Hello! I'm Stephanie, and until recently, I had never seen a cooking show.
As someone whose idea of cooking is mostly heating up frozen meals and arranging A+ cheese boards for my Oscar parties, I'd never found the idea of cooking shows compelling. If I can't even be bothered cooking food for myself, why would I want to watch other people cook?
This all changed after a particularly boozy brunch with two of my friends one Sunday, though.
Food Network enthusiasts Mark and Dave plied me with bloody Marys and then oh-so-casually suggested some afternoon beverages back at their place.
"Sure!" I said, unaware that I was walking into a TRAP they'd set to get me to watch and love cooking shows.
Back at their place, Pimms-in-hand, Mark relays an anecdote from Cutthroat Kitchen and suggests slyly that we could "just watch this one clip".
And that, my friends, is how I ended up watching five straight hours of Cutthroat Kitchen one sunny Sunday afternoon.
So here's the thing, you guys: Cutthroat Kitchen is actually demented.
If you've never seen it, the premise is this: Four chefs start out with $25,000 each and they have to cook three meals in three different half-hour rounds. The twist is, they can use that money to sabotage their fellow chefs by bidding on RIDICULOUS things that will drastically impair their opponents' ability to cook the meal properly in the given amount of time. At the end of the half hour, a judge - who has no idea about what kind of sabotages have been at play during the round - comes in and assesses their mess of a meal as if it's Masterchef (I presume this is what happens on Masterchef).
Here's what I learned in the five hours I spent on that couch watching Cutthroat Kitchen:
The sabotages are often hilarious.
Have you ever watched someone try to chop lettuce with an ice pick? Cook an entire meal in a box set up like a puppet show, where the only way you can see what you're doing is to look up at a mirror reflecting down on your hands? Or try to make satay peanut sauce using peanut M&Ms? These are just some of the sabotages I witnessed Alton Brown auction off, and wow, what a wild ride.
"I just love that someone came up with this, and that people are actually doing it???" Mark mused to himself at one point in the afternoon.
"Like they're just there like 'okay, now I've gotta deal with this palm frond!'" he continued with a shrug as we watched a chef struggle to try to turn a palm frond into skewers for his chicken satay.
You should never spend a lot of money on sabotages in the first round.
At one point, we watched a man spend $11k in the first round to give his opponent a metal tray. Mark was displeased.
"ELEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS?! FOR A METAL TRAY??!! NO!!! WHAT'S HE GONNA DO IN THE THIRD ROUND?!" he yelled at the room, incredulous.
"It's a Cutthroat Kitchen rule," Dave nodded, adding: "If you spend too much in the first round, you can't win."
"This is what makes it so good," Mark continued. "Because it's like, at the end of the game they can win, but they've spent all their money on sabotages so they walk away with like, $500."
But you can be strategic about which sabotages you get.
Something that seems to happen a lot on the show is that a chef will forget a key ingredient or two (or three). We watched as the chef above bid for this sabotage in an attempt to get sabotaged himself. It worked; he got the sabotage, and exchanged his shopping basket for a tub of cheese fondue.
As we watched him fish the ingredients out of the tub, Dave explained to me what I was watching.
"See, that's smart," he said. "He couldn't have made the dish without the cream, and now he has everything he needs. It's just... covered in cheese."
In fact, a lot of it is about strategy.
"I'm sorry, no, he's an idiot!" Dave said, shaking his head as he topped up our drinks, offering an incredibly detailed account of what he would've done differently in order to win the round.
"Yeah," Mark nodded. "It's not smart to sabotage someone so everyone has sabotages, because it just creates an even playing field. What you should do is sabotage someone who already has a sabotage, so that it knocks them out of the game. That guarantees that you'll make it through to the next round. That's SMART!"
The judges have weird stories about why they're so qualified to judge the dishes.
"Okay, just watch this," said Dave at the end of the first round we watched. "The judge is going to come in and tell some bizarre story about how he's the perfect person to judge this dish. It happens every episode."
"Yeah," said Mark. "It's always like 'Oh, you're making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Well, my great-great-great grandmother invented them so this is an old family recipe and I own the only peanut butter and jelly sandwich restaurant in America so, yeah, I know my P-B-and-Js."
The judge entered the room. Dave, Mark and I sat on the couch, waiting.
"Chicken satay," he said. "I've traveled a lot in my time and eaten chicken satay all over Asia, so I think I'm pretty qualified to judge this dish."
We all screamed.
The chefs with no sabotages still manage to fuck everything up somehow???
"I love how she's like 'this should work!' when she has no sabotages," said Mark at one point during a dessert round. "It's like 'uhhhyeah. You're a chef, just make the dish??'"
And yet, often the chefs with no sabotages manage to sabotage themselves with their own ego, and it's so incredibly satisfying to watch someone who had multiple sabotages to overcome come out on top.
The chefs with insane sabotages often thrive under pressure.
Through the afternoon, we debated frequently about which sabotages would be the worst to overcome, and which ones wouldn't be so bad, but what was remarkable was how quick these chefs are to come up with solutions to problems that seem insurmountable. Using a blow torch to make steak? No problem. Stuck in a giant sumo outfit with one of your competitors? Great. Have to make sour cream from sour gummies and ice cream? Sure. The more I watched, the more I couldn't believe how these chefs would manage to pull it together in 30 minutes.
At the end of the day, it's all about how petty you are.
"Basically, I think the pettier you are as a person, the more likely you are to win," said Mark. "But I guess it helps if you can cook, too."
And with that, I was hooked.
Cutthroat Kitchen airs Saturday and Sunday nights from 8.30pm on SBS. After they air, episodes will be available on SBS On Demand.
Missed Cutthroat Kitchen? Watch the first episode right here: