You Dirty Ratatouille: The Betrayer’s Banquet, London
If you think revenge is a dish best served cold, then you haven’t tasted some of the entrées at this latest gastronomic exercise in immorality.
Two members of a criminal gang have just been arrested and put into prison, in solitary confinement. The police have got the men bang to rights on one charge, but want to make another accusation stick. In order to extract the information they need, they offer a Faustian bargain. Each prisoner is given a chance to betray the other: by fingering him for the crime, or to cooperate with their partner by remaining silent. The length of their sentence depends upon the choices they make.
If both of them remain silent, they will each serve one year in prison on the first charge.
If both of them betray each other, they will each serve two years in prison with the new charge added on to their sentence.
If one of them betrays the other, but the other remains silent, the betrayer will go free and his victim will spend three years in prison.
This is the famous prisoner’s dilemma. It’s generally thought that although it makes most sense to co-operate, most people will betray. This idea has made up a central plank of game theory since it was first posited in the 1950s – and all sorts of books about the benefits of being thoroughly selfish have been written off the back of it. What’s more, it’s fascinating. I mean, what would you do?
Personally, I don’t know how I’d react in such a situation. And, of course, being a law-abiding citizen and sterling all round goodie two-shoes it’s not really one I can relate to.
Aw. Who am I kidding? What’s more, I can relate it, because I’ve near as damn it been there. Not prison, I hasten to add. The yard-pounding and the shower-based fun will have to wait until Nipper of the Yard finally catches up with me. But in the meantime, I’ve still been able to put the prisoner’s dilemma to the test thanks to the bright sparks who put on the Betrayer’s Banquet.
As the name suggests, this is a unique combination of food, and doing over other people.
At one end of a long table diners are fed with delicious, nutritious, exquisitely cooked goodies, at the other they get rancid slops. In between, there are varying degrees of delicious and disgusting. The idea of course, is to work your way to the good end by successfully taking on the people sitting opposite you. You are given a token, with a knife on one side, and goblet on the other. The knife means treachery. If you choose it, and they don’t betray you, you move up five places. If you both betray, you both move down five. If you both choose the goblet, you both move up five. Simple. But brilliantly devious.
It took place a warehouse in fashionable East London, whose details were emailed to me only 24 hours before in the following terms: “Aspirant, your application to join the tournament has been accepted, and your initiation shall take place tomorrow, the first day of February. Between 7:00pm and 7:30pm sharp, you must…”
There followed a series of gloriously absurd instructions about giving special knocks and following finding google maps locations, which I duly obeyed. A man dressed in a cowl ticked off my name on a piece of paper illuminated by candlelight, gave me a playing card, and ordered me to “proceed” round the corner into a small dark yard whose only light came from an oil-drum brazier. There, any doubts about how much I was going to enjoy all this faux-medieval nonsense were smoothed out by several glasses of red wine. Now my only anxiety was whether I’d get to eat the bad food or the good food.
Happily, once inside, another man dressed as a monk ushered me in the direction I wanted to go. My card, the seven of hearts, positioned me just a few precious places from the top. Not in the first tier. But good enough that I was soon tucking into a delicious beetroot salad and plotting with the person opposite about how best to stay away from the other end. There, rumours flying up the table suggested, they were eating cabbage on stale bread.
Our plan was to keep on protecting each other and choose the goblet. At the high-end, it was in our interests to do so. Five places up made little difference. Ten places down meant eating cold gruel, chicken feet, and, eventually and cruellest of all, a kind of fruit salad that tasted of rancid ketchup. As someone pointed out, the event was turning into a microcosm of capitalism and the class system. We at the top were keen to help each other, and equally keen to do nothing for those lower down. Those at the bottom took bigger chances, had far more to gain by doing the dirty – and also were far more likely to be betrayed as a result. The only difference was that there was at least some movement from the top as every time someone leapfrogged your place, you had to move down one.
My luck held. I wondered if, in the interests of journalism, I should take the plunge start betraying, get a bad reputation and so be budged down to the other end of the table. But frankly, I was too keen on staying with the posh nosh. After a nasty encounter with some bone marrow, my repeated use of the goblet with various partners got me eating steak, quail, a nice fluffy meringue and some really tasty cheese. The conversation was good too. There was an aspect of speed-dating in the forced interaction with numerous strangers, and the pressing need to charm them. But that too was part of the fascination.
Occasionally, we would acknowledge a slight feeling of guilt about the people eating slops below us. A group of girls who had travelled all the way from Birmingham seemed firmly lodged among the stale bread and grey oatmeal, which seemed especially sad. But the truth was that they also actually seemed to be having fun. All that camp theatre, the excitement of the contest, the delight of moving higher, not to mention the bottomless wine combined to ensure hilarity and delight. I’d highly recommend going. And if you end up sitting opposite me, I definitely shan’t betray you. Promise.
Betrayers Banquets take place in London, approximately once a month. To subscribe to upcoming events and to book a place at the Betrayers Banquet table, visit the website betrayersbanquet.com.