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Iron Chef America (Part 1)


bpearis
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The appeal of the original show for me was the sheer manic seriousness of the concept. For those unfamiliar with the original show, it was created by "Chairman" Kaga, who apparently is a minor celebrity in Japan, and is just slightly less flamboyant than Liberace. But just a bit. Each show starts with Kaga biting into a yellow pepper and then getting a wild demonic possessed look in his eyes. The first time I saw it, I remember thinking "What in the hell is this?!?" Then comes the Kaga's intro monologue, which always starts "If memory serves me correctly..." For practical reasons, the intro speech is dubbed. But the rest of the time, Chairman Kaga is so exalted he gets subtitles instead of being dubbed. Then the madness really starts...

Tuxedo-clad floor reporter Ohta has to ask Fukui (whom he always addresses with the honorific "Fukui-san", which is of course not reciprocated) for permission to speak, which is not always granted. Judge Kishi (the 'East German' judge) will diss a chef, who has to bow to her as he takes it. (My favorite quote from her: "The first bite was horrible. And the second bite was horrible!") Chen puffs and lights things on fire. Kobe gets a live octupus wrapped around his arm, then beats it off with with a Daikon radish. The Kandagawa faction (champions of traditional Japanese cuisine) hates the neo-Japanese New York (now Philly) chef Morimoto but the chefs they send against him are beaten like a gong, one by one. And of course the calmness and focus of Sakai, who simply gets the job done, time after time. The interplay and subtlety is what made the show great.

Edited by Adiabatic (log)
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I thought the new show was pretty good. A little rough in some places, but pretty good. In the original show, the commentary was provided by Fukui who did the play by play, and Dr. "always a pleasure" Hattori did the color commentary. In ICA, Alton filled both roles, explaining what we were seeing, and then giving some analysis into what the chefs were doing. That was a lot for one person, and Alton seemed rushed and jittery at times. He would be a great choice for the Dr. Hattori role, with someone else doing the play by play. Here's my take on the rest of the show:

The staff: Kevin Brauch was okay as the floor reporter. "If memory serves" there was a different guy on the first ICA who was just awful. He seemed to yell for Alton's attention a lot, which was mildly annoying. Brauch did a better job (or maybe he improved a lot) but he's no Ota. Also, it appeared that the chefs and Alton could hear each other clearly. With Alton able to ask the chefs questions directly, I don't understand the need for a floor reporter.

The weak link is the Chairman, who is basically just an announcer. He's obviously just a figurehead, so why have him? He also appears to be sane. The appeal of Chairman Kaga is that he's obviously off his rocker.

The Judges: I give a mixed report on the judging. That Chen woman was slightly dumber than a post. And what's up the chopsticks? Mexican food and chopsticks? WTF is that? Maybe its okay to eat sushi with a fork. I guess she fills the token stupid actress judge slot of the original show. but man, she was annoying. Steingarten, as usual, was excellent and posed the insight (paraphrased): "this might be the best example of this dish in the world, but if I've never had it before how do I judge it if I don't like it?"

The Chefs: Everyone remarked on Chef Bayless's calmness and professinalism, and I have to agree. He seemed in perfect control the whole time and knocked out several very interesting and exotic dishes. I have to agree with Steingarten though, they might have been perfectly authentic, but how good did they taste?

Bobby Flay on the other hand, is one of the bigger jackasses to ever walk around on his hind legs. After Brauch commented that Flay was barking at his sous chef, Flay acted all hurt and struck a "I can't buy a break" pose. Brauch quickly backpeddled. Suck it up Bobby. You were barking. Still, Flay's dishes looked pretty tempting, he seemed to have all the elements put together.

One area where the new show surpases the original is the focus on the food. You get a better idea of where the chef is headed during the show, and I like how the chef gets plenty of time to explain his dishes during the judging. Two thumbs up for that.

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As a fan of the original IC, I wasn't going to watch, but I'm glad I did.

Standing on it's own, without direct comparison to the Japanese "Iron Chef", and ignoring preconcieved notions about the participating chefs, I think the show worked pretty well. I even found myself grabbing a pen and paper to make some notes:

Does the Chairman wear his shoes in the Stadium?

I liked Buffalo as the ingredient. It is "Iron Chef America" after all.

Alton's commentary was a nice blend of informative and entertaining. I was impressed by his noting and explanation of the lard coating on the grilled bison steaks.

I always liked the giggling female judges on "Iron Chef", but I'll admit it probably wouldn't work in the American version. (okay, maybe Rachel Ray?) That oughta draw a few flames!

For the judging panel, how about other Food Network personalities? Sara Moulton, Tony Bourdain and Martha Stewart for instance? (I hope Tony will appear as a contestant?)

Lastly, this was, after all, Iron Chef America. One of the contestants should have ground up some meat and made a nice half pound Buffalo Burger!

SB (will watch again next week)

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I think I've seen all of the original IC episodes aired on Food Network (and there were a lot!), I found the show extremely entertaining. I was planning to watch this first ICA episode until I found out it was Flay vs Bayless. Something about Flay really rubs me the wrong way and I can't make myself watch him. Also, I'm a fan of Bayless. Knowing that this was the first episode of the new series, I knew Flay would win, there was no real "contest". I should note that although I can't stand to watch Chef Flay, I've never tried any of his recipes. I own a couple of Chef Bayless' cookbooks, and haven't yet found a recipe of his I didn't like. (My personal favorite - and my kids' - is the Black Bean & Chicken Tostadas with Tangy Romaine out of Mexico One Plate At A Time.)

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I really enjoyed the show.. I thought the fact that I can understand the conversations between the chefs and their people was a good addition.. I liked Brown as the commentator.. My only problem was the judging.. I thought that the woman in the middle was kind of an idiot and wasnt really qualified to judge.. I also thought they werejudging on personal likes as opposed to quality and such.. For example the one judge said he preferred his steak more well done, and liked spicier food.. I think they should get better judges.

I like Bobby Flay and think his food on the Iron Chef competitions and show seem to be more appealing then what he offers at Mesa and Bolo.

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Watching Iron Chef America was almost a completely different experience than watching the original. For one thing I didn't realize what a difference it would make having the show in English. I understand everything! With the original, I listenend to what the translators did. In this one, you got to hear all the banter between the chefs, the sous, Alton Brown, everybody. I always suspected that the chefs and announcers could hear each other in Kitchen Stadium, I guess I was right. Also, I'm really excited not so much about the Iron Chefs themselves, but to see the challengers. Come on, raise your hand if you want to see Tony Bourdain vs. Flay.

Besides their choice of Iron Chefs (which I understand, they need Food Network people) the only things I had a problem with were:

1. Get Alton an assistant. The poor man needs help!

2. Where's the audience? I didn't hear any partisan cheering and I really missed that.

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Very enjoyable. I was impressed with both efforts, particularly the fava-crusted buffalo and Flay's buffalo chop. My only quibble is that I wish they'd spend a little more time on the background of the challenger: Bayless is such a luminary in the field, and I was really looking forward to him going against Flay, but the credits rolled and they just cut immediately to the challenger, the IC, and the ingredient selection.

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Personalities aside, I found it interesting and entening. Would love the commercial breaks shortened. No matter how the Flay haters feel, I don't buy it is fixed...Flay won by one point on presentation and seeing as that's all we at home can judge, I agreed.

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I liked it for what it was. The main source of interest to me turned out to be whatall they did with the bison. I would love to be able to try the tartara, tamal, and Flay's ribs. We eat a lot of that compared to most folks. I also salivated over Chef B's masa he brought :smile:as well as his chiles and herbs. Made me ready to head South--way South. :wub:

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Thought I would let you guys know, I have gotten Flay, Batali and Producer Bruce Siedel to agree to answer a few ? each week from the readers of my newspaper column. I know you guys dont live in the same place as I but thats the best part of the "net". You can read the column online at www.dailybreeze.com (Rave section) and e mail me from the link there, I will try to get any eG ? answered.

Chris

Moo, Cluck, Oink.....they all taste good!

The Hungry Detective

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Because I don't have cable, I'm not as keen to hate Food TV as most here -- I still salivate at the chance to watch Rachel Ray giggle or Emeril BAM! something, if only because it's novel. So, I *quite* enjoyed Iron Chef America (at a friend's) last night. It is not diehard, serious foodie tv, nor is it a culinary olympics in miniature, but it is great good fun, and chance to cheer for your side while watching someone roll out masa rather than a guy in a helmet patting another on the ass. Even if the contestants were Heckel and Jeckel I think I'd watch it, and, despite my issues with both Flay and Bayless, I thought it was exciting as hell to watch two serious chefs cook in such a goofy-but-intense forum. Whether or not ICA can stand up to the camp and cultishness of the original I cannot say, but, in its own right, its got me hooked.

And Bayless was totally robbed. :angry:

A jumped-up pantry boy who never knew his place.

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Various comments in response to several portions of the thread so far:

-- Takeshi Kaga is an actor who was chosen for the role of the flamboyant Chairman Kaga in the original Iron Chef. Among his other credits, he played Jesus in the first Japanese stage adaption of Jesus Christ, Superstar.

-- Contrary to the image they try to present in the original show, the producers usually decided who the Challenger would compete against. When the Challenger chose an Iron Chef, most of the time he/she was simply parroting back what the producers had told them. (Sometimes the Challengers could decide who they wanted to compete against, but even then it was ironed out before they actually started filming the episode.)

-- The judges usually consisted of a rotating stable of regular judges, most of whom were famous for non-food stuff, but were also amateur foodies. These were the folks that sat on either end of the judging table, like photographer Tenmei Kanoh and that guy in the bow tie who used to be in the Japanese Parliament. In addition to these semi-regular judges, there were also one or two (depending on the year) celebrity judges.

-- The original Iron Chefs all point out that, as the show progressed, they gained two very important edges over the Challengers. (A) They developed a lot of experience cranking out a variety of dishes in under an hour; and (B) they knew the personal tastes and preferences of the semi-regular judges, and could adjust their dishes accordingly.

-- The competition of the original series was very, very serious. Reading the Iron Chef book reveals that the chefs -- living under the Japanese notion of "losing face" -- were VERY upset when they lost. Chen Kenichi said that whenever he lost a battle, he would go home and his wife often wouldn't speak to him for a day or two.

-- The original announcer, Fukui Kenji (aka "Fukui-san"), was not from the food world. He was a baseball announcer for Fuji Productions, the company that produced Iron Chef.

-- The company that did the English translations for the original show were a bunch of Canadians living in Tokyo. Dr. Hattori's translator, in particular, has a noticable Canadian accent.

-- The original show used to feature a lengthy intro of each challenger, describing their history and their cooking specialty. Something like that would be welcome in the new Iron Chef America.

-- Kevin Brauch was indeed the floor reporter for the earlier Iron Chef America specials. However, the Iron Chef USA specials, which featured William Shatner as the Chairman, and which had the annoying-as-hell non-stop cheering of the studio audience (prompted by the producers of the show, who urged them to cheer with signs and instruction cards), had a female floor reporter whose name I don't recall.

-- I would be very surprised to learn that the Iron Chef America shows are actually rigged with a pre-determined outcome.

* AB drinks one of those "Guiness Pub Draught" beers, with the nitrogen cannister in the bottom of the can.

* AB wonders what Budweiser would taste like with one of those...

<AB> . o O (Like shit, still, I should think.)

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I watch ICA for entertainment, and in that regard it delivered. While the original IC was also a lot of fun, I've been anticipating this version because 1.) being able to understand everything that is going on without having to rely on translators adds to the enjoyment, or at least my enjoyment; 2.) while seeing what each new battle over sea urchin or shark fin might yield in the original, I have to admit that I'm a little bit more excited to see what chefs will do with ingredients that I have more than a passing familiarity with or interest in eating.

I do have to disagree with the notion that it would be good to spend more time looking at the challenger's bio/career. It was something I always sort of fumed about in the original; all I could think was, "C'mon and cook already!" I am willing to admit, though, that that could change if there are challengers I am unfamiliar with. Rick Bayless has been a favorite of mine for years and, considering that I live in Boston, Ming Tsai is more than a known quantity - his restaurant is a regular in my rotation (if he doesn't win, I'll start to believe in the rigging theory - he kicks butt!).

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The only thing that consoled me last night with Bobby Flay winning, was that at the same time I was watching Bobby Flay get his ass kicked on Celebrity Poker Showdown. God, that man is insufferable. His plating was "prettier" though, so I'm not surprised that he won on appearance.

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I am an avid fan of the Japanese show, and I also enjoyed ICA. A huge draw of the japanese show though is the goofy commentary, it is as much comedy as it is drama and cooking, ICA lacks that simply because we don't have the benefit of the language being changed. The atmosphere of the original show is also better, they really need to add a studio audience or a 'royal box' or something to add some noise into that place while the cooking is going on. A lengthier introduction would also be welcome.

As far as this particular episode went, I didn't detect any snobbery or disrespect from Flay to Bayless, I think it might be reading too much into a simple 'Mr.' vs 'Chef' to say that Flay doesn't appreciate the work of Bayless.

As far as the outcome went, I am positive it wasn't rigged, I just don't think FTV would do that. There were some comments made though that make me think this wasn't neccessarily the first episode filmed, particularly some things Steingarten said, so perhaps the FTV people just picked an episode where the Iron Chef won to start off the series in lieu of showing them in chronological order.

Also, it is worth noting that Flay only won by 1 point over Bayless, and that it was in presentation, not taste. To me, all of the dishes looked very tasty, thought I might have given a slight nod to Bayless there. It looked as if Flay's dishes were overall much more original though, with Bayless basically cooking slight variations on traditional regional mexican fare. Flay's dishes were clearly more artfully arranged though, much more colorful, more care taken in plating, so, his winning in the presentation category is not suprising.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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-- Kevin Brauch was indeed the floor reporter for the earlier Iron Chef America specials.  However, the Iron Chef USA specials, which featured William Shatner as the Chairman, and which had the annoying-as-hell non-stop cheering of the studio audience (prompted by the producers of the show, who urged them to cheer with signs and instruction cards), had a female floor reporter whose name I don't recall.

The female floor reporter on the original Iron Chef USA was Sissy Biggers.

-Steve

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I enjoyed last night's ICA a great deal, and I think they've fixed a number of weaknesses evident in the first set of show.

Kevin Brauch did a much better job as the floor reporter - poor Alton got a little help there with the commentary. I also liked the aside Alton did on the chiles, as well as his ending commentary on the people who didn't get to taste.

The judges also did a much better job of commentary - ok, some of it was banal, but then again, so was a lot of the commentary on Iron Chef Japan. At least they're talking, and I got some idea of what the dishes tasted like. As I said previously, the judges are our noses and tastebuds - they're the only way us people out in TV land have any idea what this food is like!

Yeah, I agree, from where I sat, Bayless was robbed. But then again, I didn't get to taste the dishes (one of my pie in the sky fantasies would be to sit as a judge!), so I can only judge from what I saw, not smelled or tasted. But given the choice of whose dishes I would have liked to have for dinner, I would rather have Bayless'.

I also really miss the in studio audience - there are times when it's just too quiet, even with the commentary.

And I've found one HUGE problem with ICA vs. ICJ: with ICJ, since many of the ingredients are unfamiliar to me, I can't always imagine what their dishes would be like.

But last night on ICA, oh man, I just KNEW what some of them would taste like, and I got hungry. Fast. Note to self: do NOT watch ICA on anything less than a full stomach. (It doesn't hurt that I adore bison.)

Marcia.

Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted...he lived happily ever after. -- Willy Wonka

eGullet foodblog

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My problem was with the meat itself. I think buffalo meat is much better either ground, braised or diced small adn sauteed. Steaks are just too chewy for grilling. They only had an hour. I think it was a poor choice of ingredient.

P.S. Bayless won, IMHO

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Without meaning to denigrate the talents of the Iron Chefs chosen, I'd suggest they were chosen for their TV audience appeal as much as, or more than anything else. That they're available and willing to "star" on such a show is undoubtedly yet another factor. Again, no offense meant, but surely one might wonder where Keller, Vongerichten, Boulud, Ripert and a few others might actually fall in the hierarchy of American chefs.

Re: your comments on Ripert, Boulud, Keller et al. It seems to me that there must be some sort of Inverse Law of Food Celebrity whereby:

(Cooking Ability/Amount of FoodTV Airtime) x (EyeMakeup Squared over the Square Root of Foreign Accent) and the hypotenuse of RealChef Credibility plus Actually Breaking a Sweat Over a Stove = Actual Great Food Produced

Of course, the RachelRay Giggle Factor is a given and the Bammage Theorem is applied.

Then, logically, the answer is our best chefs are too busy actually producing outstanding food to be on Iron Chef or otherwise chasing facetime on FoodTV.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. I guess that I believe that chasing celebrity is a full time occupation and your other job (cooking!) would naturally suffer.

Note - clearly I'm as much a mathemetician as your average 18 month-old.

:blink:

Stephanie Kay

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