Iron Chef America
I've always had an interest in cooking and watched various cooking shows from time to time. I used to watch Great Chefs or America's Test Kitchen on PBS when the weather was bad on Saturday, but I never made a special effort see either show. After I started working for a company that manufactures kitchen tools, I found myself watching the Food Network on a daily basis. Initially I watched because I got an ego boost from seeing gadgets I helped design on TV, but the excitement of that wore off quickly, but I continued watching many of the Food Network shows, because I found them entertaining.
My favorite show on the FN, Iron Chef America, features a guy named Alton Brown. Alton is a comical character whose looks match his personality. He has thinning blonde hair that stands straight up, and he wears a streamlined version of Buddy Holly's horn rimmed glasses. He has a very in depth knowledge of cooking chemistry and is sort of like The Science Guy of the cooking world. His amusing antics and food expertise are part of what makes Iron Chef America such a fun program to watch.
Iron Chef America is a takeoff of a Japanese show called, you guessed it, Iron Chef. Each episode is a cooking competition with elements of Let's Make a Deal, WWF Smackdown , and old Kung-Fu movie, and American Idol all wrapped into a tortilla shell. The show's opening sequence tells the story of The Chairman and Kitchen Stadium. In the original Iron Chef, the story goes that Chairman Kaga built Kitchen Stadium in order to experience new cuisines. He hired the best chefs of various cooking styles and named them the Iron Chefs. The Iron Chefs accepted challenges of master chefs from around the world and competed in Kitchen Stadium, making dishes from a secret ingredient. The chefs' dishes were scored by a panel of three judges comprised of either food experts or pop culture celebrities.
In Iron Chef America, the nephew of Chairman Kaga, simply called the Chairman, has created a Kitchen Stadium in America to carry on the tradition of his uncle. The premise of the rest of the show is the same as the original. Unbeknownst to many people, both the Iron Chef America Chairman and his uncle are fictional characters created to add elements of legend and stature to the show. The two men are actually actors and not even related. Kitchen Stadium is also nothing more than two large restaurant sized kitchens assembled side-by-side in a television studio.
The fictional character of the chairman functions much like Vince McMahon, the owner of World Wrestling Entertainment. The Chairman announces the challenger who then appears after walking through a corridor and enters Kitchen Stadium through a set of curtains. Unfortunately, the challenging chef never has his own theme song like the Junkyard Dog's "Another One Bites the Dust" or "Eye of the Tiger" from Rocky III. I think they should. The challenging chef is then given the opportunity to pick who he/she wants to compete against from the four Iron Chefs: Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Masaharu Morimoto (an original Iron Chef), and Cat Cora. Once the challenge is announced, the two battling chefs meet in the front of Kitchen Stadium with the Chairman, who at that point has taken on the job of a ring announcer. The Chaiman says, "So America, with an open heart and an empty stomach, I say unto you in the words of my uncle: Allez Cuisine!" As he yells the words "Allez Cuisine," the Chairman makes the motion of a pronounced karate chop through the air, and the lid of a large vat is lifted to reveal the evening's secret ingredient.
In the original Iron Chef, the secret ingredient ranged from foods such as seaweed, eel, squid, and puffer fish. Fortunately, the secret ingredients on Iron Chef America are foods that most of us have at least tried at one time or another. The clock starts ticking immediately after the secret ingredient is announced, and the two chefs scramble to gather as much of the ingredient as they believe they will need for the competition. The following hour is a frenzy of peeling, chopping, frying, boiling, grilling, and whatever other cooking technique is necessary to produce five dishes per chef.
Alton Brown does play-by-play commentary much like Pat Summeral covering an NFL game. Alton explains the foods and cooking techniques being used by each chef to create their dishes, and often explains odd facts like why purple asparagus is purple. Sometimes Alton is stumped and has to ask the chef what particular spices or garnishes he is using for a dish, but that doesn't happen very often. Once the hour is completed, the dishes are presented to the Chairman and the judging panel. The Chairman samples all of the dishes but doesn't actually participate in the judging.
The celebrity judge is usually someone like Mo Rocca, Jewel, or William Shatner; people that have no business judging a food competition. Incidentally, William Shatner was almost hired as the host of Iron Chef America. The judges critique each dish and assign point values based on originality, flavor, and presentation. At the end, the scores are tallied and a winner is announced by the Chairman.
All of the Iron Chefs have winning records on the show, but sometimes the challenger emerges victorious. According to the opening of Iron Chef, "If ever a challenger wins over the iron chef, he or she will gain the people's ovation and fame forever."
My two favorite episodes were "Battle Frozen Peas" and "Batali vs. Trevino." The only reason the battle frozen peas episode is a favorite is because celebrity judge, Julie Powell, mentioned that "there's much peaness going on here, which is nice." (Watch here.) I don't know if she realized what she said, but it was classic. She also seemed to really enjoy the pea popsicle. In the "Batali vs. Trevino" episode, Chef Trevino was mixing a sauce made from honey and miso, a fermented bean paste. Alton Brown asked the chef, "Is that a honey, miso sauce?" Chef Trevino replied with a smirk, "No, it's miso honey sauce," to which Alton replied, "Oh, miso honey! Oh, miso honey! Chef love you long time."
Iron Chef America and the original Iron Chef air frequently, and you can check out the times on The Food Network