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 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!