The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs – Episode 1, “Primal: Heat and Meat”

You are going to eat my brain?

Or, “Neener, neener, Top Chef!”

Hello, I am Zin! And I will be your guide for The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs! I am not so sure about the Super Chefs part. It looks like they cleaned out the Food Network cabinets and poured all the loose chefs into this box where they can advertise their shows, like Chopped and those Impossible things, then had to add a few because they did not have quite enough for a whole series!

And those of us who know Top Chef well will recognize many heavy-handed interventions here. I do not believe any of this was accidental! For example: they timed this to start the same week as Top Chef Texas. Which is fine with me, the more the merrier! But the outcome of this show is pre-determined, I am sure. You do not make a high-priced casting decision based on the whim of a competitive reality show! Not even if you are Food Network, which makes many questionable decisions!

Alex Guarnaschelli is mostly known for Chopped, though she had a cooking show for a little while. I guess it did not do well, or she did not like doing it, because it only lasted a few months! She is best known for her fisheye! That is not a dish! That is Morimoto who plays with trout eyeball! When Alex tastes the dishes on Chopped, she looks up at the contestant and they can not tell if it is a “This is Great!” look or a “What the hell are you trying to pawn off on us” look! It is a really scary look! I think they prefer her as a judge than as a cook.

Robert Irvine is best known for being fired from Dinner Impossible for padding his resume to claim he cooked for the Queen of England when what he meant to say was he was in the British Navy, so in the same way everyone in the US Army serves the President as Commander-in-Chief, he cooked “for” the Queen. I guess. Then they decided that was a silly reason to fire him so they hired him back and gave him two more shows! As one of the contestants says, he is able to put together dinner for seven thousand using only a piece of string and a turnip! And he is trying desperately to be Gordon Ramsey with his recent Restaurant Impossible but even though they are both from Great Britain it is not quite working out that way. Not that Gordon Ramsey is anyone any sane person should aspire to be!

Anne Burrell is best known for being perennial sous chef for Mario Batali on Iron Chef (before they so cruelly cut him off). Oh, and she has a cooking show, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, which is pretty good actually, if only she would just stop trying to be cute and saying “Thank you for coming” to every piece of garbage before she throws it out. She has also done Chopped All-Stars (and did very well) and has done Worst Cooks in America twice, winning both times, I think! She is made of camera presence! I think she is the best bet to win this! She can probably cook, too, since she does in real life take care of one of the many restaurants Mario owns!

Beau MacMillan has a restaurant in Scottsdale Arizona and somehow got onto an Iron Chef challenge (he beat Bobby Flay). He did Worst Cooks once, but I suspect they do not like his camera presence much because he has not been on other things and they would have him on if they liked him. I have no idea if he can actually cook. But he does have a restaurant so he must be able to do something!

Marcus Samuelsson is actually a very well-regarded chef with the James Beard awards to prove it! He is probably the best actual chef here! He has been judging Chopped, at least a few times, but he is best known (on TV) for winning Top Chef Masters #2 which probably means he is here to lose so Iron Chef can jump up and down and say “See, we are better than they are!” I like him very much, he is an Ethiopian-Swedish-American, how can you not like that? A black Swede? That is pretty cool!

Geoffrey Zakarian is often a judge on Chopped, and he has competed on Iron Chef and was in the Chopped All-Stars competition (he did not win but it was brave of him to do it). He is also bankrupt. Except being bankrupt these days is not like being bankrupt when I was a kid; back then you lost all your money. Now you file for bankruptcy protection so you get to keep your money and do not have to pay your bills. I do not understand this, but that is how the world works now. That is how the 1% stays the 1%. Anyway, Zakarian can cook. And I give him credit for actually cooking in the competitions instead of just sitting back and judging That is not fair, though: competition cooking on TV is not for everyone, and I am fully supportive of that, but if you are going to judge people, you should at least try it. Alex.

Chuck Hughes has a show on the Cooking Channel which is the poor relation of Food Network. He is French Canadian which probably has little to do with cooking but they said it a couple of times. He is innocuous. He is here as cannon fodder.

Elizabeth Falkner I know from the very first Top Chef when she was on the sexy dessert challenge, ah, those were the days, Miguel disgustingly shirtless! She says she is like punk rock only not as loud. I am not so sure about that! She is famous for cake making and pastry but she has a restaurant in addition to her cake store and has been on Iron Chef so she is versatile.

Michael Chiarello has cooking shows on every channel of the dial! Wow, is that an anachronism, there are no dials any more, but you know what I mean! He too was on Top Chef Masters! In fact I think he met Spike there – Spike and other Top Chef people were chosen as sous chefs, Chiarello kept checking to see if everyone knew how to pronounce his name, which no one really did, and if they knew how to chop carrots, which was pretty insulting. He got into it with Dale Tilde! But Dale Tilde was looking to get into it, so that is not on Chiarello! He is a bit of a blowhard though. Chiarello, not Dale. Dale is just a frantic kid trying to make a name for himself!

And of course there is Spike. I am not sure how he weaseled his way into this group. He manages to weasel his way into a lot of places. He claims he first made a splash on Top Chef. Yes, he did a face plant right into the shallow end of the kiddie pool. Spike is a legend in his own mind. Spike has two DC restaurants, he has been on Top Chef, so he has the CV but he is such a twit I am pretty sure he is here only so they can say “Look at how much better than Top Chef we are!” Which, by the way, is a joke, Spike or no Spike.

Alton Brown explains the new format for this season: a Chairman’s Challenge, followed by a Sudden Death Cookoff Secret Ingredient Showdown (I think they could not decide which one to call it) for the bottom two finishers, followed by an elimination. Maybe they got tired of being accused of copying Top Chef! Only because they were! But everyone does, after all, Top Chef invented the modern competitive cooking show, right after Project Runway invented the competitive reality show. May it rest in peace. Do not get me started on Project Runway. I am still a Bitter Kitten™ (thank you TLo).

They all choose a match. One of those long grill-lighting matches. Spike gets the red match. That means he gets an advantage: to pick his teammate for the Chairman’s Challenge, and he gets to assign the other teams as well.

Spike picks Marcus Samuelsson. And he makes his assignments:
Robert Irvine and Anne Burrell since they have all that competitiveness left over from Worst Cook and from Chopped All-Stars where Robert has lost to Anne Burrell over and over. Ouch!
Alex Guarnaschelli and Elizabeth Falkner: he thinks there will be friction. I am not sure why.
Michael Chiarello and Chuck Hughes, because the French and Italian cooks always butt heads. Chuck is French Canadian, and Michael is American, but I do not think Spike, or Food Network viewers, grasp fine points like that.
Beau MacMillan and Geoffrey Zakarian are paired because Zakarian is prim and Beau is rough and tumble. I think Spike is going to find himself punched in the face if he keeps saying things like this. Spike is reading a Food Network script on this, I am sure of it. Though it is dumb enough for Spike to say, so maybe not.

Alton tells them they will be doing a simpler style of cooking, back to basics: heat and meat. The challenge is resourcefulness. I think they need an editor. They seem to have multiple names for everything. This is the Heat and Meat challenge. It is the Resourcefulness challenge. It is the Primal challenge. And do not forget, after this, there is the Sudden Death Cook-off Secret Ingredient Showdown. Please, people! Pick one! All of them are equally stupid so it does not matter which.

Wow, I have become Mean! And it is all because of Heidi!

Back to the task at hand: they will go into the wilderness. Maybe they will get lost and they will hire a new cast member through the usual audition process? No such luck! They will have access to wood. They will each have a pig. They will have 90 minutes. They will have pantries. Then will have grills and pots and things. And they must cook two dishes for the judges. The bottom team will do the Secret Ingredient Showdown, and the team mates will become competitors! Aha!

Things happen. Beau twists his ankle running. Zakarian builds a fire because he has four fireplaces in his house (maybe he would not be bankrupt if he had a smaller house). Robert Irvine steals the kindling. Spike gets “pure water” from a very brown lake (I am sure it is a very pretty lake in person, but it looked pretty rank on TV). Ears, tails, cheeks, tongue, brains, kidneys are used. Chuck Hughes talks about pig brains having a creamy voluptuousness, which is ironic timing since at the same time on another channel Hannibal Lecter is eating FBI brains (it is Halloween weekend, after all). Michael Chiarello says he saw some wild hyacinth, so he runs off to get that and comes up with wild mustard greens and flowers. I do not believe this was a coincidence, I think a producer said, “Hey, guys, over there, there’s some wild mustard greens.” I do not know what happened to the wild hyacinth, or why hyacinth would interest a chef anyway. But it is never mentioned again!

The judges are:
Michael Symon, Iron Chef, who appreciates creativity and presentation but wants taste to be first;
Simon Majumdar, who also thinks Taste is primary.
Judy Joo from Iron Chef UK (oh, for the old days, no one cheesed up Iron Chef like the original), who thinks taste is the third consideration but wants at least twelve foodgasms during this series. She is obviously the Paula Abdul of this panel. It is a tough job but someone has to do it. Is it too much to ask that they have someone other than the woman play the nitwit?

Because they have thrown in a Michael Chiarello and a Michael Simon and a Simon Majumdar, I am going to use initials for the judges, it makes it easier! Though that leaves me with MS and SM, but we will have to live with that, because I will not keep typing out full names! As for chefs, I see I am being inconsistent with using first or last names, but that is how it is, deal with it! (Heidi, how could you do this to me?). Maybe I will not mention them at all, how about that!?!

Anne and Robert: First dish, braised pork belly and pork cheek over sweet potato and shallot puree topped with asparagus and rhubarb spring onion salad. Second dish, pork leg porchetta rubbed with garlic and herbs, and a shaved artichoke salad. It goes over well except the pork skin on the porchetta is not crispy enough.

Spike and Marcus: first, pork stew; second, honey orange glazed pork ribs and citrus salad with apples, mint, and rhubarb. The stew does not have enough flavor, and needs something with crunch; the ribs are good but there is no meat on them – JJ calls them anorexic and SM says they are supermodel ribs. MS says eating them is aggravating. When eating ribs is aggravating, you know you have not done a great job. I wonder where they got these pigs. Were they on sale?

Zakarian and Beau: First, pork shoulder with barigoule (artichokes with vinegar and grilled pears). Second, spit roasted leg over scalloped salsify with rhubarb-raspberry sauce and pickled kidney. Good reception, SM thinks maybe too much is going on but execution is great, everyone loves the barigoule. I do not think I have ever encountered baragoule before, so I am happy to have learned something! Zakarian gets a point from me! But he will not be The Next Iron Chef, I do not think, I doubt they want a prim old man (Spike called him prim and he called himself old).

Chiarello and Chuck: First, crispy pig ear salad. Second: Grilled pork chop with duxelle of pig brain, potatoes and pork belly. Simon wanted more pig ear in the pig ear salad, it was more of a garnish, and felt the chop was undercooked, but appreciated resourcefulness, and others liked both dishes.

Alex and Falkner: first, pig four ways, and it is very complicated, so I will leave it at that. Mushrooms with pig ear, jowl with strawberry rhubarb, kidney with tarragon. Second: pork belly and roasted leg with spiced maple glaze over succotash of celery root and rutabaga with black truffle. The first dish was terrific, the second was not very good at all.

Alex worries. “Are you going to get a bowl of popcorn and watch TV with your friends and family if you’re on for one episode?” Not?

Zakarian/Beau, and Chiarello/Chuck, are the top teams. In the end, Zakarian/Beau win for the barigoule. They will have an advantage next week.

Spike and Marcus are the bottom team. Marcus says, “Spike is a wonderful kid, a wonderful cook, but now he goes from my teammate to my enemy.” Spike says, “Sometimes having the advantage comes back to bite you in the ass.” He knows all about that. On Top Chef Season 4, he had an advantage for a lunch challenge – he could pick things that no one else could use – and he picked chicken, bread, lettuce, and tomato so no one else could make a sandwich or salad. While others made great stuff like Italian Wedding Soup he made a mediocre chicken salad and would have lost if goofball Andrew had not decided to put pretend rice in his dish (it is a long story, there was a tattler and a fight, it was very Dramatic but pretty stupid). See, this is not by accident. This is a shout-out to Top Chef fans! Though we Top Chef fans are watching this as comic relief, not as a cooking show (with the exception of the barigoule which is actually a type of mushroom that lends its name to the dish – proving you can learn from anything if you try hard enough!)

Alton shows them two trays, one covered with red cloth, the other with black. He tells them, one is a trick, one is a treat, and as a team they have to decide which. These are stupid decisions, because it is all random. so they pick and they get diver scallops instead of canned tuna, which is good! And I do not for a minute think it was by accident either! Spike has a history with scallops! They would have to be frozen to make it perfect, but scallops, that is good enough. Someone is toying with us!

Marcus makes a duo of scallop: one is in corn miso soup, and one is seared with porcini, on a puree of celery, apple and corn. Everyone loves both dishes, though SM thinks the presentation on the second could be better.

Spike makes scallop Soffritto; he purees sauteed veggies, squid head, and scallop to make the sauce, and grates liquid nitrogen-frozen roe over the top. They all think it was very good.

SM sums up his opinion: he was impressed with the dish Marcus created but he enjoyed eating the one Spike made. In the end, Marcus wins, and Spike is out.

This is not a surprise; it is a poke in the eye of Top Chef! And no one can convince me it was not planned out exactly that way! In fact, I would not be surprised if Spike was in on it, and agreed to play the role! And he chose Marcus so Top Chef Master could be in the bottom two! I suspect Marcus and Chiarello will be out fairly soon, just because they are Top Chef Masters people (they are Food Network people now so they have to be treated with some respect by the show).

I think Anne Burrell will end up as the next Iron Chef. Because they need a woman to replace Cat Cora, and they need an Italian chef to replace Mario Batali. And she has the kind of goofiness they like on Food Network. She has been Camera Ready for years.

One thing is sure: they know already who will win. Just like Food Network Star, this is not a real competition; these people are known quantities, they know who they want in Kitchen Stadium, and everyone else is there to provide window dressing while they build a following and sell some advertising and promote everyone who has a Food Network show!

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