We’re nothing if not suckers for cooking competition shows, as one of America’s greatest pastimes is watching people prepare delicious meals on TV so we can’t eat or even smell them. It’s a sort of masochistic behavior that at least allows regular people to think that maybe even they could eventually become world famous chefs if they were willing to try hard enough to impress actual chefs with little regard for our basic emotions. But Spike’s new cooking competition series Frankenfood is something that’s right up my alley, as the resident guy who likes to put a bunch of random sh*t on a plate and come up with crazy new food ideas.
Except not even I was prepared for the borderline insane and possibly fake culinary disasters and masterpieces that the nine contestants delivered on the debut episode, “Blown Away by the Windy City.” Before I get too far ahead of myself, the point of Frankenfood is to let random people come in from the street to wow Chef/Host Josh Capon and his panel of judges with their crazy hybrid meals. Capon is joined by regular judge and TV personality/restaurant owner Tony Luke, as well as a special guest judge in each city. One contestant will ultimately win a $10,000 cash prize and a spot on the menu at the restaurant owned by the special judge.
In “Blown Away by the Windy City,” that special judge was Brendan Joyce, owner of Reggies Chicago, and naturally the food created by each contestant had to have a Chicago theme. In fact, one contestant, who fortunately didn’t make the show, showed up dressed as one of Saturday Night Live‘s Super Fans, and I’m glad that I didn’t have to see more than three seconds of him, because I would have pulled my eyeballs out over that silly, tired gimmick. That said, the nine people who were featured did their best to either genuinely sell their ideas or at least pretend like they weren’t invited in to throw something at us that would make us want to vomit.
And that’s the unique difference between Frankenfood and other cooking shows – the three judges actually have buckets handy so they can vomit if need be. After all, nothing says, “You’re going to want to eat this immediately” quite like Tony Luke loudly hurling into a metal cylinder. Without further ado, on to the meals.
First contestant: “Patrick’s Windy City”
Patrick came to the table with a meal that answered the question, “What would it look like if a Chicago deep dish pizza got drunk and did it with a Chicago hot dog?” Basically, this was a deep dish pizza shell made from hot dog buns with hot dog pieces in it that was topped with a hot dog that had been “dragged through the garden.” Basically, it had every hot dog topping short of chili and cheese on top of it, which is why it lost my vote. But my vote didn’t count. Verdict: Pass
Second contestant: “Mary Poppers”
These were large jalapeno poppers stuffed with macaroni and cheese. Simple enough, definitely not disgusting to most people, and I wanted them in my mouth as soon as I saw them. Although, the woman who created the poppers shouldn’t have bragged about being a Boston Red Sox fan, and especially how they just won the World Series. Not in Chicago. Verdict: Pass
Third contestant: “Dixie Waffle And ‘Cue”
Commence barfing. This BBQ sandwich featured beef brisket, mac and cheese, pickles, cole slaw, a Slim Jim and a cherry pepper, all between two waffles. Here’s the only question I had about this – what the hell was the point of the Slim Jim? Don’t get me wrong, I love a Slim Jim, but why on this? Verdict: Fail
Fourth contestant: “Dynamite Fiesta Pasta”
This meal almost made me give up. This had chocolate, green chili pesto pasta, topped with cheese popcorn and caramelized pears. Nope. Not a chance in hell that would come within a mile of my mouth, lest the creator kidnap my dog and it was the final step in a series of challenges. Verdict: Fail
Fifth contestant: “Pizza Pie”
As much as I love a good pizza pie, this one actually sounded like someone boxed out a cargo van with some serious hydro, and then let me into a CiCi’s Pizza with just one plate. This pizza pie had sausage, apples, cheese, cinnamon, tomato sauce – basically, it was an apple pie with pizza mixed in. Verdict: Fail
Sixth contestant: “Surfboard Bar”
Where the Dynamite Fiesta Pasta didn’t make me turn off my TV, the Surfboard Bar made me pause it and yell, “Yo, you have to come see this!” It was a really sloppy dessert dish that was ultimately chocolate-covered crab. Verdict: Fail
Seventh contestant: “Chicagomala”
Pig tongue. Pig kidney. Pig liver. I shouldn’t continue, but I will. All of it ground into patties and served as sliders on buns that have Fruity Pebbles in the dough. I should stop now. I know I should, but I’m not. That is all topped off with a piece of beef heart. This is the food equivalent of walking in on your parents having sex. Verdict: Fail
Eighth contestant: “WTF Burger”
Finally, something else to celebrate. The bearded hipster genius behind this sloppy burger brought us an actual beef patty (I could have kissed him for that after the pig organs), Sriracha, marinara, pineapple, and mozzarella, all stuffed with candied bacon. Hold the pineapple and we’re best friends. Verdict: Pass
Ninth contestant: “Patty’s Pie”
This one confused me because it wasn’t weird. It was a traditional apple pie with cornmeal, apple, rosemary, smoked gouda, and corn jelly ice cream with jalapenos. I guess people might think that the jalapenos mixed with ice cream was a strange concoction, but jalapeno cornbread is delicious, and I can’t see how adding ice cream would be bad. Also, this meal allowed Capon to yell, “I can’t wait to dive into your pie” to a lady who looked like Martha Stewart. That’s good TV. Verdict: Pass
Of the four contestants who received passing grades, Capon, Luke and Joyce picked their two favorites. That was pretty anticlimactic after sitting through such terrible meals, but it’s also nice to see someone just make a decision and not drag it out for the sake of feigned drama. Basically, it was a decent enough combination of Top Chef and American Idol, except we didn’t have to watch the bizarre, inappropriate sexual chemistry between Demi Lovato and Simon Cowell. The two meals that were chosen for the final round of the premiere episode of Frankenfood were the “Windy City” and “Mary Poppers,” and it really was as predictable as it seems.
The customers at Reggies chose Patrick’s “Windy City” after a quick scene that included Capon telling the creator of the poppers that she needed to add some Chicago flair to it. Her decision? More cheese. While that’s enough to win my heart, it didn’t conquer the appetites of the people who love both deep dish pizzas and hot dogs covered in every topping under the sun. Frankenfood has some kinks to work out, like maybe not telegraphing the obvious winner from the very start, but it’s definitely worth watching if you’re a sadistic food mad scientist like me.