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“Oh, here we go again,” I thought when I saw that Netflix had a new competitive cooking show. “Another hyper cooking show on steroids.” 

But I am pleased to say I was wrong. Cook at All Costs hooked me and my family from the first watch, and we could never stop at just one episode.

The idea behind the show is a fun twist on other premises such as the “mystery basket” concept in Chopped: Three home cooks start out with a bank of $25,000, and in the first round, they can bid on the spend box of high-end ingredients (highest price), the surprise box of unusual ingredients (medium price), and the save box of frugal foods. There are two rounds with one dish to prepare in each round. The winner of the first round, who cooked the best dish, gets to assign who gets which box in the second round (when the prices of each box goes up), and the cooks concoct a plate from whichever box they get.

The bidding continues throughout the competition, as ingredients are sent down the conveyor belt by that week’s celebrity chef, who doesn’t know who made what dish until the end. Mid-cooking, cooks can bid on herbs, spices, eggs, lemons, etc., to hopefully elevate their dishes, and at least once they could bid on a few minutes of personal feedback on their dishes with the celebrity chef. Viewers keep in mind that with each $1000 they are spending on, say, eggs, that amount is subtracted from their bank. The eventual winner takes home whatever is left in their bank. 

Each episode has a theme and a celebrity chef/judge attached to it. Asian Eats (episode 1), features Korean chef Esther Choi, while Southern Comfort (episode 3) spotlights soul food queen Melba Wilson. Mexican, barbeque, and brunch are a few of the other foodie themes. 

What inspired me was how creative people had to get, especially with their “surprise baskets” with oddball ingredients such as escargot, rabbit, chicken hearts, and ostrich eggs, or their “save” baskets with pennywise groceries such as fish sticks (which one cook turned into savory meatballs). Of course, we have seen this on Chopped, but the fact that cooks must “cook at all costs”—on a budget, ramped up the stakes. Without giving too much away, I loved how the judges favored resourcefulness and imagination with weird or cheap ingredients over posh renderings of expensive fixings. We as viewers are no dummies; we know that the cook who brags about his “Michelin-level” skills (eye roll) and only bids on the spend box is going down in flames. 

A couple of times, cooks got dinged for not even trying to work with the ingredients in their baskets, opting to bid on ingredients that came down the belt as they were cooking. Courage matters here, too, and those who keep it safe are rarely rewarded.

One cook chose the save basket twice and won the show with $17,000 left in his bank. Smart guy!

Host Jordan Andino, a Canadian chef (who is not too hyper; maybe just hyper enough?) said it best in an interview with The New York Post: “It really depends on (a contestant’s) creativity and adaptability,” he said.“The overall message is trying to be frugal while creating something delicious and on a budget.” All eight episodes of the first season are now streaming. (Netflix)

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