Sabotage and Scandal: The Truth About Cutthroat Kitchen

If you love competition shows like Chopped or Iron Chef, Cutthroat Kitchen is right up your alley. The Food Network show combined the competition aspect of other cooking shows with the challenge of bizarre sabotages. As the brainchild of Alton Brown, Cutthroat Kitchen was hilarious yet cruel at the same time.

Alton Brown / Cutthroat Kitchen / Cutthroat Kitchen / Jessica Vogul.
Source: Food Network

Each chef received $25,000 at the beginning of the competition to use on sabotages for their competitors. It was always hilarious to see someone spend all their money on a sabotage only to be sent home. However, there was a lot more happening behind the scenes that the cameras didn’t show.

The Money Was Fake

Host Alton Brown always opened the show by saying, “I have $100,000 of cold, hard cash in this case. Each of you will receive $25,000. If you want to leave this kitchen with any of the cash, spend wisely because you only take home the money you have remaining at the end.”

A promotional still of Alton Brown holding a torch.
Source: Food Network

When Brown handed out the stacks of cash, the contestants were always excited to have those crisp Benjamins in their hands. Unfortunately, if they ran out of the studio with the cash, it would be useless because the money is fake. Each bill has the same serial number and a mark over the face.

Inspired by Another Show

From 1999 to 2012, Brown hosted Food Network’s Good Eats, which was nothing like Cutthroat Kitchen. However, the idea of having chefs try to cook dishes in the most ridiculous situations came to Brown while filming The Next Iron Chef. He was intrigued by the idea of contestants bidding on items.

A promotional still of Brown in Good Eats.
Source: Food Network

On The Next Iron Chef, they did a series of challenges where ingredients were auctioned off based on how quickly a chef claimed they could cook them. The scenes were fun for the audience and chefs, leading Brown to wonder how this concept could be expanded into a show. Thus, Cutthroat Kitchen was born.

Each Sabotage Is Tested

From forcing someone to cook on a hashtag-shaped pan to making a chef prepare their meal while climbing a stair master, there seems to be no limit to the chaos inflicted on the Cutthroat Kitchen competitors. While viewers (and competitors) might think the challenges are impossible, they aren’t.

Competitors cut an orange over a baseball bat.
Source: Food Network

According to Brown, each challenge was tested multiple times to ensure they were doable. Additionally, the sabotages were tested in tandem with other sabotages that might be in the same round. It would sometimes take weeks to come up with challenges and put them to the test before they appeared on the show.

The Prize Money Depends on the Chef

Each contestant started with $25,000, but it was rare that anyone left with the full amount. As soon as Brown presented a sabotage, bidding wars ensued, causing chefs to spend large portions of their money. Some winners walked away with almost all of their cash, and others spent anything to win.

A competitor cooks while standing inside a ball pit.
Source: Food Network

There has only been one chef who walked away with $25,000. Chef Kyle from Season 4 was the only one to win the entire cash prize. The lowest amount someone left Cutthroat Kitchen with was $300. Some chefs want to make money, and others are there to win at all costs.

Only the Winner Gets Paid

There are plenty of TV cooking competitions for chefs to show off their skills in front of the cameras. When it comes to Cutthroat Kitchen, chefs are there for either bragging rights or to win money. Most people don’t walk away with the grand prize, but some cooking shows pay their contestants.

Alton Brown is holding the winning money.
Source: Food Network

However, Cutthroat Kitchen only pays the winner. Competitors are not paid to appear on the show, but the network pays for their travel and accommodation expenses. With a name like Cutthroat Kitchen, you can’t expect them to hand out money to everyone.

Social Media Search

It’s easy to convince someone to sign up for a show when they are told that they could walk away with $25,000. But it becomes a challenge to convince people to apply when they hear that they will be put through the wringer and possibly walk away with nothing.

A competitor is held upside down while performing a challenge.
Source: Food Network

Most of the show’s competitors were found through social media. The producers would reach out to people to see if they could handle the pressure of competing on a show like Cutthroat Kitchen. Those interested then sent resumes and had a few interviews before being selected.

Trash Talk Is Encouraged

There are typically two types of competitive cooking show contestants: the cordial, friendly competitor or the savage, trash talk person. While the cordial and friendly competitor works on shows like Baking Championship or Chopped, that doesn’t get anyone far on Cutthroat Kitchen.

A still from the show.
Source: Food Network

Cutthroat Kitchen isn’t scripted, but producers encourage chefs to taunt their competitors. Some contestants are harsher than others, but it has never gone too far. The producers hired a lawyer to ensure that nothing crossed the line.

Bad Reviews

When Cutthroat Kitchen premiered in 2013, it didn’t receive positive reviews from critics. Reviewers praised shows like Top Chef, but Cutthroat Kitchen didn’t get the same applause. At best, it was called “intriguing” by Entertainment Weekly. Maybe it was too low brow for some foodies.

Competitors are wearing Halloween costumes in a Tournament of Terror episode.
Source: Food Network

The show never took itself too seriously, but the writers found new ways to take a standard cooking competition and inject circus-like absurdity. According to Vulture, critics missed the fact that the stars weren’t the chefs but the people behind the scenes thinking of wacky ideas.

Camp Cutthroat Borrowed the Set

To keep the show exciting, Cutthroat Kitchen had a multiple-episode competition called Camp Cutthroat. It took former competitors out of the studio and into the wilderness to win a total of $75,000. Brown claimed that it was a “secret location.”

A still of Brown presenting competitors with a challenge in Cutthroat Kitchen.
Source: Food Network

Eagle-eyed viewers quickly noticed that Camp Cutthroat’s set looked oddly familiar. The “secret location” Brown mentioned was previously used for the short-lived Fox reality show called Utopia. Camp Cutthroat must have been too extreme because it was only part of one season and never returned.

Fans Got in on the Fun

Cutthroat Kitchen ran for 15 seasons. It must have been hard to think of new sabotage ideas without repeating themselves too often. The writers showcased their devilish creativity, but they occasionally turned to the fans for inspiration. Fans loved to see how they could make the chefs sweat.

Brown is in a still from the show.
Source: Food Network

Fans were invited to tweet their ideas, but it is unknown how many suggestions made it to the show. However, people came up with some unique ideas, such as strapping a competitor to a Silence of the Lambs-style dolly and only allowing the highest bidder to see the countdown clock.

There’s a Strategy

If you have watched a few episodes of Cutthroat Kitchen, you might have realized that there was some strategy to walking away with the cash. Besides having actual cooking skills, chefs have to hold back on how much money they spend in the first round.

A still from the competitors on the show.
Source: Food Network

Many competitors end up spending most of their money in the first round. If they make it to the final round, the chefs don’t have enough money to outbid their competitors. Judge Simon Majumdar said he saw many talented chefs lose because they ran out of money.

The Biggest Sabotage

While the sabotages people bought to give their competitors were harsh, the worst sabotage was the one chefs inflicted on themselves. Contestants were given one minute to gather all the ingredients they needed from the pantry, and they sometimes forgot key components.

Brown stands next to the pantry.
Source: YouTube

If the challenge was to make a cheesecake and a chef forgot cream cheese, they would have an uphill battle. Even if the chef didn’t receive other sabotages, they had already sabotaged themselves. It usually happened when the chef focuses on elevating a recipe and forgets the basics.

The Judges Don’t Know Anything

Every time a judge entered the kitchen after a round, Brown told contestants that the judge was in a soundproof room and didn’t know or care what sabotages occurred. The judges are only thinking about the taste, appearance, and if it reminded them of the dish the chefs were told to make.

A still of Brown and the judges in the show.
Source: Amazon

Majumdar revealed that they are strict about keeping all the sabotages a secret from the judges. After the episode is over, the judges find out what chaos went down in the kitchen. They don’t even know what they are eating at times.

The Pantry Is Small

When chefs race into the pantry for their 60-second shopping time, it looks like a mad house with people pushing each other and mindlessly grabbing everything they might need. The pantry is not large and gets crowded when four chefs are running around.

An image of the contestants before going to the pantry.
Source: Food Network

The pantry looks small on TV, and according to former contestants, it is just as small in person. Since it is first-come, first-serve, contestants want to be the first chef in the pantry to get their hands on the best ingredients for the dish they want to make.

Plenty of Options

Although it might be hard to get their hands on ingredients while pushing people out of the way, the pantry has everything the chefs need. There are dozens of fruits, vegetables, spices, and alcohol to choose from. If contestants shop wisely, they can find all the ingredients they need.

An image of the contestants after getting their ingredients.
Source: Food Network

Based on the items in the pantry, there is no reason for a chef to present a bland dish. However, if they are sabotaged, that could affect the taste of their dish. It’s not an easy competition.

They Couldn’t Show It

It’s not unheard of for a cooking show contestant to cut themselves while chopping quickly. However, most of the cuts seen on TV are small nicks that can be fixed with a band aid. Still, some worse injuries have occurred, and they are not shown on TV.

A still of Brown in a scene from the show.
Source: Food Network

Brown revealed that a contestant once cut herself badly enough on Cutthroat Kitchen that she had to be removed from the competition. It wasn’t aired, but the producers didn’t try to cover it up. They simply didn’t show the moment of injury in the episode.

A Big Controversy

While there wasn’t one particular episode that stands out as controversial, viewers noticed an overall negativity between the contestants. Many people have pointed out the sexist undertones between the male and female chefs. The men didn’t see the women as tough competitors.

An image of a female contestant in the show.
Source: Food Network

It didn’t happen on every episode, but there were several instances where a male chef would admit that his female counterpart wasn’t competition. While it is not uncommon in the industry, it doesn’t look good on TV. Regardless, the women can hold their own in the competition.

The Largest Bid

Throughout the show’s 15 seasons, people have bid ridiculous amounts to buy a sabotage. Some people are afraid of the sabotage or want to knock out their competitors. One particular sabotage set the record for the highest bid in the whole competition.

A promotional still of Brown.
Source: Hulu

Brown auctioned off a “north-south border,” causing two chefs to split the prep work and cooking. One person had to do all the prep for themselves and their competitor, while the other had to cook both dishes. The chef bought the sabotage for a whopping $18,100.

The Show Got Canceled

Cutthroat Kitchen had a long run-on TV, and over the four years it was on TV, the producers cranked out 15 seasons and 192 episodes. Reruns still air on the Food Network, but the show officially ended in 2017. Fans got the bad news from Brown on Twitter.

A still of an episode.
Source: YouTube

Viewers tweeted to ask if the show was returning, and Brown replied that Cutthroat Kitchen had been canceled with the hashtag, “#probablymyfault.” Fans didn’t know what that meant, but they were sad to see the diabolical competition go off the air.

The Truth

When Brown tweeted that the show’s cancelation was probably his fault, he meant that it ended because he didn’t want to continue. Brown decided to do other things because he wanted to get back to what he loved. He had enough of hosting the show.

Alton Brown speaks on stage.
Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images

Compared to his time on Good Eats, Brown appeared out of his element on Cutthroat Kitchen. The host wanted to get back to cooking and didn’t like his job. He planned to reboot Good Eats as an internet series, but it never happened. Instead, he hosted Quarantine Quitchen on YouTube.

The Sabotages Made the Episodes More Popular

As you might have guessed, the worse the sabotage, the more entertaining the episode was. The most popular episodes of Cutthroat Kitchen were the ones that had the most bizarre challenges. Fans had some favorites that made the chefs want to cry.

Alton Brown speaks during a conference.
Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images

Many of the sabotages were truly wild. However, there were many ideas that didn’t make it onto the show because they were too over-the-top or too tricky to pull off. It wasn’t uncommon for ideas not to make the cut. We wonder what those ideas were.

The Meaning of BOB

When Brown had a big sabotage, he would call in the “BOBs” to bring out the evil challenge for the chefs to bid on. They didn’t talk, and no one knew their real names, but they helped demonstrate how some of the sabotages would work.

A still of Alton Brown during an episode.
Source: Food Network

In reality, BOB was short for Biomorphic Occupation robot. It makes sense because Brown is a science geek and has a strange sense of humor. The BOBs are the tamer part of the show, but they add an additional comedic element as viewers watch chefs struggle.

No Glass in the Pantry

While it looks like the pantry is made of glass and metal on TV, that is not the reality. As chefs race to get all their ingredients and leave the pantry before Brown finishes his countdown, one or two people have gotten stuck inside.

Contestants rush to the pantry.
Source: YouTube

On TV, it seems like they are locked inside, but the pantry doesn’t have glass. In theory, the chef could slip out through the empty frame, but that would be against the rules. If a chef doesn’t get out of the pantry, they must return an item from their basket.

A Companion of Chopped

If you have ever watched Chopped, you can see the comparison to Cutthroat Kitchen. Chopped throws a lot of curve balls at chefs with the mystery basket ingredients, and Cutthroat Kitchen does the same with the sabotages. The shows aim to see what chefs can do under pressure.

A still of an episode from Chopped.
Source: Food Network

The shows balance out because Cutthroat Kitchen contestants get to pick their ingredients while Chopped contestants have to work with what they are given. The two shows ramp up the difficulty for holiday episodes and competitions. Some Chopped contestants have even been on Cutthroat Kitchen.

A Chef’s Nightmare

In one episode, a chef had to give up all their knives, mixing tools, and pans and replace them with a roll of aluminum foil. The chef made every bowl, knife, and spoon out of the foil. It seems like an impossible task because cutting with aluminum foil is pointless.

A promotional portrait of Brown for the show.
Source: Food Network

Brown thought of this sabotage to see how a chef could think under pressure. It forced a contestant to narrow down their items and determine what they really needed and be creative. Fans loved this challenge.

Gumball Machine Madness

Another fan favorite challenge was when a chef’s basket was replaced with a gumball machine. Instead of using the ingredients they picked from the pantry, they had to get all the ingredients from containers in a gumball machine. It seems fun for a six-year-old.

A still from the episode.
Source: Food Network

Unfortunately, putting coins in a machine and trying to pry open each individual plastic container is time-consuming. The chef also had to get all their ingredients before they started cooking, so they couldn’t go back to the gumball machine when they needed more ingredients.

None of the Contestants Became Famous

When people sign up to be on a cooking competition show, they not only want to win money, but they also hope it will boost their fame. Unfortunately, most of the contestants from Cutthroat Kitchen didn’t get more than their 15 minutes while on TV.

Contestants take a picture together.
Source: Pinterest

After looking at some of the more memorable competitors from Cutthroat Kitchen, you can see that they don’t have large followings. For example, Chef Alexis Hernandez, who appeared on two episodes of the show, only has 3,000 followers on Twitter.

Judging Isn’t Cutthroat

Unlike their competitors, judging Cutthroat Kitchen isn’t as harsh as you may think. Antonia Lofaso, a resident judge, revealed that it is almost impossible to separate what you’re thinking as a judge and how you felt as a competitor. She competed in the judges’ episode.

A photo of Antonia Lofaso.
Source: Pinterest

Since Lofaso had experience as a competitor, she has a great amount of sympathy for everything the competitors go through. Although she doesn’t know what sabotages they dealt with when she is tasting their food, it is hard not to think about what might have happened.

Judges Have to Be Open-Minded

Cutthroat Kitchen is known for posing some bizarre challenges, and the results aren’t always conventional. Lofaso recalled a time when a chef had to make a dish involving ingredients that he was not allowed to mix together, and the challenge was a seafood cocktail.

A backstage photo of the judges.
Source: Food Network

Lofaso said the chef presented everything separately, and the judge was supposed to mix everything together on the plate. While some judges might have found the concept ridiculous, Lofaso loved it. She thought the idea was fun and said everything was well organized.

A Long Filming Day

When people watch Cutthroat Kitchen, they see the chefs cook three meals in an hour. However, the episodes take much longer to film. Former contestant, Chef Joe Arvin, revealed that he had to sign an NDA that forbade him from talking about the episode until it aired.

A still from the show.
Source: Food Network

Arvin added that he and the other contestants then filmed for one 18-hour day and a second half-day to film the exit interviews. That’s a long day, especially because everyone who lost didn’t get paid for their time.

Brown Wasn’t Nice

Brown might seem like a nice guy on TV, but competitors have said that he wasn’t friendly on set. Arvin revealed that he thought meeting Brown would be an incredible experience. However, the host turned out to be all work and no play.

Brown poses for a promotional portrait.
Source: Food Network

Brown didn’t interact with the competitors between filming, and Arvin said it was uncomfortable. Arvin had been on ABC’s The Taste, and he shared that the judges and mentors were deeply involved throughout the filming process, unlike Cutthroat Kitchen where he didn’t even talk to the judge.

Even Celebrity Chefs Struggle

Some of the most popular chefs tried their luck on Cutthroat Kitchen in the Superstar Sabotage Tournament. Famous names like Anne Burrell, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Richard Blais faced off in the sabotage-filled competition to raise money for their charity of choice.

A still of Anne Burrell in an episode from the show.
Source: Food Network

Even these skilled chefs struggled to deal with the tough sabotages thrown their way. It showed that no matter how long you have been cooking or how well-known you are, Cutthroat Kitchen is a challenge for every chef. Luckily, the celebrities didn’t walk away empty-handed; even the losers got $2,500 to donate to charity.

Don’t Call It “Rustic”

While some people like rustic food, the judges on Cutthroat Kitchen hate when people describe their food as “rustic.” Usually, when a chef presents their dish in this way, they are covering up the fact that the presentation is messy.

A still of one of the judges talking.
Source: Prime Video

Brown also dislikes when chefs try to sell their dishes as rustic because he thinks people don’t know what rustic food actually is. While some people got away with claiming their dish was rustic because someone else’s food was worse, others went home for describing their food like that.

It’s All About the Story

According to Majumdar, the best way for a chef to win is by how they sell the dish. He said that the key is to trigger a memory for the judge. Even if you have to do something outside of the box because of a sabotage, at least capture the essence of the dish.

A portrait of Majumdar.
Source: Food Network

Most of the judges just want to eat tasty food, so that is what matters. There have been contestants whose food looks horrible but tastes great, so they get through to the next round.

They Were Deceived

In 2016, Cutthroat Kitchen aired the Time Warp Tournament. Sixteen returning winners competed in four heats to make it to the final round. However, unlike in other tournaments, the finalists were only given $25,000 to start. In the rest of the tournaments, finalists started with $50,000.

A still from the episode.
Source: Food Network

Tournaments usually involve harder sabotages, so these contestants were cheated out of getting a larger prize. It must have been frustrating to put in all that hard work and still walk away with less than $25,000. The tournament winner ended up leaving with $11,600.

The Same Judges

Throughout the show’s 15 seasons, there was a regular rotation of three judges: Simon Majumdar, Antonia Lofaso, and Jet Tila. Occasionally, they would bring in another celebrity chef. From Richard Blais to Anne Burrell, Cutthroat Kitchen had some interesting judges.

A still from the show.
Source: Food Network

It was easier to deal with the regular judges because people started to learn what they liked. For example, one judge might hate raw red onions while another enjoys them in the food. However, everyone knew that all the judges hated when people would use truffle oil.

A Special Scenario

While most of the episodes only featured one judge, the season finale of Season 14 featured two judges. Jet Tila and his wife, Ali Tila, judged a special Valentine’s Day episode. The chefs also competed in four teams of couples.

A still of an episode from Season 14.
Source: Amazon

An episode that only aired in Australia and on Amazon Video featured two judges, Richard and Jazmin Blais. It was unusual to have two judges, but it was even rarer to have three judges. There was a different judge for each round in another episode that only aired in Australia and on Amazon.

Unseen Episodes

While 15 seasons aired in America, there was a whole season that only aired in Australia and on Amazon Video. It’s unclear why these episodes didn’t air in America as well because they featured the same judges and American contestants.

A still of an episode in Season 15.
Source: Food Network

The Australian airings overlapped with the end of Season 14. Only two of the episodes from the special Australian season also appeared in the US. Maybe the episodes featured sabotages that were too risky for American television. One contestant managed to win $44,000, and it wasn’t part of a tournament.

A Former Contestant Died

Chef Jessica Vogul competed on Season 11 of Cutthroat Kitchen and passed away after her appearance on the show. She died in 2018 while being treated for colitis. Her fiancé said her heart gave out. She was only 34 years old.

A still of Jessica Vogul in an episode from the show.
Source: YouTube

Vogul also competed on Season 12 of Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen with Gordon Ramsay. She and her fiancé planned to open a restaurant together, but she passed away before they could bring their dreams to life. Being in the public eye took a toll on Vogul, and she dealt with drug and alcohol abuse.