The Secret to Beating Bobby Flay
By: Kayla Teng (Lead), Taylor Kim, Kevin Hamakawa, Hyerin Lee, and Nicole Ju
Beat Bobby Flay is an American cooking show produced by the Food Network since 2013 that features exciting clashes between many talented chefs and American celebrity chef Bobby Flay. The show is broken up into two rounds, with the first round containing a cook-off between two contestants, in which they must use the ingredient of Flay’s choice, and the second round containing a cook-off between the winner of the first round and Flay. In this second round, the challenger is able to choose any dish that they believe they can beat Flay with. At the end of the cook-off, three professional chefs come in to do a blind-taste test and choose a winner.
Bobby Flay has built up quite a reputation for himself as a chef. He has opened more than five restaurants, starred in countless Food Network TV shows since 1994, and holds the title of Iron Chef — one of the most coveted titles a chef can hold that signifies they are the “best of the best” in the industry. It is no wonder thousands of chefs from all over the United States want to compete and try to win against Flay.
Now, how should one approach the great challenge of beating Bobby Flay? There are different factors that a chef must first consider when trying to achieve the most success on this show. Are there different patterns to Flay’s choice of ingredient in the first round? Are there certain types of cuisine that may give us a better chance of winning against Flay in the second round? Is there a possibility that the judges tend to favor Flay’s style of cooking over his opponents? We analyzed a Kaggle dataset from over 300 episodes of Beat Bobby Flay that contained Flay’s choice of ingredients, the dish chosen, the judges, and the overall winner in each episode, to answer the overarching question: how do you “Beat Bobby Flay”?
How does Bobby Flay’s Win Rate Differ Over the Seasons?
To start off, we looked at Flay’s average win rate from 306 episodes (25 seasons) by only working with the winner column of the dataset. The pie chart above shows the summary of this statistic for Flay’s average win and loss rate. Overall, his winning percentage was higher than his losing percentage, with a 62.7% win rate and a 37.3% loss rate throughout the 25 seasons of the show.
To investigate Flay’s win rate even further, we broke down the win rates for each season and calculated it by taking the number of wins per season and dividing it by the total number of episodes per season. Then, we created a scatter plot showing the relationship between each season of the show and its corresponding win rate to find a potential pattern. The highest win rate was in season 1, with 77.78% and the lowest in season 24 with 38.46%. As observed in the scatterplot, we found that there was no particular trend in Flay’s pattern of wins over the seasons. Because there was no obvious trend by looking at the general win rate throughout the seasons, we wanted to look at other factors that could help us win against Bobby Flay.
What Kind of Ingredient is Most Commonly Chosen by Flay During the First Round?
In the first round, two contestants go head-to-head in a 20-minute cooking battle, and they must incorporate one ingredient picked by Bobby Flay into a dish that will be presented to the celebrity judges. Whoever wins this round gets to advance to the next round, where they get to face Flay himself. Since this round is crucial to determining who Flay goes against, we were curious to see what types of ingredients Flay usually chooses.
Using the data from 306 episodes, we looked at every ingredient from the first round and categorized them into the following food groups: liquid, dairy, dessert, fruit, grains, protein, nuts/seeds, and veggies/beans. After placing each ingredient into its corresponding categories, we then created the pie chart above to visualize the percentages of each food group. In the graph, each slice represents one food group and its percentage or frequency of being chosen. We found that the most common ingredient category chosen by Flay was protein at 39.87%, with 122 of the 306 first round ingredients being protein. The second most common first round ingredient category was veggies/beans with 25.49%, corresponding to 78 of 306 episodes. The least common categories were liquid and dessert, both having been chosen by Flay in the first round 6 times each. Since protein is the most common ingredient chosen by Flay, you better know all types of protein (including beef, poultry, fish, etc.), learn how to cook them well, and be familiar with what kind of flavors match with each protein, in order to get to the second round.
What Types of Cuisine Does Bobby Flay Succeed or Struggle with in the Second Round?
On Beat Bobby Flay, the chef who had the best dish in the first round will compete against Flay in the second round — also known as the “Signature Dish” round. Flay’s opponent will choose a signature dish, and both chefs will have to cook the same dish in 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, three professional chefs are brought in to do a blind-taste test, meaning they will taste both dishes and will not know who cooked each dish. The judges will then choose a winner based on the best dish and determine if the chef, who won in the first round, beat Bobby Flay.
Possibly the biggest factor when putting ourselves up against the challenge of beating Bobby Flay is considering the type of cuisine that he is being challenged with during the second round. In order to properly analyze Flay’s performance when cooking each different type of cuisine, we individually categorized each dish on every episode into its own respective cuisine. For dishes that didn’t necessarily fall into a specific cuisine, such as ribs or grilled chicken, we created a new category, simply labeled “General.”
Unfortunately, with there being only a limited amount of episodes and seasons, there were a handful of cuisines with only one or two occurrences. This included Japanese, Russian, Peruvian, Colombian, and Filipino cuisine, to name a few. On the opposite end, the most common types of cuisine that Flay was challenged with were American (74 occurrences), Italian (43 occurrences), French (31 occurrences), and Mexican (28 occurrences). Rather than analyzing the types of cuisine with limited data, we instead decided to create a visualization to see Flay’s win rate for the cuisines with at least 7 occurrences.
As you can see, Flay boasts a very high win rate against almost all types of cuisine, with his best performances in particular going against French, Mexican, and British cuisine, each of which Flay has a win rate of 74.2%, 72%, and 71.4%, respectively. On the lower end of things, Flay’s worst performances were when cooking Indian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese cuisine, in which he had still rather impressive win rates of 33.3%, 41.7%, and 46.7%, respectively. As a summary, no matter what type of cuisine that you are going to challenge Bobby Flay with, you are going to have a difficult time coming out with a victory. However, if you want to have your best shot at taking him down with one of his weaker cuisines, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese cuisine may be your best bet.
Which First Round Celebrity Judges are Most Successful in Beating Bobby Flay?
We also wanted to analyze which first round celebrity judges are the most successful in beating Bobby Flay on his show.
Before a chef can face off with Flay, they must defeat another contestant in an intense first-round battle. Celebrity judges, many who are friends of Flay, are brought in to judge the first round dishes and ultimately choose the chef they believe can defeat him. In addition to judging, these celebrity guests contribute a strong entertainment factor to the show with their periodic trash-talking and distractions as an attempt to throw Flay off his game.
The show’s producers tend to bring back many of the same celebrity judges. We analyzed the celebrity judge appearances and created the bar graph below to display the top ten celebrities who appeared the most on the show. In the lead with 36 appearances over 25 seasons, we have executive chef and TV personality, Alex Guarnaschelli. Guarnaschelli is a good friend of Bobby Flay, perhaps a reason for her repetitive appearances. Sunny Anderson and Anne Burrell are also familiar faces on the show, showing up 28 times each.
Next, we analyzed Flay’s success rate with respect to a celebrity judge’s success rate in the bar graph below for the ten celebrity judges with the most appearances on Beat Bobby Flay.
Flay’s overall success rate is 62.7%, plotted as a red line on the bar graph. His win rate is higher for certain celebrity judges, suggesting that these judges are less successful in defeating Bobby Flay. For instance, with judges Scott Conant, Katie Lee, Michael Symon, Amanda Freitag, and Geoffrey Zakarian, Flay’s success rate is higher than his overall success rate. Geoffrey Zakarian was the least effective in choosing a contestant to take down Flay, with a success rate of 27.3% (Flay’s win rate, as shown on the graph, is 62.7%). On the other hand, other judges are more successful in defeating Flay, as reflected by the bars below the red line. Italian chef Giada De Laurentiis is the most victorious, squashing Flay’s win rate to a mere 41.7%. Alex Guarnaschelli is also relatively successful, beating Flay 50% of the time.
Overall, we can conclude that although certain celebrity judges have been on the show many times, there is not necessarily a correlation between the judges’ experience and their success rate in defeating Flay. If Alex Guarnaschelli or Giada De Laurentiis are the celebrity judges on your episode, you still need to bring your A-game because their high success rates alone will not help you beat Bobby Flay.
Do the Second Round Judges Tend to Favor Bobby Flay or His Opponent?
The second round of Beat Bobby Flay is a blind-tasting by three professional chefs who taste both signature dishes and pick whichever dish tastes the best. We wanted to see if the second round judges tend to favor Flay’s dishes over his opponents or would his number of wins and losses be around the same. First, we created a horizontal bar graph below that shows the top 10 judges who have had the most appearances as a second round judge on Beat Bobby Flay. Michael Psilakis, a Greek-American Chef in New York City, had the most appearances as a second round judge with 19 appearances on Beat Bobby Flay. All ten judges have had at least 10 appearances as a second round judge on the show.
Using the data above, we created a stacked bar plot to show the proportion of wins or losses Flay received based on the second round judges with the most appearances. Flay received more wins than losses from nine out of ten second round judges. He had the highest proportion of wins out of the ten judges when Lourdes Castro, a culinary nutritionist and cookbook author, appeared on the show. Flay won more than 75% of the second rounds Castro has judged. On the other hand, Flay’s opponents tended to win more when NYC executive chef Tricia Williams was on Beat Bobby Flay. His opponents won over 60% of the second rounds Williams has judged on the show. As mentioned before, there are three professional chefs who judge in the second round, so the overall decision is not always reflective of all of the judges. Sometimes, only two out of three judges agree on a winner, so the majority wins. But, overall, the second round judges tended to favor Flay’s interpretation in the signature dish round over his opponent.
Defeating Bobby Flay is definitely a challenge that many chefs have taken on, but failed to complete. Flay has beaten 192 chefs out of the 306 we have examined in this dataset. But, don’t be discouraged by Flay’s high win rate. Bobby Flay began cooking when he was 17 and graduated from The French Culinary Institute in New York City in 1984. Flay has over 40 years of experience in restaurants and cooking competition shows, so his culinary background and his ability to handle the pressure of competition cooking certainly gives him an advantage during the second round over some of his opponents who may not have been cooking as long as he has or have not competed in cooking competitions before. Furthermore, Flay specializes in French, American, and Southwestern (mix of Spanish, Indigenous, and European influences) cuisine, so his win rate is much higher for signature dishes in these cuisines. These factors explain why many second round judges tend to favor Flay over his opponent despite the round being a blind-tasting.
Since Beat Bobby Flay is still on air in 2022, we hope to analyze future seasons and see if there are any changes in Flay’s performance and win rate on the show. Additionally, we aim to do more research on Flay’s opponents to see if the signature dish they choose are representative of their cuisine specialty (i.e. a chef can specialize in French cuisine, but choose to create a Chinese dish in the second round in the hopes that Bobby Flay loses) and whether they won against Flay or not.
For now, we found that in order to beat Bobby Flay, it is best to practice cooking protein and vegetables to get past the first round and choose your second round signature dishes wisely, particularly considering dishes in Indian, Chinese, or Middle Eastern cuisine. You do not want to disappoint the celebrity judges that chose you to cook against Flay, especially not Alex Guarnaschelli who has the highest success rate on the show. Upsetting Flay in his own arena will certainly be a difficult task, but who knows? Maybe, you will be the next chef who says “I just Beat Bobby Flay!”