Food & Drink

Deal Rancic into Food Network game with ‘Kitchen Casino’

What’s in the cards for Bill Rancic? As host of the Food Network’s new “Kitchen Casino,” Rancic hopes to play it fun and fast with food.

As a Chicago entrepreneur, Rancic made reality TV history as the first winner of NBC’s “The Apprentice.”

Since Donald Trump said “You’re hired” in 2004, Rancic has enjoyed a busy (and visible) career as a developer, author, restaurateur, inspirational speaker, producer and TV host.

His books “You’re Hired: How to Succeed in Business and Life” and “Beyond the Lemonade Stand” both became New York Times best-sellers.

He co-stars with his wife Giuliana on “Giuliana & Bill,” now in its seventh season on E!

Rancic, who turns 43 in May, takes a spin at TV food competition with a Las Vegas-style twist; the contestants have to gamble on their cooking skills while trying to bluff their rivals out of their stockpots.

“Kitchen Casino” debuts Monday on the Food Network.

Feast caught up with Rancic before the premiere.

What makes “Kitchen Casino” different from other food shows?

If you like a really fun cooking competition show (such as) “Chopped” or “Cutthroat Kitchen,” you’ll love it. But we added a major twist. We combined casino-themed games – poker, roulette, slot machines – with cooking competition. It’s not only important to be an incredible chef, but you’ve got to understand gaming strategy.

How does it work?

Every episode starts with four chefs (competing for $30,000). At the slot machine, they get their ingredients.

(After they start cooking their dishes), we play “Chef Roulette,” where the entire kitchen spins like a giant roulette wheel. Their dish may very likely end up in front of another chef. (Whatever you get), you’ve got to take over and finish that dish.

There’s a very good chance their dish won’t come back to them. Do you try to sabotage it? So whoever ends up with it has a hell of a time.

At the poker table, I deal cards with (additional) ingredients. They can discard some, get different cards; just like poker. Sometimes, it’s better to stick with the cards you know.

What was the inspiration for this show?

I wish I was the creator; I’m just the host. But it’s a brilliant idea.

There’s nothing else like it in the cooking show genre. I’m literally on the edge of my seat. (Chefs) have 30, 40 minutes to prepare the dishes. They’re pumping a lot of adrenaline.

Did you try the challenges?

We had a mock competition. I thought it was important to do since I’m the host. We have some great judges – Michael Chernow, Madison Cowan, Kristin Sollenne (among others). They don’t pull any punches.

What part is the toughest?

Chef Roulette. It really separated the good chefs from those trying to fake it. You have to revive a dish on life support. Someone has sabotaged you.

We’ve got great chefs with incredible pedigrees; they’ve worked at top restaurants. We’ve also got cooks who taught themselves in basement kitchens; sometimes they win.

It often comes down to common sense, which is not that common.

Any oddball ingredients on the “Casino” menu?

Absolutely! A couple of them, I had to Google – they were way out there. Cactus, churros, (less desirable) parts of chicken. (The first episode features salami, rutabaga and fruit punch.) There’s a handful of unique ingredients; it’s not easy.