Chefs dial up their creativity on Food Network’s ‘Supermarket Stakeout’


‘Supermarket Stakeout’ – Random ingredients, resourceful chefs

Alex Guarnaschelli


Most people don’t like being approached as they leave stores.

Whether it’s someone hitting them up for money or telling them their car was hit, the news usually isn’t good.

But in “Supermarket Stakeout,” premiering Tuesday, Aug. 13, on Food Network, the interactions can be profitable. Here, four competing professional chefs ambush shoppers as they exit the store and negotiate with them for their bags of groceries sight unseen, being mindful of staying within their budget of $500. They’re then tasked with creating a cohesive, themed dish with the contents of their newly purchased bag in the nearby pop-up kitchen, with the final products to be evaluated by a rotating panel of judges.

The twist here is that the challenge might be something like making a breakfast sandwich but all that’s in the bag is a chocolate cake and hors d’oeuvres. As one can imagine, much outside-the-box thinking ensues.

“It really leaves a lot unknown …,” explains Alex Guarnaschelli, the show’s host. “There’s this wildcard difference between what the contestants have to achieve and what they might get in the bag. Someone was having a barbecue and I found that the contestants didn’t know what to expect. They had their expectation of what they wanted in the bag but there was no guarantee. So there was this wonderful meshing of sort of the stories of why people go to the supermarket and what they buy and what the contestants do with that and the amount of imagination that they end up enlisting to achieve their goal.”

Some chefs’ negotiation skills were good, says Guarnaschelli, and others weren’t. And if time was running out, there was pressure to overbid. As for the shoppers, their reactions to their surprise bidders ran the gamut.

“Anything from ‘Absolutely not’ to ‘Oh my God, that’s nuts’ to ‘Sure, take my groceries,’ ” Guarnaschelli says. “Some people did engage in some price gouging, some people were reasonable. I think somebody bought a $40 quart of milk. You know, it can get rough out there. It’s a stakeout.”

As for the dishes themselves, Guarnaschelli says they were remarkable in more ways than one.

“Anything that could have been better execution-wise was so impressive in terms of resourcefulness and creativity that I didn’t care,” she says. “And it was unbelievably creative, very creative. Very resourceful. I consider resourcefulness creativity and I think when we go home at night and you’re tired and you didn’t go to the supermarket, you really engage in your own kitchen stakeout and I think that’s a lot of what happened here. ‘Alright, this is what I have. I gotta make dinner.’ …”

“It mimics what every cook experiences at home – or every person,” she continues. “And that’s a lot of people.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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