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[Comments] (1) Iron Chef America #3: I say #3 because the Food Network extravaganza coming later this month is the third attempt to port the Iron Chef meme to an American production. There were a couple UPN "Iron Chef USA" specials in 2001 which although unwatchable were enjoyably unwatchable. Then recently Food Network did a few "Battle of the Masters" specials which turn out to have been an extended pilot for this show that's more or less exactly the same. Unfortunately there are some big problems with their casting, in some ways I think representing a step backwards from that of the much-maligned UPN specials.

Case in point: Bobby Flay. Bobby Flay is not one of the world's great chefs. He's just a pretty good chef who has a successful restaurant and a television show. Of all the chefs in the history of Iron Chef he's the only one I think I'd have a shot at beating if I somehow got on the show. I admire his willingness to make spicy dishes, but Emeril Lagasse has built his entire career out of a willingness to make spicy dishes (or, rather, acting as though somewhat spicy dishes were really spicy while making it obvious how to make them spicy for real), and he has the natural showmanship for which Bobby Flay substitutes boyish good looks. What's more, Emeril's shows already look like solo Iron Chef acts. So as long as only people with Food Network shows get to be Iron Chefs, pick frickin Emeril. After all, he's got two shows on the Food Network, so he's doubly qualified.

I don't like Mario Batali either, but from what I can tell he is actually a world-class chef. You can't get me excited about him, though. His dishes doesn't seem very inventive; well-crafted but also very traditional, more like a challenger than an Iron Chef. I can't think of an alternate choice among people already on the Food Network payroll, but surely there must be some great Italian chef in New York or LA who's crazy enough to be an Iron Chef. Go through the archives and call up the Americans who won or held their own when they were on the original show. Do I have to do everything for you?

Wolfgang Puck became famous in the early 1990s for putting weird things like goat cheese on pizza (well, it was weird back then). In a fair universe this sort of skill would make him a great Iron Chef, and I think of the non-import Iron Chefs he's the best. I still don't really like him on an absolute scale but my mind is still open. The obvious choice for an Iron Chef of California cuisine is Alice Waters, who invented the whole thing, but she'd probably find the whole thing kind of ridiculous.

I see Masaharu Morimoto in the promos but I don't know if they're going to keep him around as a real competitor or just as a relic of the Japanese show. I always liked him, because I think fusion cuisine is the soul of Iron Chefdom, and his predecessors as Iron Chefs Japanese didn't do a lot of fusion; after all, they were in Japan and could just play straight to the Japanese palate. I hope he stays around, even though it seems like a lot of Iron Chefs if they keep him, and we all know that too many Iron Chefs spoil the Iron Broth.

Alton Brown, by his own admission, is also not one of the world's great chefs. But that's fine because he's not an Iron Chef; he's the color commentator. This is a job for which already having a cooking TV show is actually useful experience. He doesn't have to come up with his own ideas on the spot; he just has to make whatever's going on sound interesting. I think this is the best casting choice they made, but I'm prejudiced.

Finally we come to the Chairman, played here by Mark Dacascos. I really like the actor but not the character he plays. He doesn't seem an eccentric, like Kaga or Shatner played. More of a dilletante, as though Kitchen Stadium were a side project he funded out of his stock options rather than a grandiose bid for culinary immortality or a scheme to humiliate rival clans with his army of chef-assassins, or even just an obscene display of wealth which was what Shatner seemed to be going for.

Uh, conclusion: I predict we're going to be seeing a lot more shows where the challenger wins. I find it highly unlikely that three of the four best chefs in the country would happen to already have shows on the Food Network. I find it only slightly unlikely that someone who was an Iron Chef in Japan could transfer his skills to the American palate, especially since Morimoto has a restaurant in New York and was the most American of the Japanese Iron Chefs (for all I know he really is American).

Coming soon: the meta-trend continues with another entry about Hey! Spring of Trivia.


Posted by Kristen at Tue Jan 11 2005 15:51

Aaron and I can't wait for Iron Chef America. When I was pregnant and sick as a dog one Sunday we watched the three Iron Chefs (Bobby Flay, Wolfgang Puck, and Mario Batali) battled the Japanese Iron Chefs. The shows lasted all Sunday long, and I sat in front of the tv sprawled out on the couch watching all of them, taking breaks to go throw up. I really liked the special. I think Bobby was so successful and won b/c he makes sauces/dips/salsas that really provide flavor to plain things. As Dave Matkin knows, we Walches really like sauce (Marinara). I agree with you on Alton Brown. I really like him, and their casting choice.

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