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!
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.