Monday, October 15, 2007

The Next Iron Chef: Episode 2

Math and Science Don't Add Up to Good Cooking

Previously on the NIC: The cheftestants run and slice on a basketball court. Then they make desserts from savory ingredients like catfish and squid, which sound awful, but probably not as awful as the salmon roe that leads to the downfall of Chef Traci Des Jardins. Tonight: Everyone is stressing out about their next challenge while Alton Brown barks at Bandana Girl (Chef Jill Davie). It's a futuristic challenge and some of the chefs get stumped by the gadgetries and all that smoke from the dry ice maker.

We begin with the Chairman and his big sword announcing the hunt for the next Iron Chef, and really, he's acting more like King Edward III with that throne of his. (And I hate to say it Alton, but if the Chairman's the king, you're playing the role of the court jester.) All the cheftestants talk about what it means to be an Iron Chef, but we heard all that last week. So let's just get right into the challenge.

Commentator and host Brown runs into the kitchen as the remaining seven cheftestants wait for their next challenge. He plays a tape of the Chairman talking about simplicity, saying how everything comes down to one single bite. Chef Michael Symon is thrilled at the theme because he's a simple kind of guy. Brown says the challenge is to convey their culinary style in one single bite. They have 30 minutes to create a dish from any of the smorgasbord of produce and ingredients on the big table in front of them. Chef Big Easy (John Besh) won the last challenge so he gets to pick his ingredients first.

But hold the phone, Brown gets a calls on his cell and it's the Chairman, who supposedly (I say supposedly because the show's producers apparently didn't want to pay the actor's guild rate per line for the Chairman so we don't actually hear the Chairman speaking) says that he wants six servings of that one bite. OK, minor detail to just eat up a minute of this show's time, guys. Couldn't we have just gotten that all in the initial instructions?

Chef Big Easy goes to pick his ingredients and he's taking his sweet ole' time. Doesn't he know this is only a one hour show? Pick it up Besh, this recap isn't going to write itself. He finally grabs the plate of scallops and that unleashes the onslaught of the other cheftestants scrambling for their ingredients. (It's apparent that they've all been thinking in their head while Brown did that time-consuming fake phone call from the Chairman because the cheftestants go straight for what they want, albeit a few tugging hear and there of legs and loins.)

Chef Aaron Sanchez says he wanted to do a scallop ceviche, so already Besh has one over him by grabbing the scallops. So Sanchez goes for the shrimp because he says he didn't want to go for the tuna and make tuna tartar. You know, I love tuna but I've noticed it has been getting a bad rap on cooking shows lately because it's so ubiquitous in restaurant menus. Today's chefs apparently don't think it's very creative. But hey, what if they prepared it in another way besides seared or raw? Now that's a challenge!

As if right on cue, Chef Bad Boy (Chris Cosentino) grabs the tuna, which he calls "the beef of the ocean." Everyone else falls in with lamb for Symon, duck for Morou, clams for Chef Cutie (Gavin Kaysen) and buffalo tenderloin for Bandana Girl (she said everything else was taken).

We get snippets from each chef about their culinary point of view, and I'm really impressed how they easily describe it for the camera, unlike watching "The Next Food Network Star" where those contestants often didn't know their culinary point of view until halfway through the series.

Time goes by fast, and Chef Bad Boy wants his tuna to pop and explode to match his culinary style of rustic Italian. (Memo to Chris: Please do not cook with fireworks.) Chef Cutie's style is "fanatically seasoned French Fare" (quite a bit of alliteration from the young pup). Chef Symon is doing lamb tartar to match his farm-driven Mediterranean twist (at least that's what I think he said).

Commercials. Guess which musical car commercial is back? Don't bother. I'm done with Kia. I shall file your commercial in TV purgatory for the rest of this series. Have you seen that Nasonex commercial? Isn't that Antonio Banderas' voice as the bee? I say "si."

I like how all the cheftestants are so polite and courteous in the kitchen working together. Everyone is talking about their food and they kind of build each other up. This is such a refreshing reality competition. Who knew maturity could be so fun to watch?

Time runs out and Chef Sanchez didn't finish plating his shrimp, and he's shocked when Brown clamps down on him and won't let him finish. I guess Sanchez hasn't watched many episodes of Top ("hands up, utensils down") Chef. He says he thought he could plate later (after the 30 minutes) but Brown says "You can wipe your hands and that is all you can do." Wow, wouldn't want him as my camp counselor. Anyhoo, the camera pans into Sanchez's six plates and all he has is the garnish of shrimp heads. I feel for the guy because those shrimp head garnish isn't going to sell his ceviche that's not on the plate. It looks pretty sad.

Everyone's impressed with the dish from Chef Cutie, and it is actually very pretty. He made a design with what looks like thinly sliced radishes and placed his clams on top of it. The other guys ribs him, but Chef Symon goes up and says "You're good dude, I'm gonna hire you. I'm gonna retire and hire you." And I know he said this because they subtitled Chef Symon's attempts to poach a chef in only the second episode. (Tough luck Symon because apparently Daniel Boulud beat you to it. The San Diego papers reported that Kaysen--one of the best new chefs of 2007 according to Food and Wine magazine--will start as the executive chef of Cafe Boulud in New York on Nov. 4.)

Chef Sanchez is still fuming about his empty plates (he only plated one of his ceviche) and Brown isn't hearing any more of it. Chef Symon says he told Sanchez to pay more attention. From now on, I'm going to call Sanchez "Chef Buzzer" because he never beats the buzzer.

Brown lets the group know that they had to make six servings of their one bites because their fellow cheftestants will judge them. Well, everyone except for Chef Buzzer who knocked himself out of the challenge by making invisible ceviche.

Chef Big Easy (Besh) presents his seared scallop first with truffles and corn salad and everyone seems to like it. Chef Bad Boy offers up his cured tuna with a mint-orange salad. Bandana Girl felt the orange in the salad burnt her tongue. Not sure how that happens, but I guess chefs have very sensitive taste buds.

Chef Big Easy gets to taste the only shrimp ceviche from Chef Buzzer. And to rub salt into the wound, Besh declares the dish "killer" and says "I'm glad you didn't make more." Oooh, hitting him when he's down. Chef Cutie presents his clams, which everyone thought were beautifully plated, but Chef Big Easy (who is almost like the elder statesman of the group) says that his mouth was on fire from Cosentino's tuna but then when he got to Chef Cutie's clams, he thought they were bland. (Da-dum. Ooh, Besh just got on Kaysen's shit list. Let's see if they're still friendly in the kitchen from here on.)

Chef Symon's lamb tartar looks like a big bite, but Chef Davie likes all the flavors and personality. Bandana Girl presents her plate, which Symon says looked like it was plated by a crazy person (ouch, at least he said this in voiceover and not to her face) and to top it off, Chef Big Easy says it tasted like it had a strong taste of peanut butter and jelly, which I don't know, but sounds like he's saying it's like a dish for kids. "Dang, I just got crucified by the Besh," says Bandana Girl. You said it girl.

Everyone tastes the last dish from Chef Morou, who did some sweet paprika-cured duck breast with truffle sauce and duck skin salad. Everyone seems to like the plate, and everyone seems to be cooking with truffle. What's up with that? They're not even the official Iron Chef yet!

Then all the cheftestants vote and it's like high school where they're doing those mock elections and someone gets voted "Most Likely To Succeed" (moi). Chef Symon wins the challenge. So I guess he gets "Most Likely To Win A Cooking Challenge."

Gosh, these people just love each other. After the challenge, they all do a group huddle with Bandana Girl going all "much love" to the group. I'm expecting Dionne Warwick to come out and sing "That's What Friends Are For."

The cheftestants walk into the kitchen and there are all these weird machines, almost like a torture chamber. The chefs all seem intimidated and they look scared, almost.

Brown walks in and says the Chairman expects his Iron Chefs to always be reaching into the future. Then the Chairman speaks to them through the little portable box that I think the kids these days call a "portable DVD player?" Oooh, futuristic. He says an Iron Chef must be daring and take risks, which means the skill test today is "innovation."

Two guests comes in, and instead of the Two Dudes Catering, it looks like Two Nerds Cooking. One is kitchen creator Philip Preston and the other is Wylie Dufresne, chef of WD 50 in New York, who apparently is on the cutting edge of molecular gastronomy. Dufresne gives almost a science class to the cheftestants. He shows them how to make shaving cream foam and ice cream from liquid nitrogen. Yeah, you know you want some.

Preston the Manufacturer shows the cheftestants the sous vide bath-and-sealer machine. (I hate the trend of sous vide cooking. The food tastes tender but I feel like I'm eating raw meat because of the pale coloring.) Then he shows the Smoking Gun, which infuses smoke flavor, and what I think he calls an anti-griddle where he makes little pancakes. All the cheftestants are impressed by how everything works, but none seem comfortable with it all.

The cheftestants have 90 minutes to play with the equipment. Bandana Girl asks if there's any chance of her killing herself with any of the machines. She does a wicked laugh near the liquid nitrogen smoke. Chef Bad Boy says he's "confused, pissed and irritated." I think he says he failed math, but I'm pretty sure that's not why he's confused, pissed and irritated.

Commercials. Speaking of sous vide, I want that FoodSaver vacuum seal machine for food storage. Fancy.

Brown says the cheftestants have another 90 minutes to prepare two small dishes. They have to use at least two of the chemical devices as part of their technique. Chef Symon this time gets to raid the pantry first, but he's not playing the Besh role and instead goes charging for the table grabbing a whole bunch of tomatoes, lobster and other stuff.

Everyone else fights for what's left. They're all explaining what they're making and it's so sophisticated that I'm totally lost. I can barely keep up with all the ingredients named on top of their descriptions of what molecular gastronomical device they plan to use to complete the challenge. (I admit, I got a D in high school chemistry, which was the only D I got in my life.)

Brown is doing his job of annoying the cheftestants by asking them questions while they're busy cooking. You would think he's just being interesting, but I'm pretty sure he's just trying to throw them off their game. But as a sign that he's not all pesky, he pads down Chef Big Easy's face, which is beginning the sauna sweats from last week.

Chefs Besh and Symon are trash-talking each other. Chef Cutie is making another pretty dish with a frozen beet puree as a base. Bandana Girl is doing something very tall looking.

Chef Bad Boy (Cosentino) is looking for a scale, and he's really frustrated. One minute is left and Morou is happy with what he made. Cosentino makes a shaving cream type of sauce and pours it over his razor clams, which Brown astutely observes with a laugh that Chef Bad Boy put shaving cream with the razor. Bowahahaha. Oh Alton, nothing gets by you.

Time's up and Chef Buzzer tries to sneak more garnishing (unless that's tricky editing). He just doesn't seem to learn his lesson.

Commercials. Strangers in the house with the cafe line from GE. She's just lucky it wasn't a Starbucks.

Judgment time. We welcome back our three judges from last week: Andrew Knowlton (long-haired New York magazine editor), Donatella Arpaia (cleavage-bearing restaurateur) and Michael Ruhlman (freelance food writer with long hair but not as long as Knowlton).

Up first is Chef Big Easy. He talks about Mardi Gras and some kind of "fashing" menu. And for that he makes a hot and cold potato soup. The top layer is cold potato soup, center is a summer truffle tapenade, and the bottom is the warm potato soup. Ruhlman says it didn't translate to the table. He doesn't seem impressed. Next dish is a potato gnocchi with smoked parmesan and truffle. He smoked the parmesan cheese and froze it into ice shavings. He also offered up a roast duckling with Morrocan spices made sous vide style. Then it's served with a frozen Gluwein sorbet. The judges say nothing, or at least the editing didn't allow for further comment. What's up with that?

Chef Cutie comes in and pokes holes into these bags that the judges then place their dishes on top. This doesn't affect what's on the dish, but I guess it's pre-dinner aromatherapy. He serves a spiced-smoked fricassee of sweet breads and a hamachi crudo with three different types of beets. He admitted that his dishes probably weren't as innovative. Hmm, the editors aren't letting the judges be as chatty this week. In the first episode, Donatella had a comment for every dish, now all we have is her asking if the beets were seasoned. (They were.)

Chef Bad Boy comes in with ancient-spiced duck breast with carrot salad, using the smoking and sous vide techniques. He also made a "saor," which he says is a sweet and sour sauce. He transformed the saor into a shaving cream that he poured over the razor clams. It looked like pudding.

Since the judges aren't talking much, I'm just going to give a summary: The judges were 2-to-1 against whether Chef Symon's tomato salad was perfect and Chef Symon tries to kiss up to judge Donatella but Knowlton calls him on it; Chef Morou's lobster sashimi and braised beef cheeks dishes seemed disjointed and may have worked better if he put them all together; Bandana Girl's fried-frozen salad was chewy and hard to eat; and Chef Buzzer makes a pan-roasted sablefish and some sweetbreads with a tomato foam that's spicy.

Commercials. I. Love. Dogs. I give a blue ribbon to Pedigrees' "dogs rule" commercial. Simple but powerful. Woof.

Elimination time. Everyone's nervous about how innovative they really were. This time they let the judges give little summary on everyone. Here's how that broke down:

Knowlton says Chef Buzzer is playing it easy with his Mexican dishes and needs to move a little away from the "Latin stuff." But he's safe.

Chef Morou is disjointed in his dishes, but is also safe. He picks up the little pieces of himself and goes to the kitchen.

Chef Symon doesn't get any major comments, but survives.

The judges liked Chef Big Easy's duck but felt he could have done that dish without the innovation. Not futuristic, but he still has a future in the show.

Ruhlman tells Chef Bad Boy that he loved the razor clam dish, but the salad had really aggressive onions. Brown tells Cosentino that the clam dish was extraordinary and everyone agreed that it couldn't have been made without the innovative techniques Chef Bad Boy struggled with. He's named the winner, and Cosentino is shocked. So shocked he walks to the kitchen like the living dead and Chef Morou tries to comfort him, saying that he's still in the game. In the game? He won the whole sucker. Now all the other chefs are staring at Cosentino in amazement.

So that leaves Chef Cutie and Bandana Girl. Brown kisses up as usual, telling them they're both fine chefs (who had bad days). Donatella says Chef Cutie's soup tasted like dirty mushroom water! Ouch. Knowlton says the consomme needs to be spot on if it's to be made by an Iron Chef. Donatella says the marinated hamachi dish was the least favorite dish. But despite all that, it apparently wasn't as bad as the inedible salad from Bandana Girl. Chef Cutie lives to smile another week but it's off with Chef Davie and her exuberance.

Sigh, somehow I think the kitchen will be less brighter without Bandana Girl's colorful headwear and bright personality. As she leaves the other cheftestants, she yells out to Chef Besh, "John, say it." And with some reluctance and apparent sadness at Bandana Girl's departure, Chef Big Easy yells out "I got a real bad feeling." How true, how true.

Next week: It's all men left and that means grilling! Yeah, me man. Me love grilling. Looks like Chef Big Easy is sabotaging someone, and Judge Knowlton seems really upset that a chef is constantly disappointing him. Oops, looks like Chef Cutie may be on the chopping block yet again.

Despite the very little comments from the judges, you get more insight from one of the judges' blogs. Hear reaction from Michael Ruhlman. (Interesting note on his blog, Ruhlman says next week's show will have a double elimination. Oooh.)

The Next Iron Chef airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on the Food Network. It repeats on the same time every Thursday night. Photos courtesy of the Food Network Web site.


Anonymous said...

This show certainly dispatched with the two female chefs in record time, didn't it?

This episode was a step up from last week's (and a colossal leap from the cheesy Next Food Network Star), but I'm still disappointed with aspects of the production and editing.

The challenge was clever, and a lot of cooking is shown...but the judging segment utterly fails compared to Top Chef's. The panel blows! I could cite several Iron Chef regulars who would handily outclass these young losers! Also, the tense, jumpy editing gives the viewer very few reactions from the judges, no back-and-forth between the chefs and the judges, and no discussion about who's getting the boot. Sure, we still get the Iron Chef food porn, but the producers are nixing most of the potential drama for me.

Still, thanks for doing these updates and your site rocks. And I'll keep watching the show despite its's still pretty damned fun. Plus, I have to see who wins!

My initial choice for champion, Morou, seems to be destined for failure, so I might be jumping on the Symon bandwagon...


Single Guy Ben said...

I think several people will agree with you, including the judges, who will say their segment sucks from poor editing. I understand the judges talk for more than an hour and it has to be edited down to just the last 10 minutes of the show. I love watching the cooking, but it all happens so fast that I actually like to see more of the dissecting of the dishes with the judges. Hopefully each episode improves with each week, but the series ends in just 4 weeks.

Anonymous said...

Whoa, your summaries look really complete. Maybe I'll just read these instead of watching the shows. :)

By the way, did you happen to catch the premiere of the new show for that person who won the next food network star prize? If so, how was it?

Single Guy Ben said...

Thanks Eric!

As for Amy's new show, "The Gourmet Next Door," I didn't get to see her first show. It's smack in the middle of the day, and when it's a sunny Sunday, I feel like I should be out enjoying the sun. Maybe I'll catch it this Sunday because that'll probably be my test kitchen day. :)