Eric Adjepong bets big on a new culinary concept, Wildcard Kitchen, interview

Eric Adjepong, host for Food Network's Wildcard Kitchen
Eric Adjepong, host for Food Network's Wildcard Kitchen / Food Network

The newest Food Network show, Wildcard Kitchen, pits friends and colleagues against each other in a highly spirited culinary card game. As the show’s host, Eric Adjepong deals these chefs a chance to win big. Will these chefs go all in for this food bet?

While many food television fans were first introduced to Eric Adjepong during this tenure on Top Chef, the celebrated chef and author has taken over the Food Network. From hosting Alex vs America to competing on shows like Tournament of Champions, Adjepong brings not only his culinary expertise but his willingness to encourage food fans to explore flavor, ingredients and cultural connections.

On his newest Food Network show, Wildcard Kitchen, the stakes are high. Whether the card turns in the chefs’ favor, or their luck runs dry, this late-night culinary competition is unlike anything else on the network.

Ahead of the premiere for Wildcard Kitchen, Eric Adjepong graciously spoke to FoodSided about the new show. Although this writer might not appreciate the differences between the turn and the flop in a real poker game, gaming knowledge is not required to appreciate this Food Network show. Even Adjepong admitted that he is not a frequent poker player.

Adjepong shared that Wildcard Kitchen is about the atmosphere of playing that game with friends. He said, “it is the camaraderie that friends have when it is late night and they are having fun in a safe space. What I think that we provide with Wildcard Kitchen is something that no other show on the Food Network does. You get to see the true personalities of these chefs. It is similar to the moments when the restaurant closes, they are hanging out with their friends, and we capture that atmosphere.”

The uniqueness to Wildcard Kitchen comes from the uncertainty and the luck from the cards. Whether the chefs cannot use salt or they must use a particular kitchen tool, each element is meant to keep them on their toes.

As Adjepong explained, “there is so much creativity and cooking outside of the box on Wildcard Kitchen. The parameters are reasonable; we are not asking them to do a backflip while they are sautéing. With the cards, everyone is really seeing the creativity. Some of  the dishes capture that craveable, late night meal, too.”

Many Food Network fans know that certain food ingredients or kitchen tools have legendary status in culinary competitions. From the dreaded pineapple to the ice cream machine, those elements have changed many chefs fate.

On Wildcard Kitchen, Adjepong mentioned that everything is in the cards, even the ice cream machine. While these twists and turns are intended to push the chefs, Adjepong mentioned he was even surprised with the ideas the chefs’ plated. Whether it is labeled avant-garde or out of left field, it is those dishes that make Food Network viewers watch every episode.

Adjepong explained, “we are bringing these best chefs in American into a scenario that challenges their thinking, asks them to think on their feet, and be creative within the parameters. Also, there is gamesmanship. These chefs are coming in with colleagues. They know each others strengths and weaknesses.”

That scenario leans into the betting aspect of the culinary competition. Do these chefs put their money where there mouth is or do they play mental mind games to up the ante each time?

While each episode stands on its own, every competition has nuances that keeps the audience engaged. Whether one chef walks away with all $15,000 or the pot is more evenly divided, the "anything can happen moments" have people glued to their screens.

Looking at the chef pairings for each episode, they are designed to have a theme. From Italian night to a ladies night, the concept was just the starting point. Once the chefs hit the table, all the gloves were off. As Adjepong revealed, no amount of planning or predicting could have anticipated some of the episodes’ directions. It is a testament to the chefs and their competitive nature.

Although Wildcard Kitchen is a high energy, fast paced culinary competition, there are hidden gems sprinkled into each episode. As any teacher knows, making learning fun can make the lessons more tangible.

Adjepong agreed that Food Network does a good balance of entertaining and educating its viewers. He explained that the culinary competitions can be an opportunity for viewers to learn. From discovering ingredients to learning techniques, there is information woven into every program.

In some ways, Adjepong sees that food television programming has an “educational competition” aspect. He believes that the Food Network brings together the best chefs that are willing to push themselves. It is almost like the secret umami that makes the final product more satisfying.

Overall, it is a win for everyone involved. While the viewer might discover a new technique or a flavorful ingredient, the chefs competing for the bragging rights have another opportunity to push themselves. Even though the viewer may not be able to taste that dish, they are inspired to step beyond their comfort zone and excel like their favorite culinary personalities.

Which chefs will walk away with the winning pot and who will leave empty handed? Be sure to watch the new Food Network show, Wildcard Kitchen, Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET on Food Network. Episodes are available to stream the next day on MAX.

Eric Adjepong is a first generation Ghanaian-American chef and author. In addition to working in several Michelin-starred restaurants, he holds degrees in nutrition and culinary arts. Currently, he can be seen on Food Network shows including Wildcard Kitchen, Tournament of Champions, and other food television programs.