Ambiguity aversion on the Next Iron Chef

If you are a loyal viewer of the Next Iron Chef on the Food Network you may have noticed an interesting real-life example of ambiguity aversion on Sunday night’s episode. The term ambiguity aversion refers to a preference for known risks instead of unknown risks. The original experiment illustrating ambiguity aversion is the Ellsberg paradox. A version of this paradox is a situation featuring an urn with 50 red balls and 50 black balls and another urn that also has 100 balls but where the exact number of each color is unknown. Most people prefer the urn with the known probabilities of pulling a red or a black ball.

Four chefs remained at the start of last Sunday’s episode. In preparation for their final challenge, each chef was given the chance to select a locked safe with a “special luxury protein” inside it. The first three chefs to pick choose safes, which were opened to reveal lobster, wagyu beef, and moi fish. (A photo of host Alton Brown holding up the moi fish is here.)  The final chef to pick, Marco Canora, had won an earlier challenge in the episode for which he was awarded the following “advantage”: He could take one of the three proteins already revealed away from the chef who had picked it, or opt for the final mystery luxury protein in the remaining locked safe.

Keep in mind, this episode marked the semi-finals of a show designed to pick an actual Iron Chef and all of the proteins were advertised as “luxurious.” Canora had to know that the likelihood of opening the safe and finding ground round was clearly very, very low. Still, faced with the ambiguous protein in the locked safe versus the known three options, Chef Canora went with the wagyu beef. The chef he took it from, Ming Tsai, ended up with the mystery protein, mangalitsa pork, which derives its extra flavor from better marbling and fat quality than standard pork. Both chefs said they were happy with the outcome.

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  • David

    It could be ambiguity aversion. Or maybe Chef Canora just really likes wagyu beef.

  • Vince

    Assuming that the chef has a clear preference ranking of the four options, there is only a 1/4 chance that the final safe will contain his favorite. So he was smart to use his advantage, since taking his top choice from the first 3 options gives him a 3/4 chance of getting something that he prefers to the mystery meat.