Speaking of “Iron Chef America” – William Grimes, the NY Times’ ex-food critic-turned-critic-at-large writes some nice stuff on the new show – with some fascinating word choices:
Loyal fans of the original series, which ran in Japan from 1993 to 1999 and eventually totaled nearly 300 episodes, will find themselves in familiar territory with “Iron Chef America.” The faces have changed, but the mythology remains the same. The Chairman, played in the American version by a shaven-headed martial arts champion named Mark Dacascos, is an aristocratic gourmet who amuses himself by pitting his team of Iron Chefs against culinary challengers. As before, the cooking starts when he raises the lid on the “secret ingredient altar,” makes a quick chopping motion and screams, “Allez cuisine!,” a crypto-French phrase that means “Start cooking.”
“The goal was to preserve what the die-hards love, and also to make it exciting for people just coming to it,” said Stephen Kroopnick, the executive producer of the series. “You don’t have to know Episode 121, Battle Octopus.” His company, Triage Entertainment, as Mr. Kroopnick admits, was not the obvious choice. It is best known for producing the Victoria’s Secret fashion show and the Miss Universe pageant, but the Food Network wanted a big-event flavor for “Iron Chef America,” which was filmed at the Chelsea Market in Manhattan.
To keep the series true to the original, it arranged for an indoctrination session. “The first thing the Food Network did was ship us off to Japan, where Fuji put us in a room to watch 200 episodes,” Mr. Kroopnick said, referring to Fuji Television. “It was like passing on a legacy.”
The Food Network learned a valuable lesson from UPN’s “Iron Chef U.S.A.,” broadcast in 2001. A small studio audience, seated on bleachers, was encouraged to scream nonstop at the contestants as the host, William Shatner, sampled dishes. The chefs, unaccountably, did not talk about what they were making, and the camera rarely focused on the food being prepared. The show died a quick death.
After “allez cuisine,” however, “Iron Chef America” takes some unfamiliar twists and turns. For its commentator, the Food Network drafted Alton Brown, the ebullient, fast-talking host of “Good Eats.” Working with a floor reporter (Kevin Brauch of the Fine Living channel’s “Thirsty Traveler”), Mr. Brown discusses what the chefs are up to, explaining techniques and ingredients along the way. Things like huitlacoche.
“You have to wonder, who first got hungry enough to look at it and say, let’s eat some of that stuff?” he says, marveling at an evil-looking sauce in Mr. Bayless’s blender. Huitlacoche, he explains, is a fungus that attacks corn, causing the kernels to swell and blacken. Mexican cooks treat it like truffle. When Mr. Bayless coats buffalo steaks in lard for searing, Mr. Brown explains that lard, because it conducts heat efficiently, counteracts the temperature-lowering moisture that escapes from the steaks during cooking. [….]
The show is a curious blend of campy entertainment and dead-serious cooking. Top chefs put their skills and reputations on display. They submit to the criticisms of the judges. Emotions can run high. On “Iron Chef,” Mr. Morimoto took great offense when the challenger, Mr. Flay, after putting the final touch on his dishes, leaped to the table and pumped his fists in the air in celebration. Mr. Morimoto glowered, then made some choice remarks that set up one of the great “Iron Chef” grudge matches.
“Cooking is all about routine moves, and there is no routine in the contest,” said Mr. Bayless, who prepared for the event by drilling his team for weeks on end. “We trained like we were going to the Olympics.”
That’s pretty much how the competition saw it, too. “I look at this as more a sporting event than a night in the restaurant,” Mr. Flay said. “You’re competing against someone, and there’s a time limit. I go into it thinking it’s like a basketball game.” There’s a difference. On “Iron Chef America” the officials get to eat the three-point play.
“Evil-looking sauce”? Really, Grimes? Cooking like it’s the Olympics? (well, credit that thought to Bayless) Oy.
Oh – and my sister forwarded this to me – apparently, Hasbro, the makers of Mr. Potato Head, is releasing Darth Tater. Strange stuff. And, just in time for Star Wars movie this summer, in a theater near you. Um hmm.
Oh, and it’s the return of – drumroll, please – “American Idol.” No William Hung (yet). But, I do wonder – there are some people auditioning who must – has to be – intentionally singing bad to get themselves on tv (and get some silly laughs). Surely no one’s that delusional as to think that they’re singing well (when they really really suck).
Anyway, stay warm; it’s been freezing in NYC.