It’s an odd recipe: a comedy and storytelling group mixed with a cooking game, simmered together to create a dish suitable for any gathering. In this case, it’s a winner: the Nerdologues’ new Cooking Competition party game, currently working towards a May 12 Kickstarter deadline. It’s the Food Network’s Chopped without the mess, and it brings people together about food. And zero calories!
The game is a set of cards divided into proteins, vegetables and flavors, as well as a stack of secret ingredients (some of which have been contributed by name chefs like Mario Batali, Claudia Wu and J.Kenji Lopez-Alt.) along with a group of challenge cards such as: Best Served Cold and Something for Me and Something for My Dog. Three to eight players pick one group member to judge, and then the players draw cards—the fun is in the imagination of the participants, since the mind can run wild (or amok) without the boundaries of having to actually create a dish. The judge gets to select the challenge and the secret ingredient, and of course gets to select a winner! Time, money, elaborate insanity are no barrier since these dishes exist only in the words of the players. The more detailed and complicated the description, the more competitive the play.
I had the opportunity to play test with a group of mostly non-cooking gentlemen in a bar at a game night, and a group of cooking show obsessives who once staged a DIY Cutthroat Kitchen in my house, and included one player participating via Skype. The beauty of the game is that it is open-ended, and the cards serve as springboards to stories and conversations. My cooking geeks rewrote the rules as they played, while the bar boys had a ball devising creative solutions to a secret ingredient of insects. The game is suitable for many ages, though the addition of adult beverages tends to expand the hyperbole and risk factor of the hypothetical menus.
The game is the second one created by the Nerdologues, a Chicago-based comedy and storytelling collective that does live shows and a podcast. Joe Gennaro, one of the members of the troupe and co-creator of Competition Kitchen, sees gaming as a way to bring people together and help them connect. He was a huge fan of Iron Chef growing up, and he finds making games a fun way to spark storytelling. Along with co-creator Kevin Reader, a Nerdologue founder, they have been working on the game for about a year and are still enjoying the ride, developing the concept, reaching out to food celebrities for suggestions, and play testing. Since many of the ideas in the game are crowd-sourced, Kickstarter seemed like a good vehicle to launch this second gaming project, especially since the first, Fisticuffs!, was so successful. Kickstarter backers should see the actual game in hand by September. You don’t have to be a chef to play, though I did see that foodies really get into it and extend the game into conceptual places far afield. Like a favorite family recipe, Competition Kitchen is bound to get pulled out whenever a group needs to break the ice or have a fun evening.
If you’d like to support this Chicago game creator, get on over to their Kickstarter page and chip in.