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.

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