swapped the gizmo with Antonia Lofaso, who not only had to cook on the mini-me kitchen but was confronted by a dish that she had no idea of what was going on.
And then there's the mini breakfast sandwich maker. Alton admits he saw this on "As Seen on TV" commercials.
Another sabotage had a chef's prep table replaced by a TV tray. (Since it was mid-round, the chef wasn't too concerned with their already-finished prep work, but was worried about the tray being unbalanced and prone to tipping over, taking their dish with it.)
There have been a few auctions held before the chefs can go into the pantry - for replacing someone's basket with something else. Examples include Chinese take-out containers and a glass jar (the chef stuck with the jar only got four ingredients out of the pantry.) A similar example had one chef being restricted on what kind of food the chef can shop for before the shopping round starts. Those are true Outside Context Villains because you can't see that kind of sabotage coming from anywhere.
Oven Logic: Frequently invoked, since some of the sabotages have chefs guessing how long or how to cook the food.
Pacifist Run: Going for the full $25,000 requires this. In order for this trope to count, you can bid but you must lose all the auctions.
Pet the Dog: Although Alton is a Jerk Ass on this show, he did assist a chef in closing a pressure cooker.
Plagiarism In Reality TV: Enforced with one sabotage which forced two competitors to stop cooking, switch stations, and cook their opponent's dish as their own. Alton does not tell Simon Majumdar about this sabotage in the After-Show.
Again in "Judging Judges" with the taquitos dish. Chef Zakarian got hit with the "Kiddie Kitchen" sabotage, then had to swap with Chef Lofaso in a later sabotage that dish. Since she originally had to use fish sticks, he tries to use black beans with them for fish taquitos.
Playing with Fire: Some sabotages replace a chef's heat sources with open flame - whether from a campfire, a torch, a Sterno can, or fuel tabs.
Poor Communication Kills: For the Biscuits and Gravy challenge, the Italian-born chef thought he heard Briskets and Gravy, running afoul of You Keep Using That Word. Fortunately, Alton gave him a bone and suggest he pass it off as mishearing what the dish was. He proceeded to survive the round for two reasons: he made excellent gravy, and the other opponent made a horribly nonsensical "al pastor" biscuit.
Precision F-Strike: In "The Rice Stuff", Chef Sammy, in the midst of a heated bidding war with Chef Jenn over a bowl of matzo soup, gets hot under the collar because his opponent is driving the bid up and bids "10,000 fucking dollars!", much to the shock/amusement of Alton and the other chefs. (He eventually wins the matzos for $12,000.)
Product Placement: Quite a bit of sabotages on this show that Alton picks out are from "As Seen on TV" commercials. It's funny how none of the chefs seem to know what they are. And there's always one shot of the "Capital" logo on the stoves.
Pyrrhic Victory: Winning Cutthroat Kitchen with very little money. As if you didn't already know you were in this territory, Alton will probably remark "you know what, spend it all in one place". Alton did also say this to someone who scooted off with $21,500, but usually it's the smaller prizes he'll say it to.
The "kiddie kitchen" has been used three times: a normal episode, the "Judging Judges" episode for the "taquitos" round, and in a crossover with Food Network Star when they must play the game (and one chef spends his entire cash to avoid it).
One episode had two running gags. The first round had the chefs create minestrone soup. One of the sabotages for the falafel round (round 2) was to replace all chickpeas (and derivative products) with the minestrone soup containing chickpeas. Another sabotage for round two forced two chefs to hold hands together as a sign of "Middle Eastern peace." In round 3, the last sabotage forced one chef to shake hands with a plastic hand in his dominant hand.
Whenever Alton presents Antonia Lofaso with an Italian dish to judge, he always asks "Lofaso... That's Italian, isn't it?"
"Cutthroat Kiddie Kitchen", Round 1: Chicken Parmesean. In the sabotage called "Are You Chicken?", the winner of the sabotage forced one chef to make a Sadistic Choice: either use chicken-in-a-can or give up 15 minutes of cooking time. He went for the 15 minute wait period.
In another episode for the Lamb Chop challenge, the winner of the auction can force a chef to choose one of three unmarked jars whose contents must be incorporated into their dish. The jars in question had Lime Jell-O, mint jelly or jalapeño jelly. The losing chef ended up getting Lime Jell-O, which was actually not a bad guess. The sauce she made with it pleased the judge, and she ended up winning the episode.
A Slider challenge had three chefs exchange their proteins for one of three packages wrapped in butcher paper - giving the chefs Halibut sliders, Bison sliders, and Spam...erm...Spiced Ham sliders.
In one sadistic mid-round auction, the sabotaged chef had to give up all their cooking implements, including heat sources, and pick three to finish their dish with. One chef decided on a mixing bowl, a saute pan, and the stove top. Since she didn't have anything else to work with, she put on gloves and mixed the ingredients with her (metaphorical) bare hands.
If the chef is Genre Savvy in the final round, this can come into play. For example, your opponent is missing a vital ingredient needed to make the dish and the sabotage was to replace basket ingredients with whatever is in this sabotage (which would normally be undesirable ingredients.) Do you...
Bid on this item to not deal with it but risk giving your opponent ingredients he was missing? Or
Let him win the auction but you eat it the punishment and deny him missing ingredients?
In most situations, chefs choose 1., but it has ended up costing them the win. The trend seems to be that you are better off eating the punishment and relying on your skills to make a dish out of the sabotage, rather than winning the auction, pissing your money and putting victory straight on his cutting board.
Self-Imposed Challenge: Season 4 contestant Chef Kristina, styling herself as the "Vegan Temptress", made an attempt to get through the entire show cooking vegan dishes. For this to happen, not only would she have to win, she'd also have to avoid getting stuck with any sabotages forcing her to use meat... which put her on edge when a cone of assorted pressed meats was presented as a sabotage in a gyro challenge, and everybody including Alton knew it, to the point where he made extra-explicitly clear that whoever got hit with it would have to use it. Luckily for Kristina, she and one of her opponents knew by looking at each other that they both intended to hand it to someone else, and she managed to win the pressed-meat cone for only $2,400. And she not only won the show while staying vegan, given that she spent the day saving her money so she could avoid meat sabotages, she walked off with $18,500.
Serial Escalation: Those sabotages seem to get wilder and more diabolical with each passing episode. Given, however, that some of the early sabotages only drew the minimum $500 bid as the other competitors weren't even scared off by, say, being forced to stuff their chicken wings, this is very likely a Justified Trope.
Sound Proof Booth: Alton says that the judges are placed in one during the rounds so they can't hear or see what sabotages the chefs have to deal with.
Technician Vs Performer: The Final Round features most of these. One chef proceeds to make a technically correct version of the dish while the other chef (one that is likely to have been sabotaged) makes a "deconstruction" of said dish. The winner is generally decided either by the correct version having significant flaws or the "deconstructed" version veering too far away from the round's theme.
"The Reason You Suck" Speech: Getting sabotaged as the result of particularly poor bidding habits may result in one of these from Alton while you're trying to deal with it. For instance, one season 3 challenge revolved around donuts. After spending $12,000 in the final round to make his opponent toss donut holes into cups of coffee to get his ingredients back, one chef left himself with only $700. There was another auction that round, and $800 from said opponent later (who himself had $18,700 to spare), he was doing all his mixing and cooking in donut pans.
Alton: "This is what happens when you spend too much money in Cutthroat Kitchen. You didn't count on your skills. You counted on your cash. So you spent a lot of money on sabotages. You cooked your way to the last round, and now this is what you're having to do. Life. Lessons."
This Is Gonna Suck: The usual reaction chefs give when they see a sabotage they do not want to get.
Unishment: Sometimes a disadvantage ends up being an advantage for the opponent if the chef doesn't play the auction correctly. This is often the result of the chefs being Genre Blind. And sometimes, the chefs don't care if they get the sabotage since they can handle it (forcing to stuff your chicken wings, making a hot Cobb salad...).
For example one chef was missing sugar for his brownies. The sabotage was to replace his nonexistent sugar with cotton candy sugar. He ended up "losing" the auction but got a free ingredient.
In one final round, the objective was a crab cake. A chef won a bid for California Rolls, intended to make the opponent use the imitation crab in it instead of real crab. The chef used it himself instead. And he won!
In Season 3, episode 11, one of the sabotages involved a charcoal grill (which was the ideal implement for the challenge, involving grilling) and three less-than-ideal instruments for grilling. The auction winner gave the charcoal grill to one of his opponents and kept a countertop electric grill for himself, because he was very familiar with those. The opponent produced a good dish from the charcoal grill, but the auction winner messed up with the electric grill and got eliminated.
Two good examples from "Soupsy Daisy", both from the Final Round: Fish Fry. Chef Eric gamed the auction to nullify the sabotage by keeping the auction running until finished cutting his vegetables. That sabotage was to replace his utensils with a tackle box. Then the other sabotage was was to switch one chef's fish with "bait" (it was mackerel and sardines). Chef Leah was all too pleased to have it since she knew how to prepare it. Chef Eric made the unwise decision to add a fishing lure as "decoration". Coupled with the fact that Chef Leah's fishing lure Fish Fry really pleased the judge, and you can see why Simon Majumdar awarded the win to Leah.
Chefs who've managed to forget a key item in the pantry - bread for a sandwich, say - have been tempted to invoke this by winning an auction to replace that item with something else, but in most cases are stopped by a rule saying they still have to hand it to someone else.
Unwitting Pawn: You see those auctions go ridiculously high? About half the time, one chef is doing it deliberately to drain the other chef's bank account so that the other chef will be vulnerable to future auctions.
Victory By Endurance: If you get hit with all the sabotages your opponents overspent on, and STILL survive the round or EVEN win the game despite or BECAUSE (as you made them work for you instead of against you) of them, then you've done this. (Almost the show's version of "Rope-a-dope.")
Webisode: Alton's After Show. Discusses with the day's judge what he/she might have done if they had been placed in the same situation as the chefs. In most cases, it boils down to "Don't leave the pantry without essential building block ingredients like eggs and flour," though when he was shown the kid-size "Easy-Bake" kitchen Majumdar remarked that he might well have just walked off the set at that point.
The "Judging the Judges" webisode had Majumdar admit they ALL wanted to see Geoffrey Zakarian, Iron Chef, use the kid-size "taquito kitchen." Majumdar even goes far enough to tell Geoffrey, "Welcome to the real world." Geoffrey, though, grabs a tall pot to use as a stool and cooks with it, saying in the Webisode, "I was fine with it." It shows this was actually an Unishment as he knew sushi restaurants who'd used a similar setup.
Swap and assign, where a chef gets to replace one or more opponents' key ingredients or utensils with undesirables.
Thief baskets, where a chef can "steal" another chef's implements or ingredients.
Strange cooking implements and heat sources, where a chef can force an opponent to use the implement for all their cooking.
Lockdowns, where a chef can be restricted to a certain part of the kitchen for their cooking. Some of the mid-round auctions are for denying an opponent access to, say, the stove.
Distractions and diversions, where a chef must do something else, either in addition to their cooking or before they can return to their cooking.
Whammy Bid: Hoo, boy. One chef once bid $10,000 right off the bat to trade her opponent's utensils with foil wrap. This totally backfired and got that chef sent home for other reasons. Another did likewise to replace his opponent's heat source with a clothes iron. The largest bid in the show's history, however, is a chef who paid $16,500- in the final round, no less- to take away her opponent's ginger (for a gingersnap challenge) and replace it with pickled ginger from a sushi plate. It was simply what she had to pay to avoid getting hit with it herself, and left her with only $4,500 remaining, meaning she had to eat a retaliation sabotage forcing her to wear gloves sticking her thumb and middle fingers together. The pickled ginger cookie won.
Honorable mention goes to the Food Network Star crossover, where the cowboy chef, Chef Lenny, bid all the cash given him ($2,500) to avoid the infamous mini-kitchen. Not only did Lenny not win his heat, he made "sopapillas" that made Bobby Flay spit out his food, landing him in the bottom three. Ultimately, he survived.
Geoffrey Zakarian also bid high - $10,200 - during a "Meatball Sandwich" challenge on the "Meatball Lottery" sabotage to avoid getting his quality meats replaced with the choices in the "Meatball Lottery" (as he didn't want ANY of the three alternatives). He also hit Jet Tila with two more pricey sabotages: soaking his onion rolls in water (turning them to a starchy mush) and forcing Jet to wear periscope glasses (which would let you read or watch TV with your head flat on a pillow in a more natural position) while cooking for the rest of the challenge. Geoffrey wasn't eliminated that round, but as he spent nothing in Round 1, it left him with only $2,900 of his starting cash—and got him Hoist by His Own Petard when Antonia Lofaso hits him with a sabotage she spent $3,000 for.
One chef bid a total of $15,900 to give two of the worst sabotages to one chef in hopes of getting that chef sent home. It totally backfired. Not only did the victim survive, but he got cut because he put bleu cheese and salmon together in a club sandwich. Even better, he's an Italian chef.
What Were You Thinking?: The default reaction Alton gives to a chef who has an advantage or no sabotages... and fails to use it to his/her advantage.
In the French Fries round of "A Penny for Your Chocolates", Alton gave this reaction to Chef Emily who had exclusive right to salt the fries... And ended up as the only chef of the round with under-seasoned fries. She was immediately eliminated.
Alton gave another one to a chef in the American Breakfast challenge. Chef Adam had the sabotage of a commercial toaster... And had untoasted bread.
In a Season 3 episode, one of the challenges was pea soup. The only challenger who ended up with fresh peas (having sabotaged the others by giving them wasabi peas, candy peas, etc.) produced a soup that really didn't have much of a pea taste. Alton gave him a pricelessly incredulous look and the remark, "Dude. You had all the peas!" Believe it or not, that chef survived the round.
Worthy Opponent: Simon Mujundar when judging the final challenge (Chocolate Cake) between two chefs noted that both tasted delicious and Chef Tim's cake was just slightly better than Chef Whitney's due to a better chocolate flavor. During the after-show, Simon is amazed that the losing chef got hit with two sabotages (having to use chocolate-covered sardines, onions, and other unplesant combinations for his sole chocolate source, and replacing his mixer with a kid's toy mixer) and still ended up neck-and-neck with the winner, complimenting his excellent cooking skills.
Xanatos Speed Chess: Yeah, you're going to have to change plans on the fly. Excellent players have used this to their advantage to win the game.
You Keep Using That Word: In the Surviving Cutthroat Kitchen webisode, Alton has three suggestions for how the chef should sell their dish. First, never use adjectives like "delicious" - because that will easily set up judges to say, "No, it's not." Second, never use the word "rustic" to describe their dish - because it's chef-talk for "sloppy". And finally, never, ever, use the word "deconstructed" - or else you just lost. Although a few people did use the word "deconstructed"... and won.
In general, calling your dish that is a little "out there" in terms of what the actual dish is. For example, if the target dish is lamb chop dinner and you have lamb patties, don't try to sell it as "lamb chops". The judges willcall you out on it.
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