Next Iron Chef: Redemption (2012) – Episode 8, Passion; Respect

Brock Davis: "Broccoli House"

Brock Davis: “Broccoli House”

Hello I am Zin and guess what! Everyone wants to win!

First: Passion

Alex, Amanda, and Nate gather for their Last Supper in Las Vegas! Again the Last Supper, I am tired of Last Suppers, it was funny when Top Chef did it with people like Wylie Dufresne and Jacques Pepin but who cares what Zakarian and Donatella and Simon want for their last meals! And it shows! Because someone wants Haddock! Haddock? What kind of last meal is Haddock? And chicken! Farm chicken, as opposed to… factory chicken? They did not say free-range or cage-free, just farm chicken, and no matter how you feel about the Perdue method they are still called farms! Then there is Sea Urchin which at least is something I do not have in my freezer! The sad thing is they have to show their passion for these ingredients, but who can have passion for haddock?

I thought something was up with this, like the judges would turn out to be two kids who picked the chicken and haddock, but that was not it! The chefs do not know who asked for which ingredient when they cook! They pick envelopes so they do not know what they are getting!

Amanda picks Farm Chicken. She says her nickname is Chicken! I do not believe her! If anyone called me Chicken I would be insulted! Her favorite part of the chicken is the crispy skin, so she breads the thigh skin and deep-fries it! She calls her dish Lusty Lemon Roasted Chicken and serves it with lemon ricotta made with schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), braised dark meat, and roasted vegetables. Zakarian chose the ingredient for his last meal (I do not believe this!), and he thinks she pushed it just enough with the lemon and parmesan, and the chicken is cooked just right. Donatella calls it spectacular! It is seasoned perfectly, the veggies are luscious and she loves the ricotta! Simon also says it is cooked to perfection, the jus had depth, and it is one of the best dishes in the entire competition! Oh come on it is roast chicken! Roast chicken is a wonderful thing, one of my favorite meals in fact, but they are being silly!

Nate picks haddock! Poor Nate, he does not really have a passion for haddock (I love him for that), but he does love clam chowder so he starts from there, with bacon and potatoes and great big clams, and serves poached haddock and clam chowder with parsley buttered crumb topping to remind them of oyster crackers. It turns out it was the ingredient Simon is said to have chosen (no way!) and he was thinking fish & chips but the fish is poached perfectly and the broth is terrific! He does think the clams are a bit of a mistake, they are chewy and did not add much to the dish, and there is not enough smoky flavor. Donatella is not a big fan of haddock but she likes this, especially the parsley crumbs! Zakarian calls it the essence of fish cooked properly, and it brings back memories.

Alex draws Sea Urchin, Alex Under the Giant Sea Urchinwhich seems way too upscale for a last meal, but it turns out it was from Donatella so I believe it, she is the type who would pick the most expensive thing just because! There is so much room between haddock and sea urchin! Alex makes corn flan in the sea urchin shell with Brussels sprouts and roasted sunchokes, and a foam of sea urchin, lemon, and butter which is a departure from her typical style but she used it to represent the foam of the ocean! She thinks it represents her growth as a chef, but then she worries it is too esoteric, which is hilarious that Iron Chefs are now worried about being esoteric! In the judging room she worries because she is standing under a giant sea urchin! I did not notice, was Amanda under a giant chicken? That would be a dangerous place to be! Donatella was worried about the foam but it actually enhanced the dish. Zakarian thinks the custard could be more custardy! Simon likes the combination of sweet and briny, but wishes there were more lemon in the foam!

Amanda and Alex go to Kitchen Stadium! Nate disappears from the NIC universe!

So the persistent rumors of the Save card were wrong! I have to admit I had hopes until that moment that Falkner, or even Marcel, would be back and rescue us from complete boredom! I am glad there will be another woman in Kitchen Stadium, but does it have to be one of these women? Could they not find a real chef? I heard Naomi Pomeroy was moving to NY!

Kitchen Stadium: Battle Respect

The chefs are faced with a whole table of ingredients chosen by current Iron Chefs to represent their cuisines! Bobby Flay has selected things like corn, avocado, lime, and chilis, for Southwest cuisine; Michael Symon does Mediterranean food, so eggplant and olives represent him; Morimoto has Japanese ingredient like miso, daikon, wasabi, panko, and ponzu! They keep trying to squeeze in a product placement brand but I will not cooperate! The competitors must choose two from each group and make three dishes, an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert! This is like Chopped except you pick your own basket! Bobby, Symon (with a “y”) and Morimoto will join the usual judges on the panel!

Each chef gets two sous chefs, and guess who shows up for Alex, it is Ashley Harriman from Top Chef! She is the woman who was offended at having to do a Bachelor/ette party because she was not able to get married due to Prop 8! Did I know she worked for Alex when she was on TCS6? It is nice to see her! I do not know when this was filmed, but she has not worked for Alex since April! But I do not think it matters, because TC5 Ariane Duarte (she won the Today show gig for putting tomatoes and watermelon on the same plate) was sous for Amanda, as she was few years ago when Amanda was a challenger, and she does not work for Amanda! They do seem to cook together sometimes though!

Alex makes a different course for each specialty.

Appetizer: miso and soy seared scallops with miso marinate shallots and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and she puts bass in the sauce to give it more body! Symon likes that she used the Japanese ingredients but the dish is in her style. Simon loves the miso but one of his scallops was overcooked though the other was perfect. Zakarian loves the dish. Morimoto is very happy with her use of miso.

Entrée: Lamb loin with fennel and olives, and ratatouille over eggplant puree. She is worried about making lamb for the King of Lamb, as she calls Symon but he thinks it is perfect and likes how she wrapped it in fat to cook it. Zakarian loves the eggplant, it is like a luxurious baba ganoush.

Dessert: With the Bobby ingredients pasilla chilis and lime she makes a cherry tart with sour cream ice cream! Bobby says at first he did not get the chili and then it hit which is the magic of chili, and he thinks it is brilliant and inspired. Simon loves the sour cream ice cream. Donatella thinks it is the best dish she has ever made, and Zakarian likes it the best too, it is bursting with flavor. I am a big fan of cherries, maybe next summer when I make my version of cherry pie I will work in some kind of gentle chili and lime!

Amanda combines the cuisines in each course.

Appetizer: Feta Burrata Caprese in a Milk Skin, which sounds kind of disgusting, but it is cheese in cheese so I guess it is good! She makes a Milk Skin, and puts in Feta then twists it up to make a ball and puts it over tomatoes. The tomatoes are seasoned with ponzu, lime and shiso. Symon wants to steal the idea, it is super creamy! Zakarian thinks it is gutsy but I am not sure why! Bobby likes the burrata (which is a cheese, I am not exactly sure what this dish actually is), but wishes there were more shiso and ponzu. Morimoto tastes them just fine! Maybe Bobby has burned out his taste buds on so many chilis!

Entrée: Lamb Loin with charred eggplant pureed with yogurt and chermoula. Simon and Symon both love the eggplant, it has a meaty texture and is not bitter. Donatella thinks it is balanced and yummy!

Dessert: Brown Sugar Corn Cake with miso honey praline ice cream and blueberries with ginger. Morimoto asks her about the miso, she used white miso, he says that is good! Bobby could use a little sugar but Donatella likes it less sweet and appreciates the use of miso in the ice cream! Simon likes how the natural sweetness of the corn works with the miso and is interesting and tasty!

The chefs go away for a while and the judges discuss! They split on the appetizer and dessert but everyone agrees Alex made the best dessert, though Simon thinks it was closer than everyone keeps saying, the miso honey praline ice cream Amanda made was really good! Zakarian says Alex had the perfect execution but Amanda showed more creativity. Alton says Amanda mixed great components in an interesting way, while Alex took an alchemist approach and melded flavors into something new like cherries and chilis. Symon says Alex made his favorite bite of the day.

Alex and Amanda come out to get the verdict! Alex can not remember her name or her address or what she had for breakfast! Did she hit her head? I hope someone makes sure she gets home safely!


Decision:

The Next Iron Chef is… Alex.

So the conspiracy theorists were right! Her first battle will be next Sunday against Judy Joo!

Iron Chef is taking the Reader’s Digest approach to cooking competitions: get rid of anyone who might be too interesting and bring on the familiar and safe Food Network staff! But maybe Ashley will be her sous chef, that would be fun!

Thank you for joining me on this journey! See you in the summer for Food Network Star!

Next Iron Chef: Redemption (2012) – Episode 7, Transcendence

Hello I am Zin and it is time for Magic!

I am sorry to say that means David Copperfield! He is superfluous so he goes away quickly.

Here is something I noticed: Marcel acts like he has never been to Las Vegas! He lived there! They cook for part of the episode in Joël Robuchon, where he was a Master Cook (even before his Top Chef days), and you would not know it from this episode! Is it a secret?

Something else I noticed: He is auditioning for something. I do not know what – I do not believe they are going to let him be an Iron Chef – but he is doing all the fluff stuff and cooperating with the nonsense in a way that tells me he has plans to stay on television! It is somehow disappointing, like when Nadia G breaks her Bitchin’ Kitchen character and becomes just another boring ordinary blonde!

Chairman’s Challenge:

The word of the day is Transcendence! I would like to quiz everyone on set and ask them to define that word. It literally means “going beyond” in the same way “ascendance” means “rising above.” The prefix “trans” means “across, beyond, over, across” type words, and is from the same ancient root as the word “through.” So I suppose in cooking it is something that is better than what has been done before, maybe that takes the item to a new level of wonderful. I think they should stop trying to use such concepts in this show because it is something a of a travesty. Amanda is halfway there when she says the words “transcendence” and “buffet” should not appear in the same sentence. But it is easy to transcend a buffet, yes, because the bar is so low?

That is what they must do: in two teams, create a transcendent Las Vegas buffet featuring… bacon! Two cold and three hot dishes per team!

Since Amanda won last week she gets the advantage of picking her partner, and she picks the person who has the same mentality about food: Nate! Just what mentality about food does she think Alex has, I wonder? Not picking Marcel, I understand. He is clearly the Other, the vehicle through which Food Network chefs display their superiority.

That means Alex is stuck with Marcel. She interviews, “I’m excited about this” fairly deadpan then turns to the side with a disgusted look like she can not believe she is mouthing such crap. That is pretty cheeky for someone who was not good enough for Amanda to pick!

The losing team will head to the Showdown where the pair will stop being a team and will become competitors! Amanda is not happy because she did not know that when she picked Nate! I would love for her to finish that thought and say who she would have picked, who she thought she could beat!

The Fashion Director of some low-budget fashion magazine is on the judging panel. Who is this guy? This is crazy, there have been no guest judges all season, why now? And for the love of all that is holy, why him? He seems to be the visual consultant, which is pretty silly. They are throwing all these publicity hounds into the mix this late in the game! But I do not think his opinion matters much.

Amanda and Nate:

They decide to make everything petite! Instead of an all-you-can-eat buffet it is a buffet of teeny-tiny things! Amanda is upset with Marcel because the 25 lb. canister of sugar is at his station and he will not get it down from the shelf for her because he is cooking! I suppose this is to show us what a bad person he is. She is making an homage to Elvis, a play on his favorite peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Amanda makes a salad and Nate makes country-fried bacon for it by flouring and deep-frying it! He learned this from Good Eats! Poor Alton, I wonder if he had to stop making Good Eats because he now a born-again eater! Nate also makes crepes to redeem himself from the teppanyaki challenge, and he makes bacon peanut brittle which sounds amazing. He does not know from decorating buffet tables, but he knows it must look better than the other team so he pulls some drapes over boxes for height which is a good idea.

BLT Salad with country-fried bacon, romaine, avocado and tomato and bacon-jalapeno-lime vinaigrette: Zakarian loves it as a starter! Simon thinks the dressing is absent.

Lobster and Canadian Bacon crepe: Zakarian thinks it is delightful!

Potatoes and Asparagus roasted in Bacon Fat with maitake mushrooms, asparagus, Canadian bacon and sherry vinegar: Donatella loves it, the magazine guy calls it “pure buffet food, perfectly done.” Is that good or bad?

Honey-Mustard Pork Belly with bacon-and-cheddar biscuit: Donatella thinks the mustard is a little “forward.” Zakarian agrees the mustard is strong but he likes the kick!

Brule banana with peanut butter pudding and bacon peanut brittle with a cherry on top:

The magazine guy says they need a lesson in draping, it should fold under. Donatella says they did not fight the buffet, they embraced it and – guess what – took it to another level! I think they should ban that phrase from all cooking shows!

They are the Winners so they will both be in the Finale!

Marcel and Alex:

Alex says she and Marcel share a French sensibility so that is where they are headed. Alex roasts chickens wrapped in bacon (I saw that on that Ultimate show Tyler Florence had for ten minutes when he went somewhere to watch great food being made by experts, until his budget got cut and he ended up just making stuff and calling it the Ultimate). Marcel says “Pretty birds in a row all golden brown is one of the sexiest things I have ever seen” which makes me wonder if Ilan was right in TC2 when he said Marcel had never had sex. Marcel makes chocolate bacon mousse which Alex worries about because the texture is not right. She is making streusel topping with toasted pecans, butter, bacon fat and sugar to make crispy little nuggets of flavor! He pressure-cooks pork belly then wraps it in bacon so he can call it “bacon-wrapped bacon” but it is really pork belly. Alton seems to question leaving the fat on, but I think the point of pork belly is the fat! I do not get it, it seems disgusting to me, but that is what chefs seem to do! Then again Alton has been on a diet for several years so he has probably not seen any fat lately! Alex blanches leeks and makes a sherry and bacon fat vinaigrette, plus hard-boiled eggs chopped with parsley to mix with them! Alton tells her leeks and bacon are best friends! Yes, Alton, I bet that is why she thought of it! She is a chef you know! Marcel sends Alex out to decorate the buffet table with vases of fruit, and for some reason she goes, but she is not enthusiastic. When they set up at the end, he rearranges the table because he wants it “cleaner” which is pretty obnoxious.

Leeks and hard-boiled eggs with bacon vinaigrette: Zakarian says the leeks are undercooked which is a major flaw. Simon agrees. Yay, they agree on something!

Lobster with bacon beurre monté with roasted fingerling potatoes: Zak thinks everything tastes pretty similar.

Bacon-wrapped chicken: Simon says it is very juicy. Donatella thinks it transcended something! The magazine guy does not like that the chickens were piled in a chafing dish “like golden bowling balls,” it was unappealing. Wait – they were kept warm there, then taken out for carving, yes? It is not like the guests had to fish one out?

Bacon-wrapped pork belly with Brussels sprouts: Donatella calls it stellar.

Bacon Chocolate Mousse with Streusel Topping: nobody likes it, it is grainy and the streusel overwhelms it. Donatella thinks it is the worst dish of the day.

They are the losers and go to the Secret Ingredient Showdown to see who goes to the final challenge!

Secret Ingredient Showdown:

It is no surprise that Alex and Marcel are sent to the Showdown! Even the dishes that did well were not lavished with praise like even the worst dishes of the other team were! No one has ever accused the Food Network of being subtle!

It is the first time Alex has ever been in a Showdown! How did that happen? It is the third time for Marcel. There are a lot of conspiracy theorists over on TWoP who think the fix was in for Alex from the start since she acts as sous chef for Zakarian on ICA, but I did not realize she was never in a Showdown before! Maybe they are right! I would like to see a woman back on Iron Chef (and more color) but I am not enthusiastic for either Amanda or Alex like I was for Falkner!

The Secret Ingredient is: Chocolate Candy! All kinds of Candy from one Candy Company! White chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, peanut butter and chocolate candy. They must make a savory holiday dish using two different types of candy in 30 minutes!

There is a problem with these Holiday theme shows, including Chopped and Top Chef: for all the screaming about using local and fresh ingredients, they are filming these in the summer so any holiday produce they bring in is either imported (and not as fresh) or forced. Then they end up making summer produce which just seems silly! But that is TV cooking!

Alex makes duck breast and a salad from her childhood of fennel and dried cherries with white chocolate shaved on top as “snow” and pink peppercorns as Christmas balls! She also has a duck heart that is dipped in egg wash, breaded in panko, and fried, then dusted in dark chocolate, and red wine onions in red wine balsamic and bay leaf covered with grated chocolate. Donatella loves the heat (what heat?) and the touch of sweet so it is a success! But the duck heart was underseasoned! Simon thought using duck with chocolate was smart! She made a lot of things – duck, duck heart, salad, onions – but I am not sure grating chocolate over everything is all that creative! But the duck heart and all those components get her points! It is one of those things that no one would ever bother to cook. Or eat. I would not eat it for Christmas dinner. If someone served me a little breaded duck heart on my plate I would think they hated me!

Marcel uses lamb as a traditional holiday protein (I thought lamb was Easter, spring?) so he sears and roasts a whole rack, but it is not cooked so he has to cut it apart and finish off the chops! If he watched Chopped he would know the rack would not cook in 30 minutes! It never does! He makes a caponata which he describes as a mix of “summer vegetables” – see? Summer veggies are not Christmas! But what they have is eggplant so he does the caponata with dark chocolate and milk chocolate on top. And he makes a risotto, which makes everyone groan because risotto = fail! Then he burns it! Then he starts over – which is pretty amazing since time is ticking away – with sushi rice to speed up the process, and adds white chocolate and curry spices. After they finish cooking, he goes over to Alex and says “Good battle, Chef” and she seems taken by surprise! I do not think they consider him one of them, he is an Interloper! At judging, Simon says he shuddered at the thought of white chocolate curry risotto, but it is the best thing on the plate! His lamb is undercooked – “If it had been any more undercooked it would have been following Bo Peep around” – and is a little tough. Zakarian likes his lamb, it is perfect, and the risotto is delicious! Donatella likes the eggplant, which acted like a sponge for the chocolate!

And the winner is… Alex! SoMarcel is out! But I have a feeling he will be back in some capacity on Food Network! He did too much oohing and aaahing over David Copperfield!

Next Week:

Finale! I do not know how that works, do they throw someone off then have the Kitchen Stadium thing? I thought they had that in a separate episode! But maybe I am misremembering!

Next Iron Chef: Redemption (2012) – Episode 6, Fusion

"Shrimp Attack" by Kerstlin Arvesen - yes that is really what she titled it!

“Shrimp Attack” by Kerstlin Arvesen – yes that is really the title!

Hello I am Zin and we are going to a Vegas wedding!

On the way there, the Chefs all give little speeches: “I am here to win;” “I am here to be the Next Iron Chef.” I wish one of them would say “I am here to make money and be famous!” You can tell it is getting late in the season when I start getting cranky!

The Challenge:

Alton meets them in a wedding chapel and they notice there is food all around! “Nothing says Las Vegas like a quickie (pause, pause) wedding.” Naughty Alton! They have 45 minutes to make a dish that marries very disparate ingredients like clams and strawberries. See – that Mr. O’Reilly said that if you let gays marry, people would marry turtles next, and here we are with squids marrying marshmallows and chicken livers marrying peppermints! But no people are involved so maybe he will not mind!

Marcel was the winner last week so his advantage is to make the assignments. That is a good advantage! Nate is worried because they have had little tussles and he could really do damage. And Marcel says, “I want to save myself and murder everyone else.” That is the American Way!

All of the hysteria is really out of proportion! Most of these people have been on Chopped! Amanda and Alex are judges on Chopped! They have seen people use combinations like these! With asparagus and rye crackers as well and only 20 or 30 minutes! So stop all the groaning!

Amanda gets calamari and marshmallows! She takes the sweetness out of the marshmallow by adding horseradish, which sounds like a really good idea, and also makes a Hungarian paprika coulis with it. She is trying to deep fry the tentacles and there are Skittles in the fry basket from the dish Mehta was doing! “It just feels so rude.” She is making barley and has trouble with the pressure cooker and Nate helps her (“I plan on winning with integrity” he says) . So she serves grilled marinated squid with marshmallow horseradish cream, paprika coulis, crispy tentacles and a barley-marshmallow treat (like Rice Krispies treats only with barley, that sounds like a really good idea too). But it is not a good idea because her squid and sauces are great but the treat is tough! But Zakarian says the paprika is brilliant to take the calamari on a little tour.

Marcel takes peanut butter and blue cheese which is the least terrible combination! He is talking about being an outsider and they are really playing that for all it is worth! The rest of the chefs seem to hate him, but it is not like any of them would have given away the easiest combination. He wants to show that even though Falkner is gone there still is someone who can make desserts! He makes all sorts of things: blue cheese ice cream which is maybe the most normal thing; peanut butter powder; peanut butter praline; and tawny port fluid gel (which is a lot of trouble to go through but I know what they are talking about, it is a non-Newtonian fluid! Wow I never thought I would get to use my knowledge of oobleck! I am so excited!). Alex is worried because compared to her rustic dish: “It looks souped up and technical.” It turns out the sandwich Simon most loves is blue cheese and peanut butter! I do not believe him! I do not think Simon has ever eaten peanut butter in his life! But he likes this dish, it is like salted caramel. Donatella prefers more sugar in her desserts but it is great anyway. Zakarian says “I do not like this dish” and Marcel looks sad but he continues: “I love it!” Cheesy fake out! But he thinks the tawny port gel is bitter and is a throwaway but the marriage will last 50 years! As Marcel leaves Simon says “That boy could be the next Iron Chef” which means he probably will not be! That is too bad, I thought he got a raw deal in TC2 and even though he has been a bit of a jerk since then, like on All-Stars, I still have a lot of residual affection for him! And they seemed to be creating this “lone wolf” persona for him! But I do not think they could stand having a Top Chef on the show since Alton has been so snooty about it!

Alex has to marry chicken livers and peppermint! I do not think anything goes with chicken livers, I think they should breed chickens without livers so no one ever has to mess with those awful things again! She tries to melt the candy but it turns pink and chalky like antacid so she melts it in balsamic vinegar which is probably a good idea! She gets mad at Marcel because he is in her way. She makes chicken liver mousse on toast with a bistro salad of watercress, grilled radicchio, and fried shallots with shaved peppermint. Simon likes it. Zakarian would like more candy which is not what I expected him to say! Donatella said it is good, but in the end it is chicken liver on toast with a salad and Alex is very good at playing it safe! Uh oh!

Mehta is given bone marrow and Skittles. They call it fruit candy but I assume it is Skittles and they just would not pay the product placement fee, what other kind of fruit candy is there that looks like M&Ms? He does not like the annoying artificial aftertaste of the candy so he melts it with fenugreek (which in addition to being a spice is used as a supplement for all sorts of things like increasing milk flow in nursing mothers and enlarging breasts) to remove the processed taste of the candy and then mixes it into chimichurri, makes lime fruit candy fennel bread with pickled fennel, and makes chili lime fruit candy by drying and reshaping the lime Skittles into balls, deep-frying them, and rolling them in salt and chili. That sounds like a very good idea! And a lot of use of the candy! So his dish is grilled bone marrow, pickled fennel, chimichurri, and the candy balls. Donatella thinks he killed the candy too much! Zakarian calls him a marrow expert but the marriage did not work! Simon disagrees and thinks it all went together well, twice he says he disagrees with Zakarian, and Zakarian says “I heard you the first time.” Now now boys do not fight!

Nate has clams and strawberries which does not seem all that bad. He makes acqua pazza which Marcel made a couple of weeks ago! But he uses strawberries instead of tomatoes because they are both sweet and acidic. I never understand when people call tomatoes sweet, they do not taste sweet to me. He makes cavatelli pasta which happens to be something Donatella makes! And compressed raw strawberries. Everything is good except the pasta which is undercooked and tough, though Nate thinks all of Italy would disagree with that assessment!

The Decision:

Amanda and Marcel made the best dishes! But Amanda had that chewy barley treat, yes? No matter, Amanda wins because Marcel had an easier ingredient and as Alton says, the strategy was not lost on the judges! Oh come on everyone would have done exactly the same thing! They are playing us now! But Amanda is happy and she is the only chef who has won two challenges!

Alex is safe even though her dish was very safe and lacked peppermint because it was delicious! See they change the criteria whenever they need to so they can force the showdown they want! I bet any of them could make a good chicken liver dish, it was the peppermint that was the challenge!

Mehta is in the Showdown since they think he showed “contempt” for the candy by stripping it of its essence! That is nonsense! If he had used it they would have complained that he did not transform it! And those little candy balls were pretty interesting though I do not know how they tasted. But they thought his marrow and chimichurri needed something to cut through the fat. He says “It was raining and I did not have an umbrella but that does not mean I am going to drown in the rain.” I am not sure what that means but it is cute!

Nate is also in the Showdown because even though he got the ingredients to work together well his pasta was bad!

The Secret Ingredient Showdown:

They are in a Japanese teppanyaki restaurant so they must use the teppanyaki tables to cook: Shrimp!

Nate thinks pancakes: okonomiyaki just like the ones my dear Takashi Yagahashi made on TCM4 in their teppanyaki challenge! Which just goes to show you everything NIC does TC did first! Maybe not everything but most things! And just like Takashi, Nate runs into trouble with the pancakes: they fall apart the first time when he pours batter over the ingredients so he tries again by pouring batter and then putting ingredients on top and it works better. Marcel is calling out encouragement which is nice! He adds peas, pea shoots, kaffir lime, and of course the shrimp, plus he uses the bodies and heads to make shrimp oil for a vinaigrette: “It is a shrimp attack!” Alex does not want to meet him in a dark alley with the expression he has on his face! At the end he decides he needs something dramatic so he puts a shrimp head on the griddle and sprinkles on grated ginger and yuzu. He tells the judges to squeeze the head and drizzle it over the pancake! Donatella loves the head! Zakarian says it is balanced and he wants to keep eating! Simon thinks the pancake is dense and chewy and wrong. Nate seems to have trouble with flours!

Mehta cooks his shrimp with cumin and mustard seed and it is the most loving dish he has done in the competition! It is his best childhood memory from India! Alex says, “The sleeping cobra is having to get up out of bed and writhe around on the floor” which also makes no sense, someone must be writing these lines for her and I think it is a crazy person! He also makes a mung bean salad and some breaded shiseido peppers which is a new ingredient for me! But I do not like peppers and one is just as bad as another. Still I like knowing about them. Simon thinks the shrimp is beautifully cooked but there is a disjoint between the shrimp and the peppers. Zakarian does not see any disconnect but he has little seeds in his teeth and some of the shrimp was overwhelmed with cumin seeds! Donatella says it is soulful and well-balanced.

The judges talk: it was not the best showing for either chef, so it is a matter of which is least forgettable. It did not sound like that when they did the tasting!

But in the end they decide the shrimp head was a spectacular little flavor packet so Nate is safe and Mehta is out! And Marcel goes back to being nasty in a side shot: “You can kiss your NIC title goodbye!” That is not nice!

Next week:

David Copperfield (the magician, not the book) and a Las Vegas Buffet!

Next Iron Chef: Redemption (2012) – Episode 5, Risk

Hello I am Zin and today is all about Risk!

This episode starts off with great drama! An aircraft hangar! Chairs! A huge flag! Paddles! Domes! Eighteen wheeler trucks drive in! What can it be? Falkner thinks it is the Hunger Games and live animals are going to come out of the trucks and eat them! Marcel is thinking live cows! None of it is necessary by the way: they could have done the challenge in the same studio, but it would not have been as dramatic!

The Challenge:

It is the Auction from last season! The whole episode Alex and Falkner are talking about last time when Anne Burrell won the week before so had the advantage and put Zakarian in the bottom, but then ended up in the bottom herself and then lost to him in the Showdown. So it is all about whether this year will follow the same pattern!

If you do not remember, the chefs have to bid time on each ingredient (“I can cook that cow head in 75 minutes… I can cook it in 70 minutes), but they do not know what all the ingredients are so the longer they wait, the more they risk getting stuck with something they do not want. And the last person gets the last ingredient and automatically gets five minutes less than the least cooking time, so the last person is completely screwed!

After they cook, Falkner will pick someone to be in the Showdown, though we will not know who until the end, and the judges will pick someone as usual! I am not sure what would happen if they picked the same person! But that is silly, of course that would not happen, this has all been carefully choreographed in advance, I am sure.

The Dishes:

Item One is a rib of bison, starting at 75 minutes. Nate thinks the butchering is too time-intensive and the ingredient is not risky enough so he ignores it. Alex wins it at 45 minutes. She makes a sauce by pressure cooking the bison and adds some cow tongue and fat she steals from Marcel! “I think if you really want to win sometimes you have to steal a little,” she says! Wait, that is a terrible thing to say! I mean it is fine on NIC, it is all a joke, but she should be ashamed of herself for advocating stealing to win! Of course Marcel was ok with her taking the stuff anyway, so it probably was not stealing, they probably just added that in at the end to ramp up the excitement! She makes spice-rubbed bison steak with pommes Anna which sounds very fancy but is a very simple potato cake made only with potatoes, butter, and salt! But she cooks it with some of the fat from Marcel. Falkner thinks the steak is a little rare. Simon and Zakarian think the use of the tongue and fat worked, and it was cooked perfectly. Donatella tells her the risk is supposed to be what you do with the ingredient, not in stealing something! I wonder if Alex is beginning to feel a little confident, she is the sous chef for Zakarian when he does ICA after all! But she is safe all around!

Item Two is cow heads! Falkner and Marcel bid, Marcel has never broken down a whole head before but he will try, he gets it at 50 minutes. He braises the tongue in one pressure cooker, the cheeks in another, and the leeks in a third! His usual process for tongue takes seven days but he is speeding it up! He makes “tongue and cheek” – hey, Blaise made that for the Top Chef All-Stars finale! He won, too! And when Edward Lee was on ICA, that was his theme ingredient! Or ingredients. He makes them with white corn polenta. Falkner thinks it is pretty tough and needs fat. But Zakarian calls it his most modern dish, and elevated! Donatella agrees, it is well-balanced and delicious! Simon notes that the pressure cooker sometimes brings doom but it is a terrific dish and he is now a serious contender! Aha! Redemption! I wonder why it was tough when Falkner tasted it, I wonder if they have to cook the stuff for the judges after Falkner tasted, like they do on ICA after they make the single plate, so it had more time to cook. Except Alton kept telling them to make sure they made a plate for Falkner. I do not understand the logistics, but I do not think the stuff sits around as long as it appears.

Item Three is paiche, a fresh-water fish from the swampy waters of the Amazon basin. That is true, but I suspect the fish they have there is farmed in Peru, because it is a protected species due to over fishing (!) and there is now a limit on wild caught fish which does not allow for export, maybe, it depends on which website you look at, and only recently has farming been possible. Just what we need, Iron Chefs cooking endangered species! Falkner and Amanda go for it, and Falkner gets it at 50 minutes. She calls it “alligator meat” and “some kind of giant goldfish” but I do not think that is right, it is compared to sea bass or black bass, though it is a fresh water fish. It has these huge scales so she is frying them to make chips, which could work, I have seen that before (Edward Lee again, but on Top Chef Texas). She makes pan roasted filet with the loin smoked and grilled in a ceviche (I do not understand, it is cooked, is that still ceviche?) with a Peruvian corn salad and the chips seasoned with smoked paprika. Unfortunately everyone hates the fish scales, but Donatella likes the corn and Zakarian likes the fish.

Item Four is a huge wheel of Parmesan cheese! Mehta thinks it is the least risky ingredient so he does not bid. Amanda gets it at 40 minutes. The biggest problem she has is getting the wheel open, she pounds and chops and it takes her a while to get it to split. She makes parmesan ice cream and parmesan almond shortbread with basil soufflé, a prosciutto crisp, grilled fig, and pomegranate molasses. I do not understand, ice cream and a soufflé? Is that a meal or just random stuff thrown together? She calls it a cheese course! Falkner thinks the soufflé is slightly underseasoned but applauds the ice cream. Donatella thinks something is too salty (maybe she adjusted after Falkner said it was underseasoned?) but risky, and Zakarian thinks the soufflé is too eggy, more like a frittata.

Marcel wonders: “Mehta, Nate, do their paddles work?” They have not bid on anything!

Item Five is Ostrich Eggs, and now the guys bid like crazy! Mehta takes it at 25 minutes. He has never used ostrich eggs before, but he says the albumin is more watery.He knows Zakarian is a soufflé connoisseur, so he makes yogurt soufflé and ice cream with French toast. Falkner tells him the soufflé is not as successful as he wants it to be! Zakarian thinks the soufflé is bland, Simon agrees but loves the ice cream. Donatella loves the salt and sugar.

Item Six goes to Nate and he will have 20 minutes to make something with a gigantic Mortadella sausage! Mortadella, that is cold cuts! At least it does not require cooking! Nate cuts off “just the tip” (giggle) and goes for mortadella foam! He calls it mousse and says he is putting it in the whipper but it is a foamer! He wants it light and airy. He makes mortadella and polenta fritter with mortadella mousse and a fennel, pistachio and raisin compote. Falkner calls the mousse “not your best effort” which sounds ominous! Zakarian thinks it is tasty and well constructed but an odd dish. Donatella does not like the mousse, and Simon says, “A blessing from the Pope would not save the mousse.” Uh oh! See, everyone makes fun of Marcel and his foams, but he at least knows how to make them!

Judging:

The judges name Marcel the winner! That is quite a comeback! Amanda is second in spite of her seasoning missteps. Neither of them were named by Falkner so they are safe! Alex made the tastiest dish but she was also the least risky so she only comes in third and she is also safe! Mehta had a bad soufflé but he is safe!

That leaves Nate and Falkner, and she named him as her choice for the Showdown and he is the pick by the Judges as the least favorite, so they are up against each other! And everyone ooohs and aaaahs that this is the same way it happened last time to Anne Burrell!

The Secret Ingredient Showdown:

The ingredient was voted on by viewers at the FN website: Anchovies! That is a good ingredient! I hate them, but chefs like them. They have all the varieties, fresh, white, oil and salt packed.

Nate is ready for blood: “She put me in the bottom, she no longer exists to me now.” Wow, that is heavy! He is most worried about controlling the salt of the anchovies. He makes an anchovy Spanish tortilla (like a frittata or pan omelet) with anchovy romesco sauce and an anchovy aioli and blanched kale. Simon loves Spain and he captured it; the aioli is the best thing he has made in the competition. Zakarian loves it too! Donatella thinks the tortilla is slightly underseasoned and did not get much anchovy in two of the components! I wonder if she is tasting the same thing as the other judges!

Falkner does a classic Caesar dressing with mustard, anchovies, olive oil, garlic, and lemon in the blender, but then puts it in alginate for spherification! Marcel, he is an expert at this, he worries she will not have enough time, because it needs to rest to set the membrane, but it works fine and it looks great on the plate. She calls it Caesar bursts with pasta alla sarde (pasta with sardines) with raisins and pine nuts. Simon thinks the saffron is too strong. Donatella agrees but it is taking her to Sicily. Zakarian thinks the saffron is too much, but she took more risk.

The Final Cut:

Donatella says, “Nate cooked food we want to eat, but Falkner took risks.” So since the theme of the day, Falkner is out! What? That does not make sense! Still they all agreed she had too much saffron while only Donatella thought Nate had a problem, so I guess it does make sense. So the Curse of the Auction remains! And it is all nonsense anyway, I do not believe anything the judges say, it is all a matter of who gets the most screen time. I am surprised they let Marcel stay this long! But I hoped Falkner would be the Next Iron Chef. Oh well, Maybe next year!

Next Week:

A Vegas wedding! Peppermint and Chicken Livers! This sounds like Chopped!

Next Iron Chef: Redemption (2012) – Episode 4, Transformation

What a lot of fuss over.... this?

What a lot of fuss over…. this?

Hello I am Zin and tonight the chefs are Transforming Canned Meat! Alex: “This is not gonna be pretty.” That is right, but the fun part is in the Showdown! But we have to get there first! Patience!

Transformation: The Challenge :

Alton explains they have to redeem the reputation of canned food through transformation! I think there is something wrong with the use of the word “redeem” in that sentence (which implies that the reputation needs to be restored to its original good standing) but no matter, he points out Spam, corned beef, Vienna sausage (“You have been to Vienna? This is not like that!”), clams, and three cans of different sizes with question marks for the adventurous! Everyone picks, and then Amanda can steal whatever she wants if she is not happy with the can that is left.

Falkner takes one of the question marks, and does not recognize it when she opens it, it is dark brown liquid but she tastes what is in the liquid and it is roast beef! And it is dry even though it is in the liquid! I am not sure how it could possibly be dry – she even has to drain it – but “dry” is what food people say when they do not like something. She starts with the idea of Beef Bourguignon and makes a Bordelaise Sauce using cognac. She roasts root veggies in foil, then makes gougères with truffles (little cheese puffs) to bring to mind Yorkshire pudding. Zakarian loves the velvety winey flavor and Donatella is impressed she made something awful palatable, though the gravy maybe needed some acid burned off. Still it is good and she is the Winner!

Amanda does not steal from anyone but takes the Corned Beef that is left: “Let them go down for what they choose, not what I choose.” She makes these square potatoes that look really cool. She has a terrible time opening the can, it is one of the old-fashioned kind with the keys, but finally she just gets a can opener. She says it looks dog-foodish once she gets it open! Yes, I know what she means! A few years ago I got a can of hash, because I remembered it from when I was little and I thought it was pretty good, but it was an awful gelatinous mess and very greasy. She mixes some corned beef with mustard greens and bacon fat, makes a mustard cream and some rye croutons for an homage to corned beef, a deconstructed corned beef sandwich! Zak calls it five-star camp food, luxurious and extravagant, though the sauce was not reduced quite enough. Simon: “It makes me want to carry you off and make you my chef forever.” Ewwww. Donatella questions whether the corned beef itself is the star of the plate or is more of a garnish, which is interesting, it is really a salad with a little corned beef and bacon sprinkled in. But it is quite good and she is safe!

Mehta takes a question mark can and finds out he has chicken! I so hate canned chicken, when my cat was so sick I tried to feed her canned chicken and it was pretty disgusting, though I like real chicken. Mehta: “I need to redeem canned chicken by making it stand out like a lion.” He coats it in arrowroot batter to remove the canned taste and makes chicken pakora with green curry and rice. He knows the rice is mushy but can not do anything about it now. Donatella likes it a lot, it is perfectly seasoned with beautiful heat and the chicken is juicy and transformed! Zak calls it genius. Simon agrees, but the rice is overcooked. Alton is sure to prompt him (it must not be his turn to be in the bottom): “But it did not ruin the dish, right?” and he says no, not at all.

Nate also takes a question marked can and is pleasantly surprised to find Tuna! But it is dry (again, it is in water, how can it be dry?) and devoid of flavor (how can tuna be devoid of flavor, it smells to high heaven!). He decides to do tuna three ways. He makes tuna putanesca sauce which is appropriate (the name means “of the whore” and was called that because sluts would not go get fresh ingredients but use things in cans), with capers and olives, then purees more tuna into pesto, makes some ricotta gnocchi, then freezes tuna with liquid nitrogen and grates it onto the top to look like parmesan cheese! That is the sort of thing Bobby Flay does, using the Secret Ingredient in every component of the dish! He is worried the pesto is salty. Zakarian likes the idea of the shaved tuna. Donatella does not think the two sauces go together, and so it is transformative, but not all that good. Simon does not like the pesto at all, it has a metallic taste. Still he approached brilliance by shaving the frozen tuna so he is safe!

Alex gets Spam and makes sugar snap pea ravioli with crispy spam, basil pesto and fried sage. Donatella says it is like eating grass, and Simon calls it “Kermit in a blender” but gives her credit for turning the ingredient into something light and fresh. Zakarian says it tastes better than it looks! So even though she served pureed lawn clippings she is safe!

Marcel got to choose first and he took clams! He makes a clam cake, acqua pazza (crazy water – a tomato broth) with the clam juice, and simmers kale in it. He hopes they appreciate his restraint and more mature plating style! But he serves it in a super-wide-brimmed bowl with a little ceramic cloche, so it is still kind of flashy! But at least he does not serve it in the can! Alton is making faces as they all taste; Simon compliments the presentation but it is very salty and is one of the worst bites he has had all season! Donatella agrees, and Zakarian says there is something else unidentifiable in addition to the saltiness. Alton calls it inedible! Marcel: “It’s kind of a major mistake.” Kind of? (By the way, I am watching ICA as I type this and I see a piece of marinated fish on a scallop shell, a piece of fried fish on newspaper, which the challenger must have brought it with him, a copper dish nestled in a bed of salt on a platter, and something in a half orange! Not to mention a big flower served on one dish! And no one complained!) But oversalting is another matter, and he is obviously in the Showdown!

Spike gets Vienna Sausage and turns it into a Vietnamese crepe! Maybe he was matching words? Vienna and Vietnam? He uses mushrooms, ramps, and nuoc cham (a spicy Vietnamese sauce) for his crepe. Simon is worried about the heat (Spike interviews he brushes his teeth with nuoc cham and there is nothing wrong with that sauce) and Zakarian thinks it would have been better as an omelet rather than a crepe. It is missing cohesion! He is in the Showdown!

Oh no! The two buddies have to do battle! Spike says he and Marcel were friends playing frisbee “back when we were nobodies” which makes me so sad that he thinks they are not nobodies any more! But I think they will get the message by the end of this show!

The Iron Chef Kitchen Stadium Secret Ingredient Showdown Challenge:

The Secret Ingredient is revealed: Lobster! It sounds like they used a recording of the Chairman to call out the word, or is Alton imitating him? I suppose since the first challenge had such difficult ingredients, they are using something easier, the opposite of what they did last week when they could use anything they wanted in the first challenge but had cereal for the second.

Marcel and Spike are nice to each other! They yell “I love you man.” How dare they? The other Chefs watching hate it! They get mad! Alex: “This is not a showdown, this is a brodown!” Amanda: “Are they working together?”

It is crazy how they all pretty much gang up on these two Top Chef guys who are clearly outsiders and pick on them for… being friends? It is so strange, the same thing happens on Project Runway when one designer helps another finish a garment, there is always someone who will complain but here everyone is complaining! This makes me really sad because I still remember how Marcel was so bullied on TC-S2, and you know what, now that I think about it, I think maybe this whole bro-thing and outsider thing and all the criticism is playing on that incident! Maybe to make him an underdog, maybe to capitalize on his TC notoriety (a lot of people hate him), it is interesting, because people who felt sympathetic back then will feel sympathetic again, and those who hate him will hate him again, so it is kind of an all-purpose typecasting!

But the real fun starts when Marcel and Spike decide to plate together! Except not really, it is just that the bowl of soup will go on a big plate that contains the salad! It is not like they made a lobster pie and one made the meat and the other the crust and toppings! They are two separate dishes, just in proximity, like soup and salad! I do not get the big deal but the other chefs are outraged!

Nate: They are making a mockery! (This show is all about mockery!)
Falkner: You do not win Iron Chef as a pair! (Anyone ever tell you not to do something?)
Amanda: They are breaking the rules! (Like using the canned corned beef as a garnish?)
Alex: This is unprecedented! (Like a woman heading up a kitchen?)
Nate: It is the worst decision they have ever made! (like leaving a major NY restaurant to work at Chipotles?)
Amanda: It is an act of defiance! (Just like the judges in Japan did not like Bobby Flay standing on a cutting board at the end!)
Mehta: It is a race and only one person finishes! (Yes, Mr. Serial Killer!)
Donatella: It is arrogance! (Can you spell that?)
Zakarian: We are being played (Like going bankrupt rather than pay your employees!)
Alton: Maybe I’ll have to talk to the Chairman about that! (You mean the dancing actor?)

These chefs are really being ridiculous! I think it is fun, and unexpected, the sort of thing an Iron Chef would do! I wonder if the producers have engineered this whole thing! And they are missing the point, they were two separate dishes!

Spike wants to make food that makes people want to go home and have sex! Or fall asleep! Wait, that is not the same thing! He makes laksa and lobster noodles using the meat from the tails pureed with egg and scallions then squirted through a pastry bag into boiling water! He is on a Vietnam kick today! They try to build suspense about whether or not the noodles will work but of course they do!

Marcel makes lobster and mango salad. He makes hibiscus gelee which really takes 48 hours to heat, cool, and thicken it but he is doing the quick version with liquid nitrogen to make a sauce! Then he makes black bean chili sauce! And seaweed (I think someone said it was kombu). Say what you want about Marcel but that is a lot to do in 30 minutes!
Marcel interviews “When I become the Next Iron Chef not only can Spike be my sous chef, he can stand on the podium and go [swoosh-swoosh with his head]. Marcel, sweetie, that kind of comment is the reason so many people hate you!

They play with the whole “you first, no you” thing, but Spike goes first, and that turns out to be a mistake for Marcel! His dish is cold and more delicate, it should have gone first so it would not be affected by the spicy laksa!

The judges hate the plating idea but love both dishes! In fact it is for both of them the best dish they have made! But Marcel wimps out when the judges ask if they should both go home together! That is too bad, they should have taken a stand!

In the end they reward creativity and originality so Spike is out and everyone gets to look smug and superior while clucking at Marcel.

Alton: “No one on the other side of that wall wishes you well.” Wow, they should pay royalties for using his Top Chef persona so much!

Next week: Cow heads! Auction! “I can cook that cow head in 55 minutes!”

Next Iron Chef: Redemption (2012) – Episode 3, Simplicity

Hello I am Zin and I am all about Simplicity!

The Challenge:

Our chefs meet at a Farmers Market! Alton looks pretty spiffy but maybe in time warp, he is wearing a windowpane jacket, white shoes and a straw boater!

We have a Special Guest, Todd Selby, journalist, illustrator, and photographer! He is probably hoping someone will realize his book Edible Selby is just right for the foodie on your Christmas list (it is quite beautiful, his website has an extensive sneak peak) but he does not mention it and I respect that so much I will mention it for him! It is quite a cute book! The photo above is part of the Table of Contents!

He is there to take pictures of all the chefs at the Farmers Market to capture their personalities! Alex is not in a mood for fooling around, she wants to know how this relates to the challenge! But Alton just says “All will be revealed” and herds them inside.

Marcel tries to figure out which is his good side. Todd gets a pretty cool pic of him stirring caramel in a huge cauldron with a wooden paddle, because as Todd says, he is a Mad Scientist! That is true but how did Todd know that? I think he must have had a briefing!

Eric is a grilled cheese master so he is photographed holding an armful of cheeses that say “I am juicy and delicious!” I am not sure what juicy has to do with cheese, but I stick with pretty basic cheeses myself.

Mehta adores spices so of course he is in a spice shop! Amanda is happy doing what she does so she is smiling, it looks like she is behind a deli counter handing over a package of sliced ham to someone which is a pretty pathetic idea!

Falkner and Spike get to make pizza, and Spike does a very good job of tossing it!

Appleton butchers a huge slab of beef! And Alex is stuffing sausage into casing! I wonder if there is a hidden message in that! Alex tells Nate he looks homicidal in his photograph! She is right! And Falkner notices all the women are smiling! They are! And none of the men are! That is really interesting! Is it because women are expected to look pretty and men are allowed to look threatening? Or is it just that these women are smilers?


The pictures of the men are also much better than those of the women! The men look like interesting portraits and the women look like snapshots! I wonder if that is the women, or the photographer!

Now Alton tells them the challenge: in a previous season, they had to prepare one bite that showed their personality. This time, they have to create a bite that reflects the personality of another chef! Nate says: “I don’t know what Chef Guarnaschelli tastes like. I don’t know what Marcel tastes like. I know what carrots taste like.”

By the way, I would like to point out that while this is a pretty interesting challenge, it has nothing to do with simplicity, which is the theme of the week! Caviar, sea urchin, foams, soufflé, anchovies, this is not simplicity! Do not pretend it is!

Because Mehta won last week he gets to pair everyone up, and each pair will compete against each other with one chef from each pair going to the Showdown!

The Cooking:

Falkner is fierce so Mehta pairs her with Amanda. I think he has insulted someone!

Amanda thinks of Falkner as misunderstood because everyone thinks of her as a pastry chef but in her photograph she is in an Italian trattoria! So she wants to use the most misunderstood of ingredients, anchovies! She makes spaghetti with Sicilian anchovy sauce! Falkner likes that idea! And the judges love her dish! Zakarian loves her story! They are all crazy about it! Hey, it is a great concept, but the dish, it is spaghetti, let us not get carried away! But she is the Winner of the pair and the Winner of the challenge!

Falkner makes sea urchin with avocado cucumber puree and caviar because she has seen the twinkle in her eye and she is sexy like the sea urchin! Ok… This is hilarious! Donatella did not get all that from the photo – so, wait, she is saying Amanda is not sexy? Zakarian likes the plate, but Simon thinks it is flat which is definitely not Amanda. Falkner is bummed. She missed the theme again! She is in the Showdown.

Alex and Marcel end up together because “they both have opposite spectrums of work.” I am not sure what that means, but it sounds like someone is being insulted and I would bet it is Marcel!

Alex goes high-tech to capture Marcel! She makes souffléd goat cheese on toast with honey and shattered lemon: the toast is like the paddle he is stirring the caramel with in the photo, the honey is the caramel, and the liquid nitrogen shattered lemon and soufflé is a nod to his fondness for high techery! Zakarian loves it! Donatella loves the lemon but Simon does not get lemon and scolds Alex for inconsistency! I think he is just being contrary! She is Safe!

Marcel thinks Alex has that motherlike quality (really?) so he wants to include eggs, and he includes butter because that is the name of her first restaurant, and in the picture she is making sausage so he throws in some chorizo butter, plus some truffles because she spares no expense. Alex is ok with being characterized as scrambled egg! This is breakfast, yes? Truffled egg with sausage and croutons and a foam? Oh Marcel, you just had to do the foam! Zak thinks it is playful and technique driven but there is not much there there, it needs more substance! Donatella also thinks it is like eating a lot of air! Simon does not disagree but appreciates the homage. He is in the Showdown!

Nate and Eric will play opposite each other. Eric says “Nate is the last guy I want to tangle with” while Nate says “This is a softball, he is easy.” I wonder if that means he is easy to capture in a plate of food or if he is easy to beat!

Nate butts heads with Marcel over truffles (it is ridiculously complicated: Nate pushed Marcel at the refrigerator so Marcel will not share, they are like four year olds!) so now they are Enemies! “That will come back to bite you!” He sees Eric as a happy man and what makes people happy is big, bold flavors so he goes for a brazen bold shameless surf and turf, prawns, tri-tip, béarnaise, caviar, truffles! Simon warns him about using luxury ingredients to impress judges but he admits the dish worked in balance. Donatella calls it indulgent and great. Eric is happy: “I am luxury personified!” Nate is Safe!

Eric takes his cue from the photo of Nate: the look in his eyes says “devil” so he does deviled quail eggs on sea urchin with pancetta! The sea urchin because Nate is prickly and dangerous on the outside but elegant inside! Typing this is a giggle fest! Zakarian is looking for more devil in the egg, but Simon thinks it is just the right amount of heat, and he too sees the devil in the eyes! Simon is dismayed that he has to choose between them but he must so Eric is in the Showdown!

Mehta takes Spike for the same reason Alex put him on her team last week! Everyone seems to think Spike is the clown of the group! I will not argue with that! But Spike says not to let the “hairy face and messy hair” fool you, he is here to win! His hair is the least of his problems!

Spike thinks Mehta is slippery and you have to keep your eye on him so he makes bacon-wrapped shrimp over apricot chutney! In the picture he has creepy eyes so he is like the shrimp, with a hard exterior but inside is pure bliss and sweetness! Zakarian loves the apricot chutney and the shrimp is cooked perfectly! Donatella does not think bacon makes sense with Mehta, and Mehta says his third world background did not teach him about bacon, oopsie! Still he is Safe!

Mehta knows Spike is Greek and he was making pizza in the photo so he makes pizza dolmas with chorizo and eggplant! Simon likes the idea but the execution was flawed and the heat is too pronounced. Donatella agrees and it is also a bit soggy. Zakarian disagrees, he loves the “delightful marriage” of cheese and chorizo, he felt he was eating Spike! Spike is not sure he tastes like soggy dolmas! I think Food Network should really stop trying to be cool with the double entendres because they are not good at them! Poor Mehta, he thought he was going to trounce Spike but Spike is safe and he is in the Showdown!

Secret Ingredient Showdown:

And the Secret Ingredient is… Cereal! Specifically, Rice Krispies and Raisin Bran! Oh no, I so want Rice Krispies now, they are almost a craving! I rarely buy them because I go through the box in a really scary short time, I love cereal but it is such a waste of calories I only buy the ones I do not like that much! Rice Krispies are perfect for when I am feeling very tired or in any kind of pain (they are easy to eat, you do not even need to chew them). But back to the chefs! They must use both cereals in one dish! Everyone is confused, what can you make with cereal? Oh come on, have you guys never seen Chopped? Eric is upset because he is up against “three pastry chefs” which made me mad at first, because that is usually an insult, but I think what he means is that cereal lends itself more easily to dessert dishes and everyone else has done more of that than he has!

Falkner makes a variation on tartufo bianco which literally means “white truffle” but just as truffles can be mushrooms or chocolate, so can white truffles be mushrooms or ice cream coated with marshmallow! She makes what she calls a giant marshmallow, apparently skipping the ice cream part, and folds in the Rice Krispies for a lighter kind of Treat, adds the raisins from the Raisin Bran to the chocolate ganache which sounds really good! I do not know what she does with the bran part of the bran. Then she has to set the ganache, and they only have such a short time so she uses liquid nitrogen! See, everyone is playing with the toys that only a few years ago were dismissed! Simon tells her he is going to send her to the Showdown round every week because it is there she does her best cooking! Zakarian calls it simplicity itself, which finally works in the Simplicity theme, though I think it is a stretch to call this simple! Donatella is happy she reinvented the Rice Krispy Treat (funny how all the chefs know all about such a mundane item) and Falkner wins the Showdown! Yay!

Marcel has Spike cheering him on, which makes sense since they are kind of the outsiders –
Top Chef interlopers – in this group! He does a take on cereal with milk, because that is what cereal is for! He makes coconut ice cream and a variation on rice crispy treats (which I hate by the way, go figure) and you knew someone was going to do that! He serves it in a coconut shell which is probably going to get him in trouble, but if he were on Iron Chef they would love it, that is how these things are! He is very confident! And that is ok, because they like it! Zakarian calls it yummy and he used smart technique in perfect balance! Donatella loves the ice cream and says Falkner better watch out for him! You know she is in no danger from Marcel but it is nice that they say that, I do not know why there is this ice cream mystique on this show, I think maybe the viewers like it when people make ice cream so they encourage contestants to do so by praising it so they will do it more often! Simon likes the dish but calls the coconut shell “juvenile” and says it looks like there was an accident in a tiki bar! He is an old poopy face! The shell has lots of coconut so it makes sense to me, you can dig some out as you eat your ice cream! But shell or not Marcel is safe!

Mehta makes crab cakes and a kind of chevda which is an Indian snack resembling Chex Party Mix! Simon likes it, he remembers it from his childhood! Donatella likes the crunch of the crab cake but says it is greasy, though Simon disagrees (of course he does) but Zakarian also disagrees, he thinks it is the best dish Mehta has done. Mehta is very restrained during his interviews and he says “One of us has to go home but it will not be me” in a way that reminds me of Hannibal Lecter! Maybe that is why he appeals to me, for a murderer and cannibal Lecter was a great character! As it turns out he is right, it comes down to Mehta and Eric and it was pretty obvious but Mehta is safe!

Eric has Nate on his side because of course the enemy of my enemy is my friend! But no one understands why he picks tuna, the meatiness does not go with cereal! But he poaches the tuna in olive oil and crusts it with the cereal. Zakarian does not think it works but not because of the meatiness, it is because tuna is a lightweight protein and the dish lacks fat! Simon disagrees (of course he does!) but thinks the sunchoke puree clashes badly! Bad news, and Eric is out!

Eric is angry to be out! Alton tells him he was outcooked and he make him repeat that, then stomps away (and it looks like there was something missing in there, maybe he argued more or he asked “Is this where I am supposed to act really angry?” or something) and in his interview insists he was not outcooked and they were wrong!

This season is working out pretty well, the challenges are interesting (I really liked the photo challenge) and the food has a lot of variety and I am seeing new things, like Indian Chex Mix!

Next week: Canned food! We all know much chefs love to work with cans!

Next Iron Chef: Redemption (2012) – Episode 2, Innovation

"Art of Innovation" -  Poster by Martha McGinnis representing a speech given by Guy Kawasaki

“Art of Innovation” – Poster by Martha McGinnis representing a speech given by Guy Kawasaki

Hello I am Zin and this week the Next Iron Chefs have to innovate global food!

Here is how it works:

Alex won last week so she gets to divide them up into three teams according to which food they will cook: falafel, tacos, or banh mi. Then they will all make their dishes, elevating and innovating the hell out of them, and one person from each group will go to the Showdown!

Banh Mi Group:

Greenspan also uses an Italian inspiration, with panzanella (Italian bread salad) and a trio of pork in the banh mi. He makes pork ceviche: the raw pork is frozen then shaved super thin on a meat slicer and then cured with citrus, which would make me awfully nervous but I guess I am not sophisticated enough for raw pork (and do not try to convince me the citrus cooks it)! Donatella is so used to getting grasshoppers from him, she is happy to have regular food! And I am sure he is happy to cook regular food! Zakarian does not get the marriage of the panzanella and the pork trio (oh, Zak, what is wrong with you, it is a deconstructed banh mi), but Donatella does, she would marry him on a first date for this dish, it is that sophisticated and smart! He is the top dish in the group even though it was not cohesive because the panzanella was so good!

Nate Appleman is not happy! He does not innovate, he is a purist! But that is too bad, he will have to innovate anyway! And he is not sure what to do because it is already a pretty perfect thing, a fusion of Vietnamese and French food! But he has to do something, so he thinks of soup and sandwich, banh mi and… pho (a Vietnamese soup with its own website)! Pork belly and short ribs for the pho, chicken liver for the banh mi. But he worries his broth is a little salty. He calls it “meatball pho with chicken liver crostini.” The crostini is to include the bread of the sandwich and get a charred flavor! Zak says it is exquisite! Simon and Donatella agree the broth is a little salty! But it is good enough and he is safe!

Falkner thinks she will use pasta instead of bread: banh mi ravioli with pork sugo (Italian meat sauce), and pickled veggies and spicy mayonnaise! But she has trouble with the pork, it is not cooked when it comes out of the pressure cooker, so she purees chicken liver and pork loin for the sugo and turns the pasta into wide strips like papparelle! She adds lemon grass, and anchovy for umami. Donatella does not think the sugo looks appetizing (well of course not, it is not supposed to!), and something, the pasta maybe, is dry and mealy. Simon thinks the plate is a mess, and what is it with the fusion confusion, Italian and Vietnamese, and by the way the pickles against the pesto is harsh! Wow, that does not sound good, (and it does not make sense since he did not complain about panzanella or crostini, but that is pretty much what you can expect from these clowns) but he says the pasta is superb, still, it does not rescue the dish, it is the weakest dish he has ever tasted from her! I wonder if they actually remember all the dishes they have had on that show, not to mention all the other things they taste over the course of a year! It is so weak she is in the showdown group!

Falafel Group:

Mehta uses a meat grinder for his chickpeas because a food processor will make them too pasty! He and Marcel get into it over changing the temperature of the pan Marcel has on the stove but I am not sure what happened there, I will come back and edit if I figure it out when I see the rerun! Basically Marcel is feeling sabotaged and Mehta thinks he is a whiny sucky baby! Spike sees what is going on and says no one should try that with him, yes, you say it, tough boy! I do not like Spike! But that is why he is here! Mehta mixes Mediterranean with Asian and comes up with a rice paper wrap with hummus, and accents of chili oil, yogurt sauce, and cucumber! Simon loves the crunch and though it looks less than glorious it tastes glorious! Donatella thinks it is pretty (she and Simon are playing off each other on the judging panel disagreeing as much as possible, this is a tired ruse and they should stop it, it used to be Steingarten who played this role but now it is Simon). Mehta is not only the group winner, he is the overall challenge winner! For some reason I like Mehta, I love his voice!

Marcel wants to use different textures! He pressure cooks garbanzo beans in black sesame tahini, fries some other chickpeas, sticks in a crispy pita, and serves them in a bowl held in place on the plate by raw chickpeas! Oh no! He calls it “Chickpeas three ways with black tahini” and one of the judges calls it a parfait, which is cute! But they let him have it for using the raw chickpeas as a sandbag! “Rubbish” says Simon! Zakarian thinks it is completely odd but completely delightful! He is safe!

Amanda is happy with this challenge since she uses Mediterranean ingredients a lot! She makes a spinach falafel with a hummus flan and some marcona almond tahini and a crispy green salad! Then he worries she might have put one too many things on the plate! She puts baking soda in her falafel to keep it light, that is interesting! Many recipes use baking powder. She tells them she took apart the elements and brought in Indian fare (Indian?). Simon likes the individual elements but they do not work together! Donatella loves it more than the original! And poor Amanda, her dish was beautiful but not innovative so she is in the showdown!

Taco Group:

Alex makes Maseca-battered squash blossoms and yellowtail crudo with a grapefruit sorbet. Other than the Maseca I have no idea what any of that has to do with tacos! But it sounds classy, and I want some grapefruit sorbet right now! Just typing it makes me crave it! She made the sorbet because she screwed up ice cream once before, she over-turned it, and she wants to redeem herself! But she almost over-turns it again, and Alton tells her, “When redeeming yourself, it is important not to damn yourself again!” Zakarian loves it! Donatella calls it sublime and gutsy and is impressed that the batter is not greasy! Simon would never equate this with tacos, and he loves the sorbet but he is not sure about the crudo! Alex is the group winner!

Spike wants everyone to know that Alex made a mistake putting him in the same group with her (it probably means she considers him easier competition) because he is In The Zone! I see, that is why you were in the showdown last week, that is the zone you are in, you little twerp! I do not usually get mean, I am not a mean Zin, but Spike annoys me, he is the Paris Hilton of the culinary world! He makes a fish taco using crushed corn tortillas to crust the fish and puts the other ingredients on a composed plate, which does not sound like a very good Zone! He tops them with corn sauce and includes avocado balls. Donatella loves the heat and the crust, and the fish is light. Zakarian calls it a solid dish but it needs another level of innovation. Simon tells him to leave the melon baller at home, this is Next Iron Chef, not Next Home Dinner Party Cook! I actually thought the avocado balls were a good idea and I was thinking about making them that way, tossed in vinaigrette, served with tomatoes and cheese for my next salad, but then again I am a home cook so their point is good! But Spike is safe!

Dusky is insulted that Alex put her in her own group, because it implies they are the weakest competition! Yes, it does! So? You got a problem with that? I am just mad at Dusky because she took the spot away from LeeAnn Wong or Madison Cowan, and because she looks like Olga Korbutt (I try not to judge people on looks, I really do, but there is something about her that irks me. But it has nothing to do with her behavior or her food so it is not really her fault or her problem! I just need to acknowledge my biases so they can be taken into account). She goes for a twist on soup and salad, which has nothing to do with tacos but why not, and makes taco soup with fried tortillas and panzanella with duck cracklings (which sounds amazing by the way). Simon is overpowered by the cilantro! Zak disagrees, it is fun! Simon does not think she met the challenge, and she is in the showdown!

Sudden Death Secret Ingredient Showdown:

Staring Dusky, Amanda, and Falkner! The Secret Ingredient is: White Bread! They all sneer at the loaves of white bread on the table! It is not so much white bread as it is white sandwich bread, which is beloved by schoolchildren (and those of us who still like to sometimes make little balls out of it, even now that we know better) but not chefs!

Dusky thinks breakfast: bacon, eggs, toast! So she makes egg yolk ravioli (which is the sort of thing chefs love but I would vomit just looking at) with ricotta cheese holding the yolks in place, and bacon-and-brown-butter crouton, which also sound really really good! I think making ravioli in a half hour is pretty impressive! Then she sprinkles a little bacon salt over it, which also sounds cool. Oh, there is such a thing as commercial bacon salt, it is salt with bacon flavoring added, and it is vegetarian and even kosher, gee, why bother, I like the homemade real variety better, it is almost-burned then pulverized bacon with salt and pepper added! That sounds cool, I think I might make some! This is the most exciting thing to happen to salt since Carla Hall made pea salt for her chicken pot pie! See, even if you take an irrational dislike to someone, she can teach you something! Donatella loves the light pasta, Zakarian wanted more effort with the bread but Simon thought the croutons were superb but it is not a bread dish, it is a dish with bread in it.

Amanda says she has a 1-in-3 chance to win. No, no, no! I am so tired of people saying that! If the selection of the winner were random, she would have a 1-in-3 chance, but this is a matter of skill! If I were to compete against any two of these chefs, I would not have a 1-in-3 chance of winning! Just ask Nate Silver, he will tell you all about probability! Anyway, Amanda makes pork meatballs with bread crumbs and a speedy tomato sauce. She starts with a panade which is bread soaked in milk, instead of bread crumbs. But she sprinkles parmesan breadcrumbs over the meatballs! And she serves it all with grilled eggplant! That sounds like a lovely meal but the bread is even more hidden than in the first! But Zak calls it “marvelously integrated!” I call foul!

Falkner does breakfast too! Bread and breakfast, I guess that makes sense! She makes a monte cristo (I have never thought of that as breakfast, brunch maybe, but whatever, it is one of my favorite things in the world!) using goat cheese and then she makes French toast ice cream by griddling the crust in butter and adding cinnamon and nutmeg and throwing it into the ice cream machine (presumably with an anglaise in there somewhere). Breakfast is such a wonderful meal! Simon uses words like “perfect” and “wonderful” and “stunning.” Zakarian likes that she used and integrated the bread perfectly!

The Verdict:

The Monte Cristo with French Toast Ice Cream by Falker not only wins the Showdown, it is one of the five best dishes ever on NIC! Yay Falkner!

Between the other two it is a matter of who best showcased bread, and that is Amanda (which is bullshit, by the way, though I like Amanda and I am glad she is in, but putting bread in meatballs and topping them with breadcrumbs does not sound like showcasing bread to me).

So Dusky is out. If I were her I would be miffed.

But I think all of this is decided well in advance, especially with chefs well-known to the public! They know who viewers want to see, and everything else is just a matter of distributing screen time! But it is still a fun show, and I still learn something from it!

Next week:

They have to make a dish that reflects the personality of another chef. Ooooooh, this could get nasty! Lots of vinegar and spoiled milk! I think the quote from Nate Appleman will go down in google history: “I do not know what Chef Guarnaschelli tastes like. I know what carrots taste like.” I would guess that Chef Guarnaschelli tastes nothing like carrots.

Next Iron Chef: Redemption – Episode 1, Resourcefulness

I always knew kale would get somebody, some day!

I always knew kale would get somebody, some day!

Hello I am Zin, and welcome to the 2012 version of NIC! I thought about just changing the titles and names and seeing if anyone would notice but that would not be very nice, so we will move on and see what The Chairman has in store for us!

Previously on NIC:

The theme this year is Redemption, or, “We are using the same crop of celebrity chefs because real chefs will have nothing to do with us!” In theory all the contestants failed in a prior season, except for a couple of newbies who failed at other things! Which makes it pretty silly, but the Food Network, like the Republican Party, does not worry about consistency and logic!

There has already been a pre-competition! On the Internet! I did not watch it, but I hear Duskie Estes, LeeAnn Wong, Madison Cowan, and Roberto Trevino were the contestants and I was hoping either LeeAnn (almost-finalist on TC1, and the technical producer for five seasons after that) or Madison (who became a breakout star when paired with Lance Nitahara on Chopped) would make it! But no, Olga Korbut (aka Duskie Estes, the resemblance drives me crazy) is back!

The Ins and Outs and In-Betweens:

The format is the same as last time: First, a Chairman’s Challenge, and then whoever does the worst in that does a Sudden Death Secret Ingredient Showdown which seems like an awfully long name for that! I think they wanted to get the word “Death” in there but also the whole “Secret Ingredient” and they could not decide so they just melded them together! I actually kind of like that because it is the sort of thing I would do!

The judging panel is: Donatella Arapaia (she wants the chefs to take risks and stay calm under pressure) and Simon Majumdar (who does not want to see mistakes, duh), and the winner from last year, Geoffrey Zakarian (he wants big bold flavors and I am sad that “subtle” has become a dirty word in American society), who may or may not have paid his employees the back pay they were due before he opened and closed his Miami hotel restaurant though he may be too busy planning his newest restaurant on a luxury cruise ship. It is a good thing he has Iron Chef or his whole family would be out on the street and how embarrassing for them if they should run into those former employees!

For the first challenge Alton meets the chefs at the beach! They have to cook the ingredients that led to their failures last time, which is the sort of mean thing Next Iron Chef just loves to pull!

Time to Eat:

The Top Bananas (and lobsters and grasshoppers):

Alex Guarnaschelli gets the Lobster that did her in last season! She cooks it three ways, in a skillet, in foil, and in a bowl of water, and I thought that meant she was making Lobster Three Ways but no, she was just trying to get a lobster cooked right! After all it is an open pit fire at the beach so it is not that easy to do, and that is where she misstepped last time! The bowl of water does it and she serves it with corn, ginger, lime, butter sauce and shallots, and this works for her! Zakarian says it is heavenly luxurious treatment and Simon likes the layers of flavors – he says it is “almost perfect” and I can sense a “but” there but we do not hear it so maybe not! Or maybe he just does not believe in perfection! Alton tells her she wins so fast she thinks he is kidding, but he is not, she is the winner, and will have an advantage for next time!

Eric Greenspan really draws the short straw on this challenge, since the dish that sent him home in the first (ouch!) week of Season 2 was – wait for it – grasshoppers! And now he has to cook with grasshoppers again! I do not really remember him and was not particularly cheering for him but this makes me feel sorry for him so I am suddenly on his side! He is furious! I do not blame him! But he gets philosophical: “The good thing about grasshoppers is, if you lose with grasshoppers, nobody blames you.” He makes critter fritters with spiced Asian slaw and grasshopper grilled cheese sandwiches which is a good idea because it kind of hides the grasshoppers in yummy stuff! And again he gets philosophical: ” Some people may say grilled cheese is a cop out, and I agree, but I mean, I have grasshoppers!” Well, that is not really philosophical, but it is pretty good! I am beginning to like him! I like him even more when Spike refuses to let him have some curry powder so he steals it! They all make up some excuse for calling their approach “resourceful” since that it the theme this week, but he truly is: he does not have a spider to take the critter fritters out of the oil, so he makes one out of tin foil! As he serves, one of the judges says, “There is a bug in my food!” And the judges love it! Zakarian: “You have evolved grasshoppers into something more elegant, if that is possible.” I would say it would be difficult to evolve grasshoppers into something less elegant, actually, but I get the idea, and I am happy for this chef! They tell him he embodied the concept of redemption! I wish they had given him the win!

Nate Appleman is a complicated person with an interesting history – from James Beard winner to Chipotle’s. He reminds me of “Rocket” Romano from ER (the helicopter guy), and in his first NIC appearance he acted like him too! But then his son got sick and he became a New Man! There was something about him I kind of liked before even though he was a bit of a meanie in NIC2, and I am not sure about the new, earnest version, but it is not his job to amuse me, and I hope he is happy! He has to do bananas since that is what got him in NIC2! He goes savory because risk is what redemption is all about! Actually I think redemption is more about changing your life when your son needs you so he has already done the real thing, but who am I to say, whatever he wants to call it is fine with me! He makes charred curried bananas with clams and uses the peel and banana leaf and yogurt and Aleppo pepper! That is a pretty fancy ingredient to have in a “limited pantry!” He is aiming for an herbaceous Thai curry, and they love it! Zakarian calls it sophisticated and delicious, and Simon says yes, it is authentic Thai and the smokiness suits the banana.

The Middle Tier:

Elizabeth Falkner became one of my favorite people because of her appearance on TCJD1 – you remember, she was so nice to the “Red-Hots are for my mommy” guy! She lost NIC4 (to Zakarian) on black garlic, so that is what she finds in her cooler! She likes its mushroomy soy sweet flavor, so she puts it in barbecue sauce for duck breasts and makes summer veggies with black garlic vinaigrette, and cornbread with black garlic honey butter! Cornbread! Over an open pit fire at the beach! Cool! But I am biased! Simon loves the combo but the duck is overcooked and a little tough! Still he says the cornbread is the best thing he has eaten on NIC/ICA which is probably an exaggeration but I am happy for her! Zakarian loves the use of the garlic but the veggies are undercooked.

Amanda Freitag, another favorite of mine, has to face the shiitake mushrooms that sent her home from Tokyo in NIC2! In fact she thinks it was one single raw mushroom by one single judge that did it! So she does grilled marinated skirt steak over lemon-poached mushrooms and a twist on gremolata that uses sunchokes and mushrooms! Donatella loves the balance! Simon likes the juiciness once he gets over the sliminess (ewww) of the mushrooms, but it is missing heat.

Jehangir Mehta is another one of those people who could be annoying but somehow is not! He was a little sneaky in NIC2! I think I remember he grabbed more grape leaves than he needed just to keep someone else from using them, IIRC! And he said “I have to do it” in that way the psychopath in a horror movie might say it before he slices off a body part – or, yes, like the mother in Sybil when she strung her daughter up and got the button hook! Those are some heavy-duty associations but somehow he is still quite likeable and by the end I was hoping he would win NIC2! He has to deal with buffalo which is awful. He makes a hot (satay with beer and mustard seed) and a cold (tartare) with a mushroom salad and pomegranate dressing. Simon struggled with oversalty buffalo and the mushrooms were swamped by pomegranate syrup, but Donatella thought the sweet and salty while too much on their own balanced each other and it was a lot of fun!

The Cliffhangers:

Duskie Estes annoys me for some reason I can not name! It must go beyond the horrible pigtails! And it was before she beat my favorites for the final spot, I did not like her on NIC3 either but I am not sure why, she has done nothing untoward! She is dealt calamari, and makes a po’ boy by sautéing the tentacles in chardonnay and frying the bodies in beer batter! Then she makes a garnish of pickled asparagus and watermelon rind, this sounds like a very good sandwich even to me and I do not like any of the components but it sounds like it goes together! The problem is Donatella has trouble eating it and the bread is soggy, but the flavors are very good! Simon loves the pickles and it is too bad they are not the main element. Zakarian wishes it was a composed salad because the bread got soggy and was awful and in the way!

Marcel Vigneron is a newbie to NIC but he qualifies as needing redemption because as he says he “made it to the final round in more than one cooking competition but has not won yet.” His biggest claim to fame is nearly getting his head shaved on TC2! His second biggest claim to fame is being a bit of a jerk. He has to work with avocados, which apparently figured into one of his prior losses somewhere. He makes avocado cannellone with salty peewee potatoes, and there is something about shrimp and coconut. Duskie comes over and asks if she can cook her asparagus in his potato water and he says fine, and I wonder if that is a good idea, since asparagus is more likely to flavor (and color, for that matter) potatoes than the other way around! But it seems it does not matter, and they like his dish though Zakarian wants some acid and they all think it is a little one-note.

The Losers Facing Sudden Death:

Tim Love has not been on NIC before, but on ICA he actually beat Morimoto on Battle Chiles (is that the one where Morimoto ate all the chiles to check the heat and sweetness?) so I am not sure what he needs redemption for! His ingredient is kale, which got him eliminated from the very first round of TCM1 – oh, so that is what he needs redemption for, except nobody is allowed to say those words on this show so they just ignore it and figure people either know or not (or they look it up which is what I did since I do not remember, I just remember I do not like him much from his appearances as a judge on TC, though I am not sure there is a specific reason). So he makes kale and celery green salad with apples, pork fat, slab bacon, cheese, and citrus. He knows it is risky to do a salad when he is the steak king, but he does not want to overcomplicate things and so to make sure he does not do that he is resourceful by making a skirt steak for his own consumption! Now that makes no sense! Since the exact dish he lost TCM1 on was skirt steak and kale, I think there was more to this, but for what ever reason he just serves a salad which everyone knows is the kiss of death! At least on TC! And here! And his salad is greasy! Maybe I was wrong about him! Because you really have to be talented to make a greasy salad!

Spike Mendelsohn is the one you call when you need a culinary extra man. I have yet to hear anyone say they like him (except Marcel, it seems they were college roommates or something) but he is always around! They throw scallops at him, big surprise! They say it is because in NIC4 scallops got him eliminated but we all know he will never live down sassing Robert Tramonto in the TC4 Scallopgate! His approach is to include more textures and flavors and ingredients, and yes, he includes cauliflower couscous with pickled raisins (which he seems to have borrowed from a hockey player with a chef degree), and just about everything else, mango, curry, he kept naming ingredients and I could not keep up! Simon lost the scallops, as of course you would with so much stuff! And he was overwhelmed by the curry powder! But Zakarian found it complicated and flavorful!

Sudden Death by Pineapple:

Tim is surprised and angry that he is even in the cookoff! Hey, buddy, you made a greasy salad, then you had the nerve to make lunch for yourself, you deserve it! Alton even says they think he was lazy! Ouch! And Not Resourceful! Take that, cowboy! And he is not happy about the pineapple, it is “a piece of crap” ingredient, he made pineapple salsa back in 1984 and that is about all he has done with pineapple! What an attitude! To be fair, all the chefs seem to agree it is not a good thing to work with as a main ingredient. Alex says it does not know how to work well with others, which is cute! He makes quail breast with pickled pineapple, corn milk and crispy kale, because in the first round Donatella said she likes her kale crispy, so he deep fries it! Now that is crispy! I think he does not like criticism! Zakarian is surprised to find he likes it, but there are these huge pieces of chile thrown in there which are just not edible when that big. Simon loves the corn milk and the quail is cooked perfectly! Donatella is worried about the crispy kale, and Simon says it is “a bit of an up yours as we say in England.” We say it here too! But I do not know why it is a problem, deep fried kale is a real thing! I think this is a pissing match, and it is not a good idea for a contestant to get into a pissing match with judges!

Spike is not happy about pineapple either, it is a fruit salad ingredient to him, but he stews it in a whole bottle of hot sauce! Then he makes branzino for a sweet and sour fish. It is something inspired by his travels in Vietnam. Simon likes it, the pineapple fits in well and has a nice texture, and the fish is terrific with crunchy skin and meatiness! Donatella understands his personality and thinks it is a little sweet but the heat works. Zakarian says it is smart and creative but a little too sweet!

And Finally… Tim Love is out! He does not think the judges understood his food! That was a hard choice for me, I was hoping they would both go out!

Next Week: Going Global!

The Next Iron Chef Super Chefs: Episode 8 – Finale

Guess Who Is The Next Iron Chef!?!?!

Hello, I am Zin! Finally the Finale! Geoffrey Zakarian vs. Elizabeth Falkner. Here is a hint: Zakarian!

The first thing I notice is the dress Judy is wearing, it is beautiful, bright red, a chain over one shoulder. When I start noticing clothes outside of Project Runway, you can tell I am not engaged. The usual judges are there, plus Bobby Flay (who gets to judge everything prestigious on The Food Network) and Morimoto (who is there to lend a pretense of culinary talent to the mix). And the losers sit in the Observation Deck to watch – would you like to bet they will be pressed into service in some capacity? You know they will! But the chefs have brought their own sous chefs.

It is the usual format of Iron Chef America. The secret ingredient is: all kinds of stuff for Holiday Dinner – standing rib roast of beef, winter squashes, parsnips, apple cider, Brussels sprouts, salt cod, clementines, candy canes, and probably some other things I have forgotten. They have to make three dishes for holiday dinner. Zakarian will focus on making it memorable and modern, and Falkner will focus on combining techniques. They each brought two sous chefs.

The theme – what do they need a theme for? – is pressure, so the Chairman – oh, he gets to play – will spring surprises on them over the course of the evening. You know, I felt very silly when I found out, just recently, like a year ago when he went on Dancing with the Stars, that the Chairman is an actor, and the original Chairman Kaga was an actor too! A lot of people thought I was pretty stupid for that! But I did not know! I figured he was like Donald Trump, and they put together a TV show for him in Japan! But no, both Chairmen are fictional characters played by actors. How disillusioning!

Zakarian is working on the crown roast and combining it with potato, turnips, squash, and parsnips, and a parsnip bisque with cardamom and sausage stuffing. Falkner is making a beef wellington so she is starting with “blitz puff pastry” – now that is the kind of thing she would know about. She is also doing chocolate cake to take advantage of her pastry skills.

The Chairman unveils his first surprise – cranberries! They must create a cranberry dish. I love cranberries! I have been buying a bag of cranberries just about every week since just before Thanksgiving, putting them in cornbread, brownies, biscuits, pretty much any bready thing, and I made a couple of apple cranberry crisps with oatmeal streusel topping, and some chutneys. I do not know how I have gone through so many cranberries! I just keep buying them and throwing them in the freezer but every week I buy more and then they are gone!

The chefs get some extra help. They can pick one of their former competitors to help them for 15 minutes each. They collaborate, and pick Alex, which is a pretty big slap in the face of Anne Burrell since she has been sous chef for Mario Batalli on Iron Chef for years! Wow, that was mean! Alex says it is rewarding to be chosen.

Zakarian gets Alex started right away on cranberry risotto. He is grilling steaks cut from the rib roast (since of course there is nowhere near enough time to prep and cook a rib roast). He tells her to use sake, the acid will balance the sweetness of the cranberries. Forgive me, but cranberries are pretty acid all on their own, they are the perfect balance on the tart side of sweet and tart! And I do not think sake is all that acid, but I have not had it in many years.

Falkner is using agar agar and gelatin in what Alton calls an herbacious gelee. She is going to puree Brussels sprouts with goat cheese, so the acid in the cheese will provide some acid. Zakarian fries Brussels sprouts and leeks.

It is time for another surprise from the Chairman! Or a gift! They cannot decide between Surprise and Gift, so they alternate. The chefs have to use the ice cream machine! Some gift!

Zakarian was going to do a buttermilk pot de crème, so he changes it to ice cream. Falkner goes with eggnog ice cream and cranberry sorbet, two ice creams!

It is time for Alex to switch sides, so she leaves the Zakarian risotto and heads over to Falkner, who puts her to work chopping chives “because I know you do that really well.” That is pretty insulting. That is the sort of thing someone might say to me and I would be offended! And I do not chop that well!

Zakarian does something cute, he cuts the beef in cubes and puts a layer of something green on top, and wraps it with chives (or maybe a sliced scallion?) to make a little gift. He will do that with potatoes and squash too, multicolored gifts on the plate!

Bobby Flay says Zakarian = pretentious – oh, no, that is precision, sorry! And Falkner = surprise. Morimoto says something unintelligible, the best Alton can do is “A Good Hello” but he is not sure what that means. I wonder why they stopped providing voice over for Morimoto? My understanding was that he had requested they overdub, did he change his mind?

Falkner cleans out the ice cream machine, she has some kind of trouble with it freezing. Then she starts the cranberry sorbet mixture, to serve with a frisee and fennel salad. That sounds really good!

The Chairman has another surprise! Martini glasses! They have to create a holiday treat in the glasses. He does not say it has to be a drink! But they both make drinks, probably because it is quickest. Falkner makes a California thing with sunshine in a glass, clementines, Cointreau, lemon juice, and gin. Zakarian makes a rum-infused gin cocktail with clementine.

Alex makes a chocolate and honey ganache for Falkner, then she is out and goes back to the Observation Deck. And the time is up!

Service:

Falkner serves first. She brings out her Christmas in California cocktail, always sunny and always citrus. It is paired with salt cod fritters with black garlic aioli. Morimoto likes the cod. Simon thinks the aioli is too powerful and the subtle salt cod is lost. Judy likes the black garlic, it is velvety and silky. Flay likes everything, he would have liked to have seen more cohesiveness. Between what, there were only two elements? But Bobby is the one who would do clementines in everything for that course. Subtle and conceptual is not his game.

Second, winter squash agnolotti with Brussels sprout and goat cheese puree, and amaretto cookies. Simon loves the puree. Michael Symon liked all the flavors, thinks something (the puree?) could have been thinner.

Third is the beef wellington as main course, the beef seared and wrapped in prosciutto and then the puff pastry. Flay says it was very risky and is terrific, a modern version; he is impressed with the dough. Simon says she has chutzpah, the beef is cooked very well, it is his favorite dish so far (but there have only been three dishes!).

Next is cranberry sorbet with frisee and shaved fennel salad, and clementines, with kafir lime and mint and herb gelee. Michael Symon had a flashback to the sixties (which would be difficult since he was born in 1969), but liked it a lot when he tried it, the greens worked really well with the sorbet and it was surprising in a good way. Judy did not think it was a weird dish, she loved it, her favorite part was the gelee.

For dessert, she made candy cane chocolate cake which is chocolate sponge plus peppermint snow. Simon loves the powder, terrific. Morimoto says she had lots of new ideas (like what? Beef wellington? Salt cod fritters? Chocolate cake and crushed candy canes?). Michael Symon says it was a progression that got better with each course.

Zakarian serves. His strategy was a view of modern luxury Christmas, because having declared personal bankruptcy, he is all about luxury.

First is his cranberry risotto with sake, finished with sweet and sour strawberries and brown butter. Flay says he was skeptical but it was well balanced and terrific. Michael Symon thought the cranberries were unexpected, it was great; he likes a sweet and sour starter, it gets the palate going.

Second, he serves a Mad Man Cosmopolitan of clementine, ginger, rum, and some liquer I am not familiar with, it might be St. Germain. I admit, I am not up on the booze. This goes with his vegetarian dish, crispy creamy Brussels sprouts with ginger. I suspect I missed some element of the dish that makes it creamy and a dish more than some Brussels Sprouts, because other than being a vegetable, it does not sound like something you would describe as “a vegetarian dish.” Judy thinks it is delicious. Simon says it is spectacular. I sense a theme here. Morimoto says something that makes me wish they were still doing voice-overs for him.

Third comes parsnip cardamom bisque (which sounds wonderful, I may try to make this some time) with sausage stuffing. Flay says it is perfectly seasoned and has great consistency, which is the mark of a great cook. Michael Symon says he knows his audience, they will appreciate flavors (as opposed to most people who want flavorless food) and it is fantastic, it appeared humble but was special. Humble? Parsnips are pretty pricey in these parts! And cardamom, yikes!

The main course is the gift plate, roast beef cubes, turnip marinated with anise, squash poached in maple syrup, potato braised in lemon, all wrapped up like presents. It really is adorable. Simon thinks it is a little overwhelming. Judy loves it.

For dessert he serves buttermilk frozen custard with peppermint snow. Morimoto loves it. Simon loves buttermilk, it is a great way to end the meal, amazing job.

The judges conclave privately about both meals. Simon says Falkner started slowly but created a meal he will remember; Zakarian came banging out of the gate but the beef was a flop and the dessert was good but not great. Bobby says he cooks simple, modern, luxury food. Because if he goes broke he can always file for bankruptcy protection. Bobby says Zakarian served the better meal, but Falkner may have more range with her pastry experience. Morimoto says his favorite dish was the cranberry sorbet, but the best meal was Zakarian, he felt his heart. Judy says Falkner blossomed, has passion, curiosity, and creativity, and the meal was exciting. Michael Simon says Zakarian is at the peak of his career but Falkner is just scratching the surface of where she will end up. Alton says he does not remember it having been this tough a decision. Oh, I think you said that last year, and the year before and the year before.

From the comments, Zakarian clearly has it. Now we will see how much hocus pocus they pull!

The decision: Alton says one lived up to high expectations, and one exceeded hers. Only one will wear the coveted crown. What crown? There is no crown, there is a jacket! Get your props straight, Alton!

And Zakarian wins.

My measure of how successful a competitive series was is judged by how long after the announcement of the winner I am still interested. I think they got to the “ian” part of his name before I was done. Hey, at least I got through the final episode instead of wishing it was over three weeks ago! It is not a matter of not knowing who was going to win. It is a matter of not caring who Suzie and Tusch decided fit the demographic better!

His first battle will be next week! I am surprised they did not make it tonight!

So I have seen something about asking viewers which eliminated chef is worthy of redemption, I guess that was not part of the plan? Was that just to jerk people around, or is that for next year? I hope they do not bring Spike back, and I doubt Marcus would want to be involved in this crap any more.

The Next Iron Chef Super Chefs: Episode 7 – Hamptons Beach Cookout

Is this what he meant by Venus on a scallop shell?

Hello, I am Zin! I am surprised that I am not quite sick of this already, especially since the first four episodes were not good at all. This is the next-to-last episode, and I think it is just enough!

The chefs arrive at Montauk by boat! Falkner can just see the clambakes on the beach! Zakarian says the Hamptons are famous for the beaches, great food, and rich people. He says he goes there a lot. Bankruptcy is not what is used to be, is it?

They go to the Montauk Yacht Club, and Chiarello starts babbling about the Vanderbilts. Boy, considering these guys are not exactly paupers, they sure get excited by rich people!

Alton Brown tells them they have $500 each and two hours to forage around the Hamptons, then two hours to cook. Forage? He makes it sound like they have to find edible plants and catch rabbits! They must make a three course seafood tasting menu for a party of twenty of the elite of the Hamptons culinary community plus the judges. The theme is passion, so they must put their passion on a plate. Alex lectures how passion is about making pickled eel even though no one really wants to eat it if they can avoid it. I think Alex has been out in the hot sun too long.

Since Falkner won last week, she gets an extra minute (I am not sure, something like that – my mind wandered) and she gets a boat to take her around. I would think a car would be more helpful, but I suppose that is how they do things in the Hamptons. The boat takes her to a fish market set up outside on a pier for their foraging convenience, right in the sun, which is such a great idea as Anita Lo will tell you – raw seafood and sun are a great combination, it got her kicked off Top Chef Masters! But it makes for a nice visual, and everything on The Food Network is more about appearance than reality.

Alex says they have limited funds in an expensive part of the world. Yes, Alex needs to get indoors fast. She wants to buy what others are not buying, so she gets fish bones for stock. Falkner is thinking cioppino. Zakarian worries about time. Chiarello buys fluke. They go to a farmers market to forage among the $12-a-pound tubs of butter. Everyone comes up with stupid ways to use “passion” in a sentence relating to cooking, like the pickled eel.

Two people will go home today, so only two go on to play the last round in Iron Chef Stadium. Alton explained how that would work, with the Showdown thing, but my mind wandered again. It does that sometimes. Then I call it and say, “Here, mind! Come on, come here!” and it comes back. Usually. I will figure out how the eliminations work later. The judges will consider the opinions of the Elite of the Hamptons Culinary Community (remember them?) in their deliberations.

Presentation to the Judges:

The judges get to sit inside for their dinner, unlike the diners who have to be outside.

Alex made 1) raw fluke with tomato jam with lime and fried fluke skin, served with a cocktail of muddled strawberries with rum and prosecco; she wanted a lot of red because red is passion. She wanted to communicate her, ahem, passion for nose to tail cooking, so she used the flesh, bones, and skin. But not the eyeballs! Shame on her! Morimoto would have used the eyeballs. And what about the innards? Fish innards are always part of the original Iron Chef! But that is inside-out cooking, not nose-to-tail. Michael Simon really likes the crunchy fish skin. 2) Smoked crab chowder, leeks, clams, bacon. Simon thinks it is too salty, but Judy loves the seasoning. Early in her career before she had any idea what she was doing, she made clam chowder, and the chef she was working for said it was great, so she wanted to make it here. 3) Lobster with poached egg and hollandaise. To Alex, lobster and eggs are like corn flakes and milk. She must have some interesting breakfasts! She was happy to tear that lobster limb from limb to get it on the plate. Well, that is pretty much what you have to do with lobster, you know, boil it alive and dismember it! It is a very violent dish! Michael Simon thinks it needs more salt. Judy thinks it is too rich, there is too much hollandaise. A couple of diners say they do not like the tomato jam, it is too strong.

Falkner serves 1) vichyssoise chowder with potato, leek and fennel. Simon licks his bowl. It is quite disgusting. Judy likes the baby greens on top. Michael Simon says it is spectacular. 2) Smoked scallop on corn puree with English peas and asparagus. Simon wants more smoke flavor. Michael Simon thinks it is a bit one-note with the sweetness. 3) East Coast Cioppino, with lobster poached in saffron butter, and a filet of sea bass plus some grilled squid. Michael Simon loves the lobster. Simon wanted crunchier skin on his fish, it is a bit flaccid (and he pronounces it correctly, as a Brit would – I will have to take him off my shit list!) One diner says the scallop is bland; another likes the soup.

Zakarian is passionate about his family. He likes to take them to St. Barts, like any good bankrupt 1%-er would. He makes 1) seabass salad with endive and celery roll up and a ginger agrodolce. Judy says it is spicy and vibrant. 2) Because he also loves the Mediterranean, he makes blackfish minute steak and lemon taponade. 3) To honor Brittany (the region of France, not the singer) he serves roast scqllop sausage “sandwich” with couscous risotto. Michael Simon says the sausage texture is perfect; Simon says it is not the prettiest plate. A diner says he can taste the passion. Eww. Another thinks the blackfish is too fishy.

Chiarello shows them passion through the ages. 1) Tuna crudo arrabbiata with seed pod of tomato, because tomato is often considered the foribidden fruit. Simon likes the garlic. Judy likes that it looks like seaweed. 2) It was a fluke that he met his wife (Alex gets a little grumpy – “this is not the story telling competition”) so he makes smoked fluke with gribiche, bacon and eggs, crostini, and a scape puree. Michael Simon says the fish is cooked perfectly. 3) Venus came to Rome on a scallop shell, so he makes scallop with carrot caponata puree. Simon likes the control of coriander and fennel, they can be overly strong but it is good here. Michael Simon thinks the scallop is a little overcooked. Chiarello interviews that is impossible! A diner says it is indeed overcooked! Someone else thinks his tuna is the best dish of the day.

For some reason the judges compare the men and then they compare the women, like there was some pairing they did not tell us about! That is ridiculous! Oh, wait, maybe it was that Zakarian and Chiarello did the best, and Alex and Falkner were the worst. And – ah, here it is, see, I said I would pick it up later – there will be a winner who will be safe to go on to Kitchen Stadium next week, and a loser who will go home, and then the middle two will do the Last Chance Kitchen. Or whatever the hell it is called on this show. Second chance? No, Showdown! Whatever.

Zakarian is the winner!

Alex is the loser! Good bye Alex! She is disappointed but she is the almost-almost-almost Iron Chef. She did not get inside soon enough, obviously. The judges tell her the lobster dish had flaws in the seasoning, the hollandaise overwhelmed it.

So Falkner and Chiarello do the showdown thing.

They must cook: product placement crackers and wine. They have 30 minutes to make three bites, one with each variety of cracker (regular, pretzel, and flatbread).

Falkner makes shrimp and grits on the regular cracker, to take advantage of the buttery flavor. She makes chicken liver mousse with red wine syrup and crispy shallots for the pretzel cracker, and a curry lamb meatball with merlot reduction and raita on the flatbread cracker, to impress Simon with her Indian flavors.

Chiarello fills three shot glasses with cracker crumbs and puts the food on top: a chicken liver mousse with cabernet mustard and caramelized pretzel, a sardine escabeche with panzanella, and whipped Sonoma goat cheese with cabernet “caviar.” He does not use the calcium chloride to make the caviar, but gelatin and drops it in cold canola oil so it will set. Judy wants to taste the caviar more; Michael Simon is impressed he made caviar in 30 minutes. Simon says there are not many levels of flavor. Chiarello argues he was going for texture.

They discuss. Falkner did not do as well in plating. Chiarello had the strongest single bite (the chicken liver) and the weakest (the caviar).

Chiarello is out, Falkner is in. Yay! I am glad, she is my favorite, though I am surprised, I did not think she would be.

Let’s see, the finale:

Zakarian was on Iron Chef America, and lost battle Sardines to Morimoto. Badly. He has been on Chopped where he got to the finals in the All Stars challenge. And he was on that stupid Scott Conant 24 hour restaurant show. He has serious culinary chops; he started at Le Cirque. And he filed for bankruptcy protection early this year when a bunch of former employees sued so he could continue to run his four fireplaces and take his family to St. Barts and the Mediterranean. I still do not understand how this bankruptcy works. And I think it is in bad taste for him to be bragging about his life on television. But he can cook.

Falkner was on Top Chef, the original flavor, in the Sex Shop Dessert challenge. She was even more memorably (how do you get more memorable than that?) on Top Chef Desserts for the Candy challenge, the episode famous for the line, “The Red Hots Are For My Mommy” and she was very kind to the kid, trying to get him to pull himself to get together, so she has grace under pressure. She too was on Iron Chef America and lost to Cat Cora in Battle Honey by one point (but both scores were in the 30s which is very, very low!). She was on Top Chef Masters in the first season but did not get out of her preliminary group! And she was on at least one of those silly Food Network Challenge shows. She started as a pastry chef, but now has branched into Savory (except both her restaurants are closing – maybe she is going to become a full-time TV chef!). She is a very out lesbian. And she is a She! They need a She on Iron Chef America! The lesbian part is just a bonus!

Normally I would say the Food Network would pick style over substance any time. But I can not imagine that they will let Falkner beat a Food Network workhorse! Is this not admitting the Food Network has mediocre chefs? I mean, we all know that, but they seem to want to deny it.

The only thing I am sure of is that this was decided before the show started filming, and it was based on demographics or contract negotiations and has nothing to do with cooking!

We will see.

The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs – Episode 6, “Food Auction”

I want to be Anne Burrell when I grow up!

Hello, I am Zin! We are down to five chefs – Geoffrey Zakarian, Anne Burrell, Alex Guarnaschelli, Elizabeth Falkner, and Michael Chiarello. I still think they have already chosen Anne to win, but I would like to see Elizabeth I think! I did not like her years ago, but she has grown on me! She was very comforting with the Red Hots Are for My Mommy guy, and she is pretty gutsy.

The chefs meet in an auction hall at Chelsea Pier where The Food Network is housed. Alton gives a lecture about risks, and as it turns out, Risk is the theme of the Challenge! The bidding thing is a bit convoluted to explain, but it made sense to see it, so I will just say they bid time (I can cook that lobster in 45 minutes) and the lowest time bid wins; the last person will have no one to bid against, so will be punished by getting a time automatically five minutes less than the shortest time bid! And they do not know what the ingredients are! So going last is to be avoided!

The first ingredient is… wagyu beef! Zakarian wins with 30 minutes. Alex says fancy pants beef is perfect for him, which seems a little bitchy to say about a fellow Chopped judge!

Canned sardinesAnne bids 50 minutes and wins, she wants the time, does not care about the ingredient. It is interesting, this is a lousy ingredient but it does not require much time, but since no one really wants it, she gets a lot of time with it to make other things!

Maine lobster goes to Chiarello at 25 minutes. Alex wanted it, but she let it go because the time was too low. I do not know if Alex understands what “risk” means!

Tuna Jerky – tuna jerky? That is really awful! But it is the next-to-last ingredient so Alex and Elizabeth bid against each other, and Falkner wins it at 25 minutes. Alex does not like the ingredient at all so she lets it go.

Alex is stuck with leg of lamb and 20 minutes! That is what happens when you let two ingredients go! Maybe she did the biggest risk of all, betting the last ingredient would be good and she could pull it off in a short time! It is impossible to cook leg of lamb in that time of course so she will have to cut it up or serve it in some kind of raw thing. Eww, raw lamb! I seem to recall someone somewhere serving lamb carpaccio, and it was a success, but I do not think I would like it at all!

Oh, and Anne won the last challenge so she gets an advantage, but Alton will not tell her yet what it is! She is not happy about that!

Since Anne has the most time, she gets to grab her ingredients first, which is another advantage! She is thinking sardine bread pudding out of walnut raisin bread, made with a sweet custard. And because she has the time, she knows she has to do more than that so she also makes fried sardine spines, which sounds awful but is probably the sort of thing chefs love. And she makes sardine fillets with fried beet chips.

Zakarian is waiting to start, and he has his face against the tile wall! It looks like the picture of desperation! Or a prison movie, except he has his clothes on! Finally his thirty minutes start. He knows if he cooks the wagyu beef too high and too hot, it will melt the fat out and leave only dry beef (that is interesting; I remember from Top Chef a while ago that it is necessary to cook it because otherwise the fat is overwhelming). He makes wagyu salad nicoise style with olives and fennel. He makes rillettes, which makes good use of the fat.

Falkner starts her twenty-five minutes. She must be a Ninja Chef to handle tuna jerky in this short time! She will take risks, and what is riskier than a souffle! She makes a tuna jerky souffle with tuna jerky dashi cream sauce. The subtle Japanese flavors bring out the umami in the tuna jerky. I think it sounds horrible. This is why I am not a chef.

Chiarello also starts his twenty-five minutes. He plans to butter poach his lobster, which is pretty low-risk so he will do risotto! Oh, no! Risotto is one of the curses of competitive cooking! He figures if he makes a 45 minute dish in 25 minutes that counts as risky. So he makes butter poached lobster with saffron fennel tomalley risotto, and a peeled tomato salad. I think peeling the tomatoes is the riskiest thing there! Have you ever tried to peel tomatoes? There is a trick, you blanch them and shock them and the skins wrinkle up and pull off fairly easily, but still, in 25 minutes, it is not the easiest thing to do.

Alex is scared when she starts her twenty minutes. She thinks about lamb tartar, but decides to go with sausage, carrot puree with star anise, and a salad of bitter greens. She and Falkner fight over the meat grinder. Wait, Falkner is not doing meat… oh, she is using the mixer, and Alex will use the meat grinder attachment. They only have one mixer in Top Chef kitchen? That seems stupid. But anything to rachet up the drama.

When they are done cooking, Alton reveals the advantage Anne gets – she will be a judge! She gets to taste all the dishes, and she can choose one to be in the bottom, so whoever she picks will have to do the Secret Ingredient Showdown no matter what the judges say! She has complaints about everyone – the steak Zakarian made should be cooked more (he disagrees), the risotto Chiarello made is not creamy enough (he questions that) though she admits risotto is risky, the lamb sausage does not carry the flavors because it is dry (Alex is perplexed since she put lots of fat into the sausage) but to manipulate the lamb instead of doing a tartar is risky; and the tuna jerky souffle does not taste of tuna jerky (Falkner wonders if Anne has been eating too many sardines to taste anything, which is a good point), but the risk she took was huge, for ingredient, time, and preparation. Anne writes down her choice, and Alton puts it in a sealed envelope to be revealed later.

Tasting:

Zakarian is confident about his wagyu beef salad nicoise style with rillette and eggless hollandaise. Michael Symon thinks it is fantastic. Judy says he took all the right risks, it is light and refreshing somehow, maybe due to the olives and capers. Simon says it is exceptional.

Anne presents her sardine trio of bread pudding, fried spines, and Portuguese fillets with beet chips. Judy thinks it is cute to serve the bread pudding in the sardine can; Simon loves the fried spines but does not like the bread pudding texture, and the pickles are much too sharp. Michael Symon says the extra time became the biggest challenge for her as she had to do something with it. The way he says it, and the criticism she got, makes me think she should have taken her extra time and stood quietly with her hands folded. Maybe she could have sung a song. Or made pasta. Whenever Italian cooks are in doubt, they make pasta.

Chiarello serves his lobster, risotto and compote of tomato. Judy really enjoyed it, the tomatoes brightened the whole plate. Simon though the lobster, the ingredient he was given, was not risky at all, but the risotto was. Michael Symon says risotto is always a risk and it was well-balanced, he enjoyed it.

Alex brings her 20 minute lamb sausage with carrot star anise puree and bitter greens. Michael Symon says there is a lot of risk. He loves the salad but not the carrott puree, it overpowered the lamb. Judy wanted more fat in the sausage. Simon liked the sausage and thought it was moist though there was some gristle, but the seasoning was bland.

Falkner has her 25 minute Tuna Jerky souffle with jerky dashi cream sauce. Simon says to do an ingredient she has never cooked before, and to do a souffle, is very risky, incredibly risky, and he enjoyed it. Michael Symon says that the description sounds like disaster, but it has a nice salty flavor. Judy agrees the cream sauce sounds gross but tastes great.

I think Anne and Alex are in bottom two. Except Anne got to pick one person, so we will see what happens!

Judgment:

The judges unanimously pick Falkner as the winner, since her dish was the definition of risk. Anne says there is nothing risky about her doing a souffle since she is a pastry chef, she has done souffle and ice cream, which is she going to cook some real food? Wow, catty catty, Anne! But…if Anne put her name in the envelope, she has to do the Showdown anyway. Alton peeks, he plays it to the hilt, but Falkner is safe!

Chiarello is pronounced safe by the judges since he took considerable risk; he is not the name in the envelope, so he is safe.

Zakarian and his beef salad was the winner until Falkner came out with her souffle. However – he is the one Anne chose! So he is going to the Showdown! She says she picked him because he had the least risk, which is her understanding of the assignment, but he thinks she wanted to have him eliminated since he is one of the strongest chefs there. Everyone always thinks that. About themselves, of course, not about anyone else.

So it is down to Alex and Anne, and both had risk but one had the worst dish: Alex is safe, and Anne must do the Showdown, against Zakarian, who she chose. Karma, she says!

Secret Ingredient Showdown:

Anne and Zakarian do the Secret Ingredient Showdown: the ingredient is: product placement ponzu and panko! I just bought some ponzu to play with but I have not used it yet! Ponzu is soy sauce with citrus, usually lime. That sounds good, yes? But… there is a twist – they must make dessert! They have 30 minutes.

Zakarian says the dessert angle is tougher than the ingredients. Well, sure, though neither of them are Asian cooks, those are pretty routine ingredients unless you have to make dessert out of them. He knows souffles, because when he worked at Le Cirque, the dessert chef burned himself one night and Zakarian had to step in and make souffles all night long. Wait! He did a souffle on Chopped All Stars! And he did not say that! What a sneaky little weasel! It is the only dessert he can make! Which of course is better than not having a dessert at all. In fact, if you are going to go into a competition with only one dessert, souffle is a pretty impressive one to have. He also makes a ponzu dipping sauce. Chiarello worries if it is smart to do a souffle since a souffle just won.

Anne thinks about it: ponzu is salty, so how about salted caramel? And panko, it is for frying, so how about fried zucchini involtini (involtini is anything rolled up, in this case zucchini) stuffed with riccota, panko, and dried cherries, with a fresh cherry garnish. That sounds pretty inventive! And I like hearing her thought process. And ice cream, ponzu ginger kumquat ice cream. Elizabeth freaks when she pours hot custard into the ice cream machine, because it can separate that way and turn into scrambled eggs, but it is fine. Anne adds some details like sprinkling panko over the top and plating carefully.

Zakarian presents his souffle to the judges as a sweet and sour ponzu blackberry souffle with white gazpacho dipping sauce with panko. Simon asks how he feels about being put in the Showdown, and Zakarian says it is strategy to eliminate the stronger chefs. Judy thinks the dessert is clever and well thought through, she would have liked the sauce pourable onto the souffle. Michael Symon says his technique is so good and the dish is so delicious it makes him mad, it is refreshing. Simon hates the powder sugar dusting. What?!?! I think Simon is a jerk! What makes this especially ironic is that there is a commercial airing now, during this episode, of Alex and Bobby Flay unmolding a cake and sifting powdered sugar over it! And Alex holds her hand in the stream of sugar which seems kind of stupid to me, but they are smiling and trying to exude happiness and playing in the kitchen. It is a ridiculous promo, but Simon should not knock something that is a staple of Food Network advertising!

Anne serves her involtini. Judy asks about the cherries and Anne explains it is meant to imitate a cannolli, which frequently has dried fruits inside. Judy likes the ice cream. Michael Symon says it teeters between savory and sweet, is well executed. Simon thinks the caramel sauce is sensational, and he likes the involtino. Simon asks if she would have chosen Zakarian if she knew it would be her in the bottom, and she says no, but searing a steak is not a big risk. Oooh, she is going after them all tonight, she must be worried!

Given that Simon never ever gets his way, I think it will be Anne who is out. That will really surprise me, though! They keep pimping her cookbook! And now they are going to say she is not good enough! But Zakarian should not have been there at all, they loved his dish!

Then there is more Japanese product placement, with a fan iron chef thing. It is very annoying. I will never buy that brand of Japanese ingredient! Ever! Take that, Iron Chef! That is what you get for being obnoxious!

The judges discuss. Michael Symon says Zakarian is all about technique and finesse whereas Anne is edgy and in your face. Alton asks Judy if she did not like the cherries, but she says now that she understands the cannolli connection it is ok with her. Simon did not like the dusted sugar again, it is like a 70s dinner party. He is an ass. Michael Simon says Zakarian had nuance of flavor; Judy says he was more unexpected. Michael Symon says both dishes were Iron Chef worthy (so people will think it is still ok to buy her cookbook!).

Anne is out; Zakarian is safe. I agree, but I am still surprised! Karma, as she says. Alex says she pulled out her sword and then fell on it. Alex is really bitchy tonight too! And I think she has her metaphors a little off.

Next week, they go fishing at Montauk, just like they did on Top Chef All Stars! What a surprise! They are really giving up any pretense of originality this season.

The Next Iron Chef Super Chefs – Episode 5: New York on a Plate

Hello, I am Zin, and I actually liked this episode!

The Chefs have moved to New York City to continue their battle. Geoffrey Zakarian says it means they are halfway to being the Next Iron Chef. Michael Chiarello says Marcus Samuelsson is a force to be reckoned with but he came to be the Next Iron Chef, too! Alex Guarnaschelli says Anne Burrell and Elizabeth Falkner are the toughest competition. Zakarian says Falkner is very clever and inventive. Anne feels a different energy; tensions are close to the surface though it is masked with big smiles! And as she says that they show a picture of all the chefs, and she has the biggest smile! I do wish they would stop telling me how tense things are, because things do not really look that tense other than them all constantly insisting they are tense!

Alton Brown meets them at Grand Central Terminal, which he says is the world’s largest train station (it must depend on how you measure it, since Nagoya, Japan thinks they have the largest train station). The challenge is: Storytelling. Zakarian does a pimp spot about how the Next Iron Chef has to be a profound storyteller because he gets to tell his story only once with no rehearsal. I do not know, if I had to list five things the Next Iron Chef must be, I do not think Storyteller would be in the list. But the Food Network LOVES stories! All those poor Food Network Star contestants have to make up stories for every dish, it is hilarious sometimes how they make stuff up and drag all their dead relatives into it! Anyway, Marcus is happy, he loves storytelling.

Alton has six postcards, each with a New York location. The chefs must come up with a dish and a story both inspired by the location on the card. Chiarello was the last winner, so he gets the advantage of… choosing last! Aha! Twist! Someone must have been up for hours dreaming up that one! Because really, picking random cards when you do not know what the cards are, there is no advantage to going first. Chiarello wonders what the advantage to going last will be.

Anne picks first, and she gets Central Park. Alex interviews that is good, because it has grasses, birds, and flowers; I think that would be a pretty strange meal, but I suppose trained chefs might think differently.
Falkner picks the Statue of Liberty. Marcus says that is good because it is the most iconic.
Marcus picks Broadway. Alex says that is a tough one to put into food. Tears!
Alex gets the Empire State Building. Anne says you could do something tall, or something romantic, or something with bananas – because of King Kong. That is a bit of a stretch, I think! Anne is a little bit nuts. But I think her storytelling ability is exactly what the Food Network loves!
Zakarian gets Times Square. Falkner says that is a crazy wild place and could go in lots of fun directions.
Chiarello can take one of the locations already given out, or he can take the last card which is still unknown. He did so many reports on the Statue of Liberty, he wants that, so Falkner gets the last card which is the Brooklyn Bridge. She is happy, she likes where it is located and what is on either side.

They have twenty-five minutes to shop at this huge market at Grand Central Station (yes, I know, technically it is Grand Central Terminal but how many people besides Alton Brown really call it that, and he probably only calls it that on TV when writers correct him). Wow, there is a whole supermarket there, and a very upscale one! That is pretty cool! They will have forty-five minutes to cook at the restaurant Charlie Palmer has there. So they will be stuck in Grand Central all day! And they will be cooking for six, the three judges, Alton, and two special guests! Aha, suspense! You can just feel the suspense crackle! (Not). The judges turn out to be Marc Forgione (the Hidden Iron Chef) and Charlie Palmer, who deserves a meal since they are using his restaurant.

Service:

Anne gets cornish game hens (to mimic the pigeons in Central Park) and chicken livers (because fried chicken livers remind her of Tuscany) Her story is her journey to New York City. She is nervous going into judging. She tells them she grew up in a small town in NY State, spent a year in Italy, then moved to the city, and Central Park is her escape from the city, it is like the green hills of her home town and Tuscany. Judy likes the fun description, it shows off her personality, wit on the plate. Forgione says it was successful. Simon Majumadar thinks the dish is gorgeous. Charlie loved the crunchy liver. Michael Symon thought everything was cooked perfectly and he enjoyed it a lot.

Zakarian gets caviar; for Times Square, he is thinking of a midnight New Years Eve celebration. He will need to make more than one dish, which they keep saying not to do, but he is not afraid and he must do it that way, to take it through all the steps from luxury and celebration to cleansing. Cleansing? That is scary! Alex says he must have been the kid who never colored within the lines. Alex, the kids who colored within the lines are not those who go bankrupt. They are not on TV either, but they did not leave all their employees stranded while they lit the four fireplaces in their house and embarked on a television career. Take it from me, the ones who colored within the lines are pretty boring. He says what do you have in the fridge after celebrating? A New Years Eve breakfast feast, heavy to less heavy to clean. Black and White eggs with truffles and white asparagus, smoked fish and caviar, salmon tartar with vinaigrette and Moroccan souffle blinis, and for cleansing a superfood soup with pomegranate, papaya, fig and lychee and balsamic sugar. He thinks he is the only one who hit it out of the park. He tells the judges about indulgence and renewal and forgiveness at Midnight. I do not get the forgiveness thing! Michael Symon says everything is perfect, and a perfect egg is a tough job. Forgione did not get it, he had to eat scrambled eggs twice. Poor Forgione, maybe that is why he is the Hidden Iron Chef. Judy says it all works.

Alex buys pork chops. She has the Empire State Building, which was built on land that was originally a farm so she is making pork chops, brussels sprouts, and potatoes. As a preview type of thing, not exactly an appetizer but a sensory prompt, she is charring red peanuts and chestnuts to create an aroma like what they sell on the street. Anne says Alex is a great storyteller. Alex roasts her potatoes but knocks them in the sink! With 25 minutes to go she bums a potato off someone else and makes more. She is freaked out. “I can not think of any place I do not want to be more in the universe than here right now.” Oh, Alex, I just saw a 60 Minutes story about a 15 year old girl who is living in a truck with her little brother and her unemployed father, they look for a safe place to park every night where the cops will not get them and put the kids in foster care but no one will rob them either; I think there are many places you would not want to be more than there right now. She explains the bag is the beginning of understanding the enormity of the building, they should just smell it, not eat the peanuts which are burned. She used to walk past the building every day on her way to her first job as a cook, and smelled the roasted nuts. Forgione felt he was walking by the building. Charlie thinks it is an interesting way to start a dish. Judy says it is very clever, but you should be able to eat everything that comes to the table, she did not have to burn them but could have served roasted nuts. Simon says it was the least favorite of her dishes, the potatoes were soft; he loved the story but not the dish. She is very upset and hopes the story is enough to keep her in.

Falkner gets pork tenderloins to tell her story about the Brooklyn Bridge. The architect was German, so she is making a pork schnitzel with fennel and apple. And she is including rhubarb raspberry mustard. There is a lot of fun bridging going on. Michael Simon wonders if he is supposed to go side to side and eat in order? Judy likes how she separated the cooked compote on one side, the raw fruit on the other, it is fantastically executed. Charlie Palmer loves the dish but the storytelling itself was not enthusiastic. Michael Simon says the dish is good, but whatever you are selling, you need to really sell it, and she did not deliver the story well. Hah! This is classic Food Network crap!

Marcus gets wagyu beef. This is some market in the train station; New York is funny like that. Our train station here in Portland has some vending machines and that is about it. He thinks Broadway is about big dreams, coming to america, his dream and heritage and the diversity of New York City in one dish. I think he has gone a little overboard. That seems like many many stories. And every dish he makes is about his journey to America, which is fine, it is an interesting story, but it has nothing to do with Broadway. He will make hot smoked salmon with hot paprika in it to blend Sweden and Africa, a steak salad of bok choy and peanuts with little pieces of steak since someone new to America would not be able to afford a whole steak dinner. That is kind of funny, his idea of what someone new to America would want. It would depend on where they were from, silly! The judges have warned him before not to do too much, but he has done well so far so he is not worried. Forgione says the steak portion is the best dish he has had. Judy does not understand two dishes on the same plate, the salmon is strong and competes with the steak. Simon thinks the story does not make sense, he shoehorned what he does into the story. Charlie Palmer thinks it is a convoluted story. Marcus is not pleased.

Chiarello gets rabbits because when the Statue of Liberty was built, there were a lot of wild English rabbits running around amidst the cherry trees.. He is making he rabbits porchetta style, wrapped in panchetta, with a cherry agrodolce, because the goddess being depicted is based on a Roman goddess. And he cooked it via mock sous vide because the statue came from France, where sous vide was invented. Simon says it is a good story, two hundred and fifty years in the making and almost as long in the telling. Simon is a grump. What is it with the English anyway, are they still sore about the whole Revolution thing? Judy did not like the plating but it tasted phenomenal.

Judgment

The best of the day:
Anne: Michael Simon says she is finding her footing, though she needs to push the envelope harder. Her food was tasty and she had a good story.
Chiarello: Judy disses his beige on beige dish but says it was delicious.
Alton says they enjoyed the story Anne told better, so Anne wins!

Alex: Simon says we know you can tell a story but the potatoes were soft. Alton tells her the story kept her in, she is safe. She is feeling ferocious about the next challenge!
Zakarian: too many notes, clouded the story. But the food was brilliant, and he is in.

That leaves:
Marcus: Alton says they never got the story. Marcus will cook his way out of this.
Falkner: She had a good dish, but the story lacked passion and bogged the dish down. She is angry and disappointed.

Secret Ingredient Showdown:

They have thirty minutes to cook: Bagels! No, they are not making bagels, they have bagels and have to do something with them.

Falkner decides to make “a bagel with the works” which means toasted bagel and cream cheese ice cream, smoked salmon with eggplant and olive smear and bagel croutons. She is grilling the bagels and wants them charred, blackened for the ice cream, and Alex keeps reminding her she has them on the grill until she finally tells her she knows what she is doing! Hah! Take that, Alex! She blends the burned bagels with buttermilk, sour cream and cream cheese in an immersion blender and throws it in the ice cream machine. That sounds pretty awful. Michael Symon loves the bagel flavors she kept, it was well executed, thoughtful, and great use of the ingredient. Simon says these kinds of weird ice creams are usually more interesting than successful and that is the case here. Hah, someone finally said it! But he appreciates the many uses of the bagel to good effect. Judy likes how she interpreted the bagel, kept it real, captured the heart. I do not think that means anything!

Marcus makes his version of lox and bagels. He pickles some trout, and makes bagel dumplings with hoisin sauce. Then he makes gazpacho from coconut milk, peanuts, bagels, cucumber and grapes. This sounds pretty awful, too. Simon thinks he brought the dishes together very well, they were elegantly composed and well executed; it was the most focused of his dishes so far. Michael Symon liked the pickled fish, but the gazpacho muddled the bagel flavor. Judy thought it was a beautifully elegant dish, the bagel came through and kept the flavor profile true.

The judges talk behind their backs. Simon strongly prefers Marcus; he had better technique and the dish was more enjoyable. Judy says Falkner used lots of techniques; Michael Symon points out she made ice cream (which always impresses people, why, I am not sure). Marcus pickled his own fish, Falkner made ice cream, but Falkner was slightly more creative and the bagels were more prominent.

And the verdict is: Marcus is out, Falkner is safe.

Wow, Michael Symon has pull. I guess they had to get rid of the Top Chef Master even if he is the best chef there. He is a little grumpy, so they probably were not looking forward to having him on the team. But it was clearly rigged. They do not want really good chefs, they want people who will do what they are told. Marcus looks shocked. Say hello to Ming Tsai on your way out, Marcus!

They go through the whole “who is your biggest competition” – Falkner -> Chiarello -> Zakarian -> Falkner. And Anne and Alex are just out of luck. I was thinking Anne was most likely, but Elizabeth is pretty cool, too. But her lack of enthusiastic story-telling might do her in. And I do not think they will let an outsider win, no matter what they have to choke down.

Next week they play Name that Tune with lobster: I can cook that ingredient in 35 minutes. They call it an auction. They keep mixing their metaphors on this show. And Anne Burrell wants to throw up. Delightful.

The Next Iron Chef Super Chefs: Episode 4 – Food is Funny

In a blatant rip-off from Top Chef, they go to the Improv where Kevin Nealon (remember him?) greets them and a fake audience. The challenge is all about improvisation, so this makes sense!

Alton lays out the structure. There are four food groups: protein, carb, fruits, and random. Obviously they did not pay attention in Health Class when the Four Food Groups were taught (though most of us modified them to fit our own tastes. For example, my Four Food Groups are Chocolate, Bread, Fizzy Sugar-Free Drinks, and… did I mention chocolate? Well, I only have three food groups then).

The audience will call out items to fit in each group, and Kevin will write them down (Kevin Nealon is a key player in this process, I see) and then he will pick one from each group (oh, I see, they do have something for him to actually do) and that will be what the chefs have to cook with. It is sort of like Chopped. For all I know, this is how they pick the ingredients on Chopped. Except I doubt many people have ever heard of violet mustard and jew’s mallow.

Back to this show! For proteins, audience members suggest rabbit, beef jerky, and octopus. For carbs, they call out tortillas, challah, and corn nuts. The fruits are kiwi, goji berry, kumquat, and lychee, and Random things are mayonnaise, prune juice, cheese puffs, and marshmallow (not at all related to jew’s mallow which is similar to spinach).

Kevin picks octopus, tortillas, kumquats, and marshmallows as the ingredients they must feature. They go back to the Kitchen where they have 45 minutes and whatever is in the pantry. Falkner won the last challenge so she gets an extra five minutes. Chiarello thinks five minutes is not that big a deal for a one hour challenge, but for a 45 minute challenge it is a huge deal. I think he needs a step between “not a big deal” and “huge deal”. It is miraculous that the kitchen is stocked not only with a variety of tortillas (blue corn, for example) but with a variety of octopus, from big ones to tiny babies. I am sure it is perfectly legitimate; maybe Alton called someone in the kitchen as soon as the random audience called out their off-the-cuff ideas and Kevin Nealon picked what he thought would be fun, and someone ran to the fish store and bought all kinds of octopus.

It is a battle of the pressure cookers!

Alex regrets that she made too much stuff last time and did not pay attention to individual components. Her reaction to kumquats is, they have a lot of pits, and they have a lot of pith. At least I think that is what she said. I tried kumquats once at the suggestion of my writer friend Melissa (hi, Melissa!) and I did not think they had either pith or pits. Maybe it was something other than kumquats. Zakarian is going to make brunch. Falkner and Chiarello are going to Spain, but I do not think they are going together. Anne is going to change the form of the octopus. Chiarello learned from the last challenge to nail the candy element first since it is hardest to figure out.

Marcus will tell the story of his life, from Africa and Sweden. That is going to be tricky, I think, using those ingredients. I am somewhat Swedish, and I do not think octopus and tortillas and marshmallows and kumquats play a big part in Scandinavian cuisine. Or, for that matter, Ethiopian. Though he says marshmallows are from Africa. I do not believe him. Possibly there is a mallow plant from Africa that marshmallows mimic, but marshmallows are gelatin and corn syrup. And I read somewhere that only Japan, Greece, Spain, and Mexico use octopus in their traditional cuisines. But I could be misremembering!

And so we have:

Alex: she puts the octopus in a pressure cooker and another one in a saute pan and she will see which one works better. She will candy the kumquats. In the end, the pressure cooker octopus is better so she goes with that. She makes octopus marinated with dill, a nappa cabbage puree, sweet and sour red cabbage with marshmallow and burned marshmallow to give a campfire flavor, because campfires taste so good! Michael Symon says the octopus is perfectly cooked; he likes the chiles, a very successful dish. Simon thinks it is outstanding, he is very pleased with the cabbage; he licked his plate. Seriously, he holds it up to show her he licked it clean. Except he must have done that when the camera was on someone else because we did not see any licking. His plate is clean, though he could have done that with a napkin and thrown it on the floor! Judy likes the crunch of the tortillas and the marshmallows.

Zakarian serves blackened tortilla and octopus polenta with scrambled egg and frotp li,qiat/ <S. pme mpte bit gppd/ Su,pm. That is what my notes say! I think my fingers slipped over one letter on the keyboard! Anyway, Simon complains about the black mushrooms making the whole dish muddy.

Falkner snapped up sherry vinegar from the pantry in her head start time, and got her octopus in the pressure cooker right away. She wants to make a romesco that includes cocoa nibs for their familiar bitter nuttiness. Hey! A familiar bitter nuttiness! I like that! It sounds like me! She serves red wine braised octopus with tortilla chip romesco and creamy kumquat vinaigrette, with a sprinkle of marshmallow ash on the plate. Marshmallow ash is burned marshmallow! MS loves the romesco, and the octopus is cooked well. Judy thiniks the marhsmallow ash is clever. Simon thinks her technique is terrific but he is not sure about the plating. Judy sees order in the chaos of the plating.

Chiarello grills some baby octopus, and it is rubbery so he hopes he can pressure cook some to be better, but he keeps opening the pressure cooker because he does not want it to turn to mush! Opening a pressure cooker takes time! Octopus is usually tough, not mushy! Alex hears him opening it for the final time with just three minutes to go and thinks, “Bold!” I think, “Does not know how to cook octopus.” He makes a Spanish tortilla (which is like a big omelette in a pan, not like a Mexican tortilla) with octopus, paprika, serrano ham, and kalamata olives, with a marshmallow aeoli. MS says the flavors are balanced and the aeoli is brilliant. Judy loves that the pungent octopus is dampened with olives. Simon says it is a well considered dish beautifully executed.

Beau considers the marshmallow to be the most difficult ingredient (duh!) and makes a brule, which means he torches the marshmallows. He grills the octopus but it is tough so he poaches it as well. He has charred baby octopus with black bean hoisin marinade, blue corn tortilla fritter, and bruled marshmallow. MS found the octopus to be tough. Judy thought it was a pretty plate but the flavors were not married together. Simon says the tortilla fritter is dry, but he likes the marshmallow and the use of miso, but questions putting it together. Judy agreees, it is all kung foo fighting in her mouth. Beau thinks they are nuts, it was balanced to him.

Anne decides to puree her octopus, so she makes braised octopus ravioli in sauce topped with marhsmallow candied kumquats and chiles. Simon loves the use of champagne vinegar, it is a smart dish and surprising because it looks very simple. MS notices the technique needed to make the dish. Judy does not like the texture of the octopus; it is rubbery even though it is pureed. Eww.

Marcus makes kumquat pickled octopus, toasted tortilla gazpacho with burned marshmallow sauce. MS thinks the octopus is tender but cutesy; I do not know what that means, if it is a criticism or a compliment. Alton says he does not know what it is. Simon says he is ok with the presentation, so shut up Alton. Judy scolds him for making soup on a plate for the second time.

Judgment

Four chefs were successful:
Chiarello: MS says he used the ingredients wisely.
Falkner: Judy thought the octopus was cooked perfectly and it was clever. You know, I think Falkner, who is known as a pastry chef, understood how to cook octopus better than anyone!
Anne: Alton says she had a unique approach to integrate octopus and marshmallow.
Alex: Simon again insists he licked his plate clean.

Chiarello is the winner! Falkner is surprised. And Alex makes a face when it is announced, though who knows when she made that face, it could have been three days ago. One thing I have learned about reality tv, never trust the editing.

The disappointments were:
Zakarian: Simon says the mushrooms were too dominant.
Marcus: MS says the elements were not mixed on the plate.
Beau: Judy tells him it was disjointed, conflicting, and disappointing. Wow. That means it was not good, right?

Alton says, “Marcus, it was a mess, but it was tasty” so he is safe. Beau and Zakarian do the Secret Ingredient Showdown.

And the Secret Ingredient is: coconut! They have 30 Minutes!

Beau is happy since Asian is his specialty. Zakarian thinks there is no advantage because it can be approached from the French angle as well. Yes, French coconut dishes are very popular! Thing is, any ingredient can be approached from the French angle: make a mire poire, get some butter and cream, spend three hours making a sauce, and voila, French!

Zakarian is thinking big flavors, since his dish was criticized as one-note. He fillets a halibut and everyone applauds. He thinks a piece of fish overcooked, but it will be all right. I do not understand why he did not have enough fish to use another one! He had a whole halibut! A halibut is only four fillets? I guess it is if you trim them. That is why expensive restaurants are so expensive, they cut big fish into tiny squares and waste a lot (though they use the meat in other things, but not fillets). He serves lentil and coconut coated halibut over sunchokes with raisin lime puree, and a coconut halibut crudo in a tiny shot glass. Alex worries about doing a duo. Yeah, they reamed Marcus for that weeks ago, what is this, this is the second time someone else has done a duo! That rule is only for Ethiopian Swedes? Alton tells him they have been warned repeatedly about the dangers of multiple components. Yeah, yeah, he says. Alton asks, why halibut? Zakarian says, it is white! Of course! Color coordinated with the coconut! He wanted it clean with a slight Caribbean flavor and French lightness. MS loves the sunchokes (they were cooked in coconut water and then had coconut cream added). Simon had an overcooked fillet; everyone else had perfectly cooked fish. Delicious flavors, suprisingly poor execution. Judy says the duo worked.

Beau is driving Alex nuts by rushing back and forth to the pantry to get things over and over. He goes to grill pineapple and everyone groans. Why? Grilled pineapple is delicious! They say it is old school. Well, so what, it is good! He makes coconut curry stew. MS likes the broth for its depth of flavor. He does not love the pineapple. Judy did not mind the pineapple, the shellfish was beautifully cooked, she would have liked more jalapeno, a different chile would have brought it together. Simon thinks it is one of the best dishes he has made in the competition, a thoughtful and splendid dish. I guess he likes grilled pineapple too! Beau says he put a Beauman element in your face, rich buttery clams in broth. Ok.

The Decision:

Alton says it was not unanimous, but they all did agree that one bite was terrific, and that was the crudo Zakarian made, so Zakarian is in. Beau is out! Alton tells him he did not have a bad day in the kitchen, he had a good day, but Zakarian had a better day. It is strange, when I was looking at the opening credits, I was thinking he would be next to go, just based on who is important to Food Network. Actually I thought Chuck Hughes would be next because I completely forgot he already went! That is how much attention I am paying to this show! Everyone left either is a Food Network bigshot or has genuine cachet as a chef. I will guess Falkner will be out next. Unless they decide to make an example of a Top Chef Master and get rid of Marcus!

Anne points out none of the women have been in the bottom yet. I did not realize that!

Next week they go to New York, and the challenge is storytelling. Yay, storytelling! That I know something about! Though I am not sure how it applies to food. Maybe they will ask them to make four courses that reflect their first food memory, the dish that made them want to be a chef, their first signature dish, and their future direction! ;)

Next Iron Chef Super Chefs, Episode 3: Let’s All Go to the Lobby

Wake me when it is over!

Hello, I am Zin! It is time for more Next Iron Chef! More inappropriate ingredients! More challenges that have nothing to do with Iron Chef! And for theatrics, what could be better than:

The Challenge:
The contestants gather at the very ornate Orpheum Theater in LA which could be very interesting but they do not bother much with it because they have a film of the Chairman doing calisthenics with his left eyebrow instead. Alton reveals the challenge:

They have one hour to make one savory dish and one sweet dish using concessions! Candy and popcorn! The theme is ingenuity. Themes seem especially arbitrary this season!

Alex Guarnaschelli gets to pick her ingredient first since she won last week, and she also gets to assign ingredients to the other chefs. She takes chocolate covered raisins.
Elizabeth Falkner is assigned malt balls, because Alex thinks they have an inherently dull flavor (oh come on, they are delicious – the best things I have ever tasted were coffee malted milk balls but I can not find them any more, and it is a good thing because they are quite expensive and they are pure sugar!) and are hard to work with. But Falkner was first a pastry chef so she will have and advantage for dessert. And she might know a thing or two about malt.
Chuck Hughes gets popcorn; Alex explains how trivial he is: “Who knows what he is and is not comfortable with.” That is what happens when you end up on The Cooking Channel! Sorry Chuck!
Michael Chiarello is given gummi bears to work with! My writing friend Marko (Hello Marko!) has a running joke going on Zoetrope about gummi bears! I will have to tell him about this episode! Alex gave them to Chiarello because she is pretty sure they do not have gummi bears in Napa Valley. I would bet they do, in fact, if there is a gas station or a convenience store anywhere, but I doubt Chiarello has ever encountered any.
Geoffrey Zakarian ends up with cinnamon candies. Alex thinks they are hard to work with, and that he gulped a little. I think cinnamon is an easy flavor for all sorts of things!
Anne Burrell gets root beer candies. Alex pronounces her name with the extra sound, like “bee-urell” which I think is not right. She says it twice so she thinks it is right. Maybe she does not know how her name is pronounced. Or maybe she is jealous that Anne has so many shows so she mispronounces it on purpose. Or maybe it is pronounced that way and I just do not know it! She says she thought it would be a good ingredient for her, as though she is doing her a favor. Root Beer is a pretty good flavor for many meats.
Marcus Samuelsson is assigned chocolate covered caramels.
Beau MacMillan has sour sugar candies, those gelled fruit things.

Cooking and Judgment:

Anne: she serves quail stuffed with sausage and fennell and root beer candies over an agrodolce (Italian sweet and sour sauce) with braised kabocha squash. For dessert she makes chocolate root beer spice cake with root beer caramel sauce and a bourbon root beer float. She is worried, because she was lucky to get root beer candy and if she does not do well she will be laughed at or something! But they love her dishes. They do sound good.

Falkner: she has made a lot of malty things (hey, my father was named Malte!) but has never used malted milk balls candy! Well duh! That is why it is called a challenge! She thinks of fish and chips which uses malt, and sticks with pub food. She makes fish and chips with malted milk ball and stout batter; Simon says it is successful, Judy thinks it is fantastic and loves how she used the malted milk balls. I am not so sure, because they have chocolate on the malted milk balls, yes? Which I do not think would work for fish batter. Maybe she melted off the chocolate. Or maybe it is just her turn to be in the spotlight so they say it is good no matter what. For dessert she has chiffon crunch cake and barley ice cream (malt comes from barley, that is smart) which is made with malted milk ball infused milk. Judy says the chiffon cake is beautiful, the ice cream is the best thing she has had yet. Michael Symon says he typically does not like malt balls but he loved her food.

Marcus: He makes seared salt-cured duck breast with chocolate covered caramels and cocoa nibs. Judy thought the char was too dark but she likes the bitter notes (that is because Marcus knows what he is doing, you twit). His dessert is chocolate caramel cake with buttermilk sorbet and fruit. Simon thinks the inside is delicious but the outside is a little tough. He thinks there is a slight problem with the execution of the cake but the concept was strong.

Hughes: he gives an unnecessary lecture about an Iron Chef should be able to make a delicious meal out of anything; ingenuity is touched by genius. He wants to be playful and witty, to use popcorn in as many ways as possible, and to use many techniques. He grinds some of his popcorn into flour and makes popcorn shrimp with a popcorn and seafood cream and spicy bacon popcorn wilted greens. Simon says the concept is great but the dish is a train wreck, the popcorn is not edible; Judy says she has stuff stuck in her teeth. That is what popcorn is all about! For desert, he makes vanilla popcorn pudding. Michael Symon enjoys the flavor; Simon agrees it is much more enjoyable. It looks awful.

Chiarello: He plans panna cotta using the gummi bears instead of gelatin; Alton looks dubious! Panna cotta! No, no, no! Panna Cotta is doom! He admits he does not know if it will work. Sheesh! His main dish is a lamb chop agrodolce (I have never heard that term before and now I have heard it twice in ten minutes!) meaning it was marinated in gummi bears, olive oil, vinegar and rosemary! That is pretty much the idea for how to use candy, make something that needs sugar! Michael Symon gives a great quote: “Nothing says rustic Italian like gummi bears!” Very successful dish! Judy says it is succulent with nice flavor. His orange gummi panna cotta, not so much. Nobody likes the texture; Simon calls it “a funeral in my mouth,” too dense. Chiarello says, “If I am in the bottom of this challenge it is because I am an idiot.” I agree! If anyone is giving lessons on winning cooking competitions, rule #1 is: no panna cotta!

Beau: Alton tells him he got hosed by getting sour sugar candy. He does Asian food, so he thinks in sweet and sour terms. He makes sweet and sour snapper ceviche with the zest of lemon and lime, replicating the flavors from the candy – hey, wait, no, you have to use the candy! That is not right! They call him on it and he says “I feel like I am in court here.” Alton says, “You are!” He says he used the candy in the granita. What granita? Was that part of the savory dish? For dessert, he made sweet melon coconut soup. Judy thinks there is a lot going on but it has a nice creaminess. Michael Symon did not think it worked, he had enough after two bites. Beau is surprised because he was sure his food was great. Hey, buster, it does not matter, you cheated!

Zakarian: he starts melting the cinnamon candies in cheesecloth, and he struggles with the food processor for a while before he realizes he has the cover on backwards! He makes a cinnamon and vinegar chicken with sherry, ginger, and olives. That is a lot of stuff. Judy thinks it is perfect though, and Simon says it is phenomenal. He makes cinnamon orange oeufs a la nage for dessert, which is floating island, dollops of meringue over sweet soup, but if you are a bankrupt restauranteur you want to call it by the French term so you can charge more for it and keep your four fireplaces stoked. Simon says it is fantastic, it is like asking Mozart to play the kazoo in a marching band, and he can play the kazoo. I wish he would stop with these silly comments! He must have a whole repertoire of stupid analogies!

Alex: she is pretty sure she overchurned her ice cream but there is nothing she can do but add some liquid, mix in her chocolate covered raisins, and hope! She makes lamb loin caponata, and chocolate raisin sauce with anchovy. They like the anchovy how it picked up on the chocolate, the salty against the sweet. Her sweet dish is a golden raisin biscuit with cardamom and star anise ice cream. They do not like the texture of the ice cream at all though the flavor is good; it is grainy and curdled.

The best dishes are: Anne, Falkner, and Zakarian.
Falkner wins! Judy congratulates her on providing her first foodgasm of the competition. Falkner blushes. You judge one sex shop dessert challenge on Top Chef, and it follows you for life!

In the middle are Marcus and Chiarello, they are safe.

That leaves Alex, Hughes, and Beau in the bottom. Alex is scolded for messing up the ice cream but she is safe because she embraced the ingredient.

So the Secret Ingredient Showdown will be between Hughes (who used too many ingredients) and Beau (who did not embrace the ingredient. Did not embrace it, hell, he just did not use it!)

The Secret Ingredient is…Tofu! Eww. Alex says tofu is like popcorn, it is easy to put in a dish but it is hard to make a dish about tofu. I think most of Asia would disagree with you there, Alex. Beau is happy because, well, he is an Asian specialist, and Tofu adapts to many flavors since it does not taste like anything at all. Hughes decides to go head to head Asian against Beau, and to keep it simple.

Hughes: crispy silken tofu battered in rice flour and panko and deep fried, served with a dipping sauce of sriracha, soy, ginger, and lime. A one-bite wonder. Judy thinks there is too much in the sauce, it overpowers the delicate tofu; he put all of Asia into the sauce. Well, it is dipping sauce! But he served it plopped in the middle of the sauce, which was stupid! Every Asian sauce has soy, ginger and chiles, so what is the big deal? Michael Symon appreciates that he wanted to provide a big impression with one bite, and he did.

Beau: Trilogy of Tofu. Marinated silken tofu; tempura teriyaki tofu with morrell mushroom; tofu veggie roll. Judy thinks there are too many ingredients. Michael Symon liked it, is impressed with how his mind works. Simon thinks he respected each type of tofu, nothing was wrong with any of them and the tempura was standout; he understands Asia. Hey, how come Marcus gets scolded when he does multiple dishes for one challenge but it is ok when Beau does it?

Hughes is out because he caused confusion. This seems strange to me – Beau cheated by not using the candy! But they probably have the order of elimination set before the show starts, and it is just a matter of coming up with rationalizations each week for why a particular person should be out.

They all praise each other. Somebody has to.

Next week they go to a comedy club and an aging Kevin Nealon does the improv thing where he asks for a protein (and presumably other things). They are blatantly copying Top Chef! I guess they want to show how their Super Chefs can do things better! Except they do not! And they have probably run out of ideas! They are just making fools of themselves.

I am still very bored by this show. I have made the commitment to recap and I will honor it. But I will not like it! That is ok, tonight is the Sing Off which makes up for it!

The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs Episode 2: Take Me Out To The Ballgame

Hello, I am Zin! And I realized something about halfway through this episode: this show is boring! I am not sure if it is because they are duplicating the Top Chef challenges, or because the Food Network people are boring, or if they are really sanitizing this to make everyone look good since the purpose seems to be to promote all the shows these people have! It is like an extended promo! And there are too many talking heads! Or maybe just because I am not that interested in baseball. But I am bored!

They gather at Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres. I know some people who live in San Diego, hi Bonnie and em! Even baseball parks are boring now – come on, a baseball park named after a pet store? What does baseball have to do with pets? The theme is transformation, turning ballpark food into Kitchen Stadium worthy food. They talk about transformation of ingredients a lot on Chopped, but not in the same way – there, it is more about grinding up cookies or using seafood for puree or deep frying uni. But here it is different. Make an upscale hot dog?

The people who won last week, Zakarian and Beau, get an extra minute as an advantage (that does not seem like much of an advantage to me). They have to get ingredients from various concession stands in the ball park. Beau is still limping from his turned ankle. And Zakarian is the oldest in the bunch. So they need that extra minute just to keep even! They will cook on grills and have sixty minutes to create two dishes.

Alex wants to focus and stay true to herself. And she wants to make ice cream since the ice cream machine gives you automatic extra credit! That is silly. And what, they have grills and an ice cream machine? I think there is something fishy here, like there is an entire kitchen somewhere and they really do the cooking there. I do not believe much the Food Network says. They have played too fast and too loose on too many other shows. Falkner also wants to use the ice cream machine. She likes to take classics and tweak them. Marcus wants to do four dishes even though he has been scolded before for doing too many things. Zakarian will do brunch at the ball park. Chiarello likes the idea of street food of his local San Francisco and New York. Irvine is going to make a hotburg, a combination hamburger and hot dog. He sings, “There is no other hotburg in the United States of America.” That is probably for a reason! Beau is going to deconstruct.

They present their dishes:

Alex: First: sausage and pepers, and fried onion rings. Simon says (oh, I love saying that!) she did the transformation element, the onion rings are smart. I am not sure why onion rings would be smart. They might be good, but smart? Second: Lemon sherbet with whipped cream. Michael Symon says it works. Judy thinks it is nice after greasy food. I think she just called the sausage greasy, but maybe not. I think she is right, though, sherbet or sorbet works great after something like sausage. Simon says it is ballpark perfection.
Zakarian: First, avocado one eyed susan with shrimp toast cajun style. Judy says it is nice; Michael Symon thinks the food is fantastic but does not focus on the challenge of ballpark food. Second, Gazpacho with mustard crème. Simon is glad to know someone who knows less about baseball than he does (since he is British), it is not ballpark food. Michael Symon points out it is the best food so far (which, since according to this show is not such a big deal as he is only the second chef). He thinks he made ballpark food taste like kitchen stadium. It is funny, in his intro Simon was all about taste but now he is all about ballparks. I do not think lemon sherbet has much to do with ballparks. But I have not been in a ballpark, ever. All I know is peanuts and cracker jack. And what they did on Top Chef DC which included tuna tartar.
Beau: First, deconstructed corn dog, shrimp and grits. Michael Symon says it is too rich with nothing to cut the heaviness; Judy liked the shrimp. Second, carpaccio with bleu cheese and peppers as a deconstructed cheesesteak. Simon thinks it looks undercooked rather than a carpaccio, a technique problem. Ok, I am annoyed with this Simon guy. He has not made a taste complaint yet! And I do not think carpaccio is a ballpark food!
Anne: First, brisket lettuce wrap, pickled veggies; Judy wants more spice. Second, chicken and kielbasa sloppy joes. Simon likes the crunchy roll; Michael Symon prefers a soft bun for a sloppy joe; it is good but he does not love it.
Falkner: First, a remodeled (not deconstructed) cheesesteak from grilled brisket with onion, pickled veggies, and bleu cheese ice cream. Michael Symon likes the playfulness, the heat of habanero, and the ice cream. Judy says it is genius. Second, remodeled corn dog from grilled kielbasa. Simon is indignant she just sliced some kilebasa, not really impressive. I wonder why he did not get all snippy about the kielbasa Anne used?
Chiarello: First, polpette (tilapia fishcake, which is odd since polpette are meatballs; I guess they are fish meatballs, but it is more likely he is trying to give it a fancy name) and shrimp cioppino. Michael Symon says it is SF but refined (hey, SF is plenty refined all by itself!); Judy thinks it is nice. Second, sausage and pepper with raw egg yolk in the shell. Wow, Simon found the egg unpleasant, Judy agrees. Alton says, “If you are going to serve a raw egg you need to do it better than this” and holds up the egg in shell, and white is dripping down like snot. Chiarello interviews, “Get off my back already.” Wow, testy! Though he did make it to the finals of Top Chef Masters and Alton Brown has never really done any restaurant cooking, he got a culinary degree so he could make a tv show, which is pretty impressive actually, but it is not the same as running a restaurant. Still, he is right about the egg. It is pretty disgusting.
Marcus: He has four dishes: First, shrimp tostado and fish taquitos. Micahel Symon says it tells a story, it is ball park seafood perfection. Judy thinks finger food is smart. Second, pork sandwich with fries. Simon says he has overdone it, made too many things, and maybe not today but some day it will come back and bite him. Bite me, Simon. Just because he can cook rings around these Food Network clowns is no reason to scold him!
Hughes: (I had to think, who is Hughes?) First: shrimp and pork meatball sub with corn salsa, bbq sauce, and blue cheese. Excuse me, but pork and fish in a meatball? That sounds awful. Michael Symon is not feeling shrimp but got most of it. Simon is unhappy that the bun is impossible to pick up and a knife and fork is required (he still is not talking about taste, just ancillary crap). Second, a tilapia corn dog, spicy dill sour cream. Judy loves it; Simon says the corn dog is good as anything he has had today. Finally, taste!
Irvine: First, hotburg with bleu cheese aioli. He ground hot dogs with the hamburger meat. Simon says it is successful. I do not believe him! It sounds awful. Second, deconstructed fish taco with pickled radishes and guacamole sauce. Michael Symon says the seasoning is off; Judy thinks the pickles are way too strong.

They return to the studio for judgment!

Three did well and are safe:
Hughes – wow, that is a surprise, they were pretty critical of his dish, the soft bun, the nissing shrimp! Simon says he can see his happiness in the food but he should give more thought to presentation; the deep fried tilapia was delicious. Oh, come on, like Padma said, if you deep fried her toe it would be delicious!
Falkner – Judy says she is taking risks in all the right places, the ice cream was a highlight. Michael Symon loved the whimsy but is still mad she just sliced kielbasa; if you are going to use sausage in Kitchen Stadium, you had better make it. Oh, come on, like anyone made sausage at the ball park!
Alex – Alton says the judges have nothing to say, her dishes were perfect. She looked like she had no idea what he said! It was a weird way of saying it. She is the winner!

Three did ok and are safe:
Anne – Michael Symon thinks she is playing it safe.
Beau – Judy says his dishes were not disastrous, but were not winners either.
Marcus – Simon lectures him again: “Enough already, next time you bring out more than required, we will make you pick which ones we are to taste.” Boy is he jealous! He is not even Food Network! Maybe that is why they are getting him to do the dirty work of scolding Marcus for being an overachiever.

Then we have the potential losers:
Zakarian – Judy says he cooked gorgeously and his technique was flawless but he did not follow the rules, he blew off the challenge, it was supposed to be ballpark food. Are shrimp and grits, or cioppino, ballpark food? I get what they mean, but I think they are overdoing it. But it serves him right for all the people he has Chopped for dumping pretzels on the plate!
Irvine – Michael Symon commends him for staying away from fish & chips, but the radishes overpowered his taco. That is the only complaint? That does not sound all that bad!
Chiarello – Simon loved the polpette but the raw egg was a failure.

Alton tells Zakarian he is safe, but warns him about skirting the rules. “Be careful!”

Irvine and Chiarello do the sudden death showdown. The secret ingredient is peanuts! They have thirty minutes.

Irvine thinks the challenge is giving Chiarello “a little angina” since peanuts are not Italian. So, Robert, are peanuts British? No, he is making Asian food. Chiarello is making pasta which is pretty nervy with only thirty minutes. He is an overachiever too, I guess! Angina or no.

Irvine: Peanut crusted halibut with peanut hummus and a peanut-lemongrass-ginger sauce. He calls it Asian flavors in French style food. Simon loves the peanuts three ways. Michael Symon likes the moistness of the ifsh and the flavor of the peanuts. Judy likes the use of peanuts but wants less hummus, it is very thick, she used veggies as dip, and she wanted more of the sauce.

Chiarello: peanut pesto fettucini with an heirloom tomato salad. Well, the pasta is great, but the salad is a throw-away, it seems to me! Alton asks what the peanuts do for the pesto that pine nuts do not. The answer, I think is that they are the challenge, it is not a pine nut battle! But Chiarello makes something up about how he fried them instead of roasting them to bring out the flavor. Michael Symon did not think the peanuts would come through but they did; he loves the tomato salad. Hey, tomato salad, that is something I could do! Simon complains that fifty percent of the dish does not use the ingredient. He is right! But it still has nothing to do with taste! Michael Symon thinks there was enough peanut flavor in the pesto for the whole dish.

I think they might dump Chiarello just because he was on TCM. And Irvine did use more peanuts.

Irvine is out. I am surprised! Happy, but surprised! But that is how Food Network shows are, they do not really make sense most of the time. They do a lot of chest thumping about how such a great chef is out because his hummus was a little too thick, which sounds really dirty if you are in a silly frame of mind! And I am, because this show is very boring, there are too many talking heads which mean nothing other than “I am such a good chef.” The only good talking head was Chiarello saying “Get off my back.” I think he has not been on TV for a while. The rest of them have their robotic Food Network “brand” personalities automatically kick in! I know Falkner can be interesting; she was the one who gave that crazy TC:JD guy with the “Red Hots are for my mommy” a pep talk! I hope she starts talking more!

I missed the coming attactions for next week. I hope it is more interesting!

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!