‘Wildcard Kitchen’ Host Eric Adjepong Dishes on Food Network’s New High Stakes Game


It’s Poker After Dark meets culinary competition in the new Food Network series Wildcard Kitchen. Each episode serves up a new crop of chefs battling it out over three rounds where they’ll create unpredictable dishes based on the cards dealt. The stakes are high as these players put up their own money in the pot to the tune of anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000.

Your card dealing host for this “after-hours” card game is Eric Adjepong. Someone who is no stranger to competing in this environment. The Ghanaian-American was a finalist on Top Chef: Kentucky and Tournament of Champions. Throughout the season he’ll bring in the the likes of Chopped judges Maneet Chauhan, Brian Malarkey, and Marc Murphy; Italian cuisine masters Gabriele Bertaccini, Rocco Dispirito, and Antonia Lofaso; and best friends Stephanie Izard, Joe Sasto, and Justin Sutherland.

They’ll have to impress guest judges including Anne Burrell, Esther Choi, and Scott Conant. The panel will be blind taste tested to determine who earns the cash and bragging rights. During the premiere Jet Tila, Eddie Jackson , and Viet Pham kick things off with “Guys’ Night Out.” Here Adjepong sets the table for the pressure-cooker these chefs are under.

This is such a unique show and a cool hybrid. Tell me about the concept 

Eric Adjepong: it’s funny because I never thought about the word hybrid when describing this show, but that’s exactly what it is. It’s a mesh of Johnny Carson late-night with Food Network and chefs you know and love and poker. It’s a unique tie-in. The ven-diagram of it all is Wildecard Kitchen where the chefs are cooking amazing food and betting their own money.

There are so many different scenarios that play out that make this really fun. Me as host in control the board so to speak and deal the cards. There is a community set of cards that the chefs have to cook and adhere to. It’s a dish that has to be cooked like fish and chips. It’s a time they have to do it in and then there is an ingredient they have to use like anchovies and zucchini.

Host Host Eric Adjepong, as seen on Wildcard Kitchen, Season 1.

Food Network

How does the wildcard work? 

What makes the gameplay really cool is the wildcard. I would dish out a wildcard that says, for example, that you have to use the ice cream machine in your dish. Then I have a wildcard that I may have that has an extra 15 minutes of booking. Then after you get your hand, you as the chef have to adhere to your skill set and work around the parameters that you have and also know your opponent as well. All the chefs coming in are either friends who work together or have a connection.

So they may know their strengths and weaknesses as well. Then the bidding starts and you are either bluffing your way through it or confident about your cook. What’s awesome about it is the audience can see the cards because the cameras are under the table. The audience can see if the chefs are really bluffing. The judging is legit. The chefs are literally sitting right in front of the judge as they are eating with their poker faces. It’s a lot of fun.

Are you a card player? 

I’m a novice. I wasn’t a big poker player. Only on occasions if I was at a friend’s house and cards were handy. I learned on the fly very quickly. The production team and everyone that was behind the scenes were all pretty much poker fans. I got the download on all the lingo and how to play and how to relate that to what we are doing with Wildcard Kitchen. It’s legit though, the chefs are bidding, checking, and raising. All the things you get with poker.

Sounds like a game within a game. 

Definitely. There is also a gamesmanship to it. Complete rounds where chefs can say they’re folding and don’t bet any money and or cook at all. They are then watching their competitors cook. There is also a strategy as well with how well they are cooking under pressure with money on the line.

Top Chef Season 17 - Eric Adjepong

‘Top Chef’ Season 17 (Smallz & Raskind/Bravo)

When do the competitors find out who the judges are? 

It’s a secret up to the first round. They don’t know who they are cooking for. Then the second and third hand they have an understanding of who the judges are. You get to know his or her pallet. If they like heat or sweet or spicy. You keep that in mind as you cook.

There is between $5,000 and $10,000 buy-in. That is some serious money on the line. 

There is a lot of money on the table. For the $10,000 buy-in, we had Maneet Chauhan, Brian Malarkey, and Marc Murphy. It was insane how that turned out. Again, it’s chefs with their own money. We’re giving them their cash and betting accordingly. You may walk away with maybe enough to get you home or cab fare or you may end up being able to afford a trip to Dubai. It’s all or nothing with this game.

They take it seriously I’m sure. Is there a lot of trash talk? 

Totally. This is people who know each other, which makes for a better connection than trash talk. I think the chefs realize the game is really happening once they see their money on the table. Once you start using your cash and seeing it leaving their hands things change.  There is also bragging rights. You want to beat your buddy and take their money. There is a lot to be said for winning.

What are your thoughts on the evolution of cooking competitions? 

I think it’s really a culmination of all the great shows. These concepts for cooking shows that are fresh and new and make sense for the times. With Wildcard Kitchen, we are trying to create an atmosphere where it’s late at night, the kitchen is closed, and you’re heading home after work. You watch Food Network, they have the morning shows down with the Kardea Brown’s of the world. They have that pocket locked in. Now we’re talking late-night feel. There is a bar in the background. It’s fully encompassing the day in the life of a chef.

I think they did an amazing job with the concept for the show. We’re seeing chefs in a different light. On Food Network, we have the usual suspects in high stakes all-or-nothing competition. Then it’s also fun to see them in their typical lifestyle attire and see what they do after work. Are they grabbing a cocktail, gin and tonic, or wine? What are they doing to wind down? We are telling that side. I love that aspect as well. They are in their regular gear, regular clothes. It’s super competitive for sure, but it also feels like you are hanging out with your friends after work in your favorite restaurant or bar.

Wildcard Kitchen premiere, March 12, 9/8c, Food Network 

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