Food Poker



Matt Allwright


Voiceover: Jeni Barnett


Optomen for BBC Two, 29 October to 7 December 2007 (30 episodes in one series)


So, these days pretty much everyone knows how to play Texas Hold'em, eh? The players are dealt two cards each, then five more cards are dealt face-up for everyone. Each player looks at their cards, and decides whether they're going to fold, or pitch to the panel of seven experts, describing what they can make with their two cards and up to three of the shared cards. The panel votes, and then the two players with the most votes battle it out for victory.

Okay, so it doesn't work exactly like that. But apparently it's close enough to create a cookery game show with that format and call it Food Poker. The cards, as you've by now guessed, have ingredients on them, and instead of making hands, the four players (all chefs, luckily) have to serve up a dish using only their five ingredients and a basic larder. Two rounds are played like this, one with a savoury deck and one with sweet, each with twenty minutes of cooking time for the two successful pitchers, and the winner decided by the panel of foodies.

Now, a couple of issues with the format immediately present themselves. Aside from what could charitably described as a strained relationship with the actual game of poker, the pitch-or-fold mechanism is essentially redundant. No chef is going to fold unless they have no substantial ingredients at all, since there are no consequences for making an unsuccessful pitch. There's also the possibility that one chef won't get to cook at all, which would be pretty unsatisfactory. People pondering about dishes they could make but might not have to, rather than just bloody getting on with it, also irks. More seriously, the actual poker bit is rather dull and has none of the tension of the real game.

The final round, played between the two winning chefs from the first rounds, severs any remaining link with poker. A main ingredient is dealt at random which both chefs must use, then each chef chooses four accompanying ingredients using the classic 'picking teams' mechanic. After they've cooked, the two losing chefs - rather than the tasting panel, confusingly - decide on the winner, with the host having the casting vote in the event of a deadlock.

Format niggles aside, it's all pleasant enough, but it doesn't really seem sufficiently distinct from Ready Steady Cook, whose traditional slot it occupies, to justify its existence. And with three twenty-minute rounds of cooking each with two chefs to fit into a 45-minute show, most of the actual cooking is rushed through pretty quickly, necessitating a voiceover to narrate the recipes. And what Allwright is doing on this, rather than bashing dodgy roof contractors, is anyone's guess.

Also, we had an idea for a show where an unhygienic-looking man goes into restaurants and pokes people's food and then offers them money to eat it anyway, and this has stolen our title. Pshaw!


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