STORMSEEKER.COM RECAPS! Reality writer Chico Alexander provides
recaps of each show.
April 23, 2004
If memory serves me right, this is the series I've been waiting to cover... But before we dice a single tomato, let's go back... the complete history (give or take a few details) of Iron Chef as we know it.
In a castle in Japan, an eccentric gourmand (played originally by famed Japanese stage actor Takeshi Kaga) has spent his entire fortune to carve out a gourmet academy to further his dream to find the culinary descendant of Rosanjin, a Japanese chef who taught of food as art. Not only this, but the Chairman, as he was later called, would spread his message to the four corners of the world. The cornerstone of this Gourmet Academy would be a giant cooking arena, the first of its kind, which would play host to gladiatorial culinary battles the likes of which the world has never seen before. The Chairman called his creation "Kitchen Stadium." Finally, to complete the project, he sought out the most elite chefs to do battle against any and all challengers. These men came to be known as the Three Divas for their combination of color, flavor, and overall finesse.
The Chairman called these three men "Ryori no Tetsujin"... Cooking's Iron Men... the Iron Chefs. Each taught in a different discipline of world class cuisine, they are the invincible men of culinary skills. The first Iron Japanese was Rokusaburou Michiba. The first Iron French was Yutaka Ishinabe. The first -- and only -- Iron Chinese was Chen Kenichi. Over time, the Iron Chefs would pass their gifts onto a new generation of Iron Chefs -- Michiba begat Komei Nakamura, who in turn begat US-based Japanese chef Masaharu Morimoto, and Ishinabe begat current Iron French Hiroyuki Sakai -- and a fourth chef would be added to the Chairman's army, Italy-trained Masahiko Kobe, but all had the same mission: defend the honor of the Gourmet Academy and Kitchen Stadium. Any challenger who would defeat an Iron Chef would have their name live on in gourmet history forever. The show bore some unforgettable characters, such as Sakai the "Delacroix of French cuisine," Chen "the Szechwan sage", Kobe "the Prince of Pasta", Toshiro Kandagawa "the don of the Kansai", floor reporter Shinichiro "Fukui-San!" Ohta, color commentator Kenji "Go, Ohta!" Fukui, and the resident Simon Cowell of IC, culinary critic Asako Kishi.
This was the story of the show which ran in Japan from its inception in 1993 to its conclusion in 1999. A few specials, a new Chairman, and a poorly-translated American version later, we arrive here, at Iron Chef America.
Premise hasn't changed much. Two chefs enter. An hour later, one leaves with his head in his hands, eating the dull raw pepper of failure. Okay, so it's a little bit extreme. We'll get to details with the first battle, but first, color commentator Alton Brown... yes, THAT Alton Brown, leads us in an hour-long look at what it took to bring the series to the US WITHOUT having it suck ostrich eggs.
As you know, Iron Chef premiered in October, 1993, on Fuji TV in Japan, complete with Chairman Kaga, a hardcore foodie who looks like he raided Liberace's closet and has an unnatural craving for yellow bell peppers. Originally a 30-minute show, the first battle pitted a challenger against Ishinabe in Battle Salmon. Later, it expanded into an hour and became available to legions of fans like myself in anime trading circuits (remember, not for sale or rent). Bruce Seidel (VP, Food Network) cited that it created a culinary revolution in Japan. Knowing a good thing when they saw it, Food Network snatched broadcast rights to the original eps dubbed (rather poorly, I must say) in English in 1999.
Keiichi Tanaka, who created the show for Fuji TV, noticed that there were resemblances to boxing in each battle, with each chef putting their pride and/or careers on the line.
Captivated by the wizardry or the sheer foreignness, it became one of Food Network's top draws. Which led Food Network to create their own version with help from Fuji TV. Because after all, they did own the format. Next step, creating Kitchen Stadium America, with state of the art appliances, tools, dishes, and ingredients. After deciding on what the chefs would wear to do combat. Nothing against silk robes, but that's just plain... anyway.
Kitchen Stadium America is where... excuse me... "the brightest stars in the culinary firmament will square off and pitch bouts inspired by the legacy of their gladiator forebearers to determine who will emerge victorious in the great food wars of the 21st Century." Alton's words. Very versed, that man. The stadium is equipped with two identically-designed kitchens with convection-ovens, a salamander (a broiler with a raising top), a smoker with wooden disks, a friolator, double ovens, six 15,000 BTU burners, a 20,000 BTU griddle, a 20,000 BTU grill, and a 40,000 BTU burner with convertible face. "Awe-inspiring" as Mario puts it. "Very very nice, but too convenient" as Morimoto puts it, citing the artistry of the creation of the dishes. Very nice, but a long way to go to surpass the original Kitchen Stadium, where six tons of rice, five tons of eggs, and a ton each of chicken, beef, pork, foie gras, and seafood were combined with two tons of tomatoes and one ton of mushrooms, and topped off with ten pounds of beluga caviar.
And all of that translated to a cult following of "the celebrity chef" in both Japan and the US, as director Tanaka noted. The five chefs are on pins and needles until the battle begins. "And then I stop shaking," Morimoto says.
And then there are the secret theme ingredients, anything from milk to octopus. Ingredients are paramount to the entire premise, of course, and Jill Novatt dispatches her army of food buyers to make sure that they're ready for showtime. One of them, Andy Sheen-Turner, heads to Little Tokyo to shop for ingredients for Morimoto. His list includes nori (seaweed), panko (bread crumbs), soba (buckwheat) noodles, lotus root, and bonito flakes (and that's only about 10 percent of the ingredients Morimoto needs!). Jill also gathers Kyoto scallions, pine branches, shiso sprouts, benitade, kyuzu juice, and giant radishes brought from Japan.
As for other ingredients, they could've been as near as the local supermarket, or as far as off the California coast. But once all the ingredients are collected, Jill serves another purpose: to be Alton's eyes and ears off to the side. She relays the info to Alton's earpiece and he dissects the info as it comes in. So he's like Fukui and Dr. Hattori all in one. Clever.
And finally, an army of our own needed to be chosen to do battle as America's first Iron Chefs. So to answer your question, yes, ICUSA is OOC - out of continuity. Of course, you could say that the star is the Chairman, but he's just there to set the table for the main event and deliver the verdict. The Iron Chefs are the ones who would take the stage for the duration of the hour. And as such, we'll meet the new Chairman later. But first, the Iron Chefs...
First up, Iron Chef Bobby Flay, a southwestern-style New York chef who is no stranger to Kitchen Stadium, having battled Morimoto on two separate occasions. He began at 17 in Joel, before his boss gave him a check to go to a French culinary school. But he would find that his true forte lied in the Tex-Mex flavor of the southwest. First time he saw "Iron Chef" was late at night. He couldn't believe that Japanese warrior chefs even existed.
Next, Iron Chef Mario Batali, an Italian chef... also from New York. He started out at Cordon Bleu in London who started out as a sous-chef in Italy. His restaurants are considered the finest Italian eateries in New York City. He'll try to work in the Italian vernacular, being most comfortable with that discipline. Mario thought IC was "strange" at first.
Finally, Iron Chef Wolfgang Puck, who grew up in Auschwitz and is credited with putting California on the culinary map. He specializes in California French, with touches of Californian and Asian cuisine to taste. Chances are you've heard of his LA eatery Spago. If not, then I suggest you read a People magazine or something. His philosophy: "Buy the finest ingredients, no matter what the price, and then don't screw them up." Wolfgang thought it was exciting to see cooking presented as sports.
Of course, each one knew that food made up the heart of the show. And two of those crafters have come as challengers from Japan to kick ass and take names. First, Hiroyuki Sakai, Iron French II, who heads the kitchen at La Rochelle, one of the best French eateries in Tokyo. He was later crowned the King of Iron Chefs in the original series' finale. His ideal theme ingredient? Fish. "I've never lost a fish battle." Mario describes Sakai as "the most 'zen master' of all the Iron Chefs".
The second challenger is Iron Japanese III, Masaharu Morimoto, who trained as the head chef of Nobu New York before opening up his own restaurant, Morimoto's, in Philadelphia. He can't make simple sushi, so he makes it with international ingredients. He's also the most competitive of the Iron Chefs. "When I was a kid, I had two dreams: I wanted to become a baseball player, play professionally. And then I wanted to be a sushi chef." "He comes to win, he comes to kill," Bobby notes. Yeah, he knows that from first-hand experience.
Yep. You remember, right? The end of the battle? The cutting board? Just one of the many injuries sustained to one's ego at Kitchen Stadium. Not to discount the monkfish bites, the knife mishandlings, and the squid bites. The most stinging injury from a physical standpoint came from a shock to Bobby Flay in New York Battle Rock Crab. It came about when a water-main leaked and the electric stove acted as a conductor. Even more damaging ego-wise was what Bobby did after the final Gong of Fate sounded. He got up onto his cutting board and started hyping the crowd. The Iron Chefs did not take too kind of that, even as Bobby meant no ill will. Ironically, Morimoto went on to win that battle. And they're still friends to this day.
Morimoto agreed to a rematch in Tokyo, thinking that Flay was subject to controversy over sabotage and theatrics. That played out in 21st Century Battle Part 2: Battle Lobster. Everything went as it was supposed to, then at around the 15-second mark, tried his best not to insult his hosts, chucking the cutting board and standing atop the bare kitchen counter. Did he succeed? You be the judge.
That battle went to Bobby Flay. So I guess you could say that Flay and the Iron Chefs have some unfinished business. That will have to wait until the first battle. But first, we meet the new Chairman, who just happens to be... the original Chairman's nephew with an unhealthy obsession with apples. Of course, we know that Takeshi Kaga is not really the uncle of one Mark Dacascos (actor/martial artist best known for his roles in "Brotherhood of the Wolf" and "Cradle 2 The Grave"), but perhaps the story of Iron Chef is best left for him to continue...
"Our ultimate competition is with ourselves. That is what my uncle told me when I would visit him as a young boy. Now I prepare myself for my most savory challenge. My uncle, the man the world knows as Kaga the Chairman, has decided that although America is a young country, we now possess the proper palate to host our own Iron Chef competition, an American celebration of the world's high art of cuisine. Kaga honors me by asking that I serve as Chairman of our own Gourmet Academy to preside over this most glorious event. He has sent gifts that will help pass the torch between our two worlds, and he has dispatched two of his bravest champions. These heroic figures, these Iron Chefs will compete on these shores in our new Kitchen Stadium and reveal to us the tantalizing lessons of taste, texture, and technique. The Iron Chefs have traveled far, not only to do honorable battle with America's finest chefs, but also to carry a flame that burns within each and every one of us. That undying thirst and internal hunger to be our best. To be the best..."
Up next: Flay vs. Sakai. This promises to be quite tasty...
If memory serves me right, Chairman Takeshi Kaga has commissioned that America be granted its own Gourmet Academy and that it would be headed by his nephew. In order to christen the new arena of battle, Chairman Kaga has dispatched two of his Iron Chefs, Iron Japanese III Masaharu Morimoto and Iron French II Hiroyuki Sakai, to do battle against the three Iron Chefs of America, California cuisine grand master Wolfgang Puck, Italian gourmet Mario Batali, and southwest chef Bobby Flay, in what promises to be "a most tantalizing Battle of the Masters." The first battle would be Iron Chef Flay vs. Sakai. "Gentlemen... prepare for battle."
This should be an interesting match, as the Iron Chefs of Japan still have unfinished business to settle with Flay, a Southwestern chef of 20 years training and a 1-1 record in battle. Sakai, on the other hand, is the winningest of the Iron Chefs with an 83-7 record and 41 years of French cuisine under his apron. Credentials and focus that made him the King of Iron Chefs at the original series' finale in 1999.
The theme ingredient for this battle is TROUT, gold and brown varieties. Reminder: both chefs have one hour to come up with at least five unique dishes that present trout. The chef that does so the best as judged by a panel of gourmands/writers/celebs wins.
"And now, the moment of truth," Chairman Dacascos decrees. "I stand before you with a full heart and proudly proclaim the words of Kaga, a phrase that now resounds through all of food history.
"I say unto you... ALLEZ CUISINE!"
And battle is on. Both chefs spend the first few seconds figuring out how to catch the live trout, catching the live trout, watching the live trout wriggle its way onto the stadium floor, resecuring the live trout, trying to keep the live trout from knocking over the precious salt, and then promptly de-live-ning the live trout. Flay goes for the decapitation method, while Sakai goes for his ring mold, possibly for custard or a tartare. Floor reporter Kevin Brauch says that Sakai wanted the gold ones, which have been bred with rainbow trout. His sous-chef goes for the foie gras while Flay goes for ginger. The foie gras just got blended, and we're led to believe that he's going to do a custard.
Sakai's glad he got trout with two colors that represent health and good luck in Japan. And some good luck right away with skilled knifework in the cucumber department. Over on Flay's side, it looks like soup and a vinegar reduction. Periodically, we'll go to online votes from Foodnetwork.com. This first one says that Flay is a 60.2 percent favorite.
Sakai has just molded his cucumbers in the rings, while Flay is maple smoking his fish and preparing crawfish for sautˇ and some avocado for guacamole, possibly for the smoked item. Sakai just put some marinated steaks in the deep fryolator. Meanwhile, Sakai slices some daikon and starts frying some sharkfin.
"Fifteen minutes have elapsed." We go to Kevin Brauch with today's judges: restaurateur of Simon, Kerry Simon (who, if you remember, did battle against Todd English in ICUSA - again, OOC); executive editor of Bon Appetit, Victoria von Biel; and comedian Brian Unger. Flay's team is making a mean masa while we go to a live poll. The fans have turned Flay from a 2-to-1 favorite to a 2-to-1 dog. Sakai's team have a broth going into the wok with the shark fin. Meanwhile, heavy cream goes into Flay's crayfish.
Alton has Iron Chef Morimoto on the sidelines, thinking that he's going to integrate some Asian flavor. "He has an open mind." As far as predictions go, Morimoto's not playing favorites. How diplomatic.
Back to the action, Flay is straining some while Sakai is searing the oil out of the freshly-caught fish. So this is definitely going to be a tartare. Flay's going to the four cast-iron skillets with trout on tarragon with a little butter.
"Thirty minutes have elapsed." Half of the first ICA battle is in the books, and Sakai is a little taken, but not that much. He's been in 26 battles with seafood, and has only lost one (to San Francisco chef Ron Siegel - Battle Lobster). Flay thinks that Sakai is the cr¸me de la cr¸me of the Iron Chefs. "He can adapt to anything. Whatever ingredient they put up there, he's going to have 500 ideas in his head as to what he's going to do." Sakai will face him believing in his own victory.
Twenty minutes to go, and some milk, sugar, and trout is in the blender on Sakai's side. Could be ice cream. Kerry Simon notices a difference from the first five minutes and now, especially in the chatter department. Victoria von Biel is following Sakai as closely as she was following Flay. Brian Unger loves the smell.
Over on Sakai's side, we see shiitakes, pepper sauce, and Chinese cabbage going into the wok for another soup. The sugar/milk concoction is going into the ice cream maker, while Flay starts on a tamale dish and... grits? They think they'll harmonize. Only time will tell. Right now, after a live vote that puts Sakai as the 2-to-1 favorite, we see more sugar milk going into the favorite's ice cream maker. And yes, Alton, they did have an ice cream maker, but it was a toploader. Sakai makes time to joke about not being a friend to Bobby Flay, at least not in Kitchen Stadium.
Flay's making a serious chile rub. It's a wet rub, and if he's smart, he'll go for a little bit at a time. "Fifteen minutes to go." Guacamole and trout are going together, while Sakai is prepping garnishes of watercress. Flay cracks a coconut and saves the juice. Looks like he may be using them for bowls. But he uses the juice to stew crab meat.
Sakai is going for the caviar to finish his tartare. That kicks off our plating. Very important, as we eat with our eyes before eating with our mouths. Flay starts prepping his colorful blue corn tortilla tacos, while the live vote has not changed. Sakai preps parsley and olive oil for plating.
Flay has battered and fried an entire fish, while there might be a bit of a break. It seems that Sakai and his chefs forgot one dish. Can he finish it in the 12 or so minutes remaining?
Flay hopes not. He's got his crayfish sauce on the fish while Sakai is busy preparing kambu kelp for broth. Or maybe not. He's making his fish with that and the olive oil/parsley concoction...
"Ten minutes to go." Okay, it's used for a visual. And Sakai is done with at least two. Honey and berries are accompanying the ice cream with 6:45 to go. Judges are ready to eat, and they're pretty curious about the ice cream. "Give it to Brian, he'll eat anything." Flay has the cast-iron skillets out and they'll be used as plates.
"Five minutes to go." And we go into Sakai's trademark apple-peeling. A favorite of any Iron Chef fan. Meanwhile Flay is going for his soup presentation, as he's using the coconut for a bowl and several aromatic spices as garnishes. He's pouring it on rather generously. I think I know why.
"Three minutes to go." The ice cream is done with the trout-skin wafer. Flay is still pouring his soup. Sakai is pointing to a bottle of grapeseed oil with his picture on it. Ninety seconds to go, and we're going into the finishing touches. For Sakai, it's giftwrap. For Flay, it's tapas. Looks like both chefs will make it.
"Five seconds... three... two... one... Your time is up." It's all over but the tasting and judgment. Each judge is allocated up to 20 points for each chef. Of those 20, ten will be awarded for taste, five for presentation and plating, and five for originality and theme.
Flay thought that the trout was bigger than he is used to. Flay's dishes: four tapas, trout and crab coconut soup, Yucatan-grilled trout tacos, cast-iron cooked trout fillets with grits, and crispy whole trout with tamales.
Brian loves the harmony in the tapas. Flay based his soup on the "overflowing affection" of being served sake in Japanese sushi bars - like "you give us your business, we give you more than what you had hoped for." Kerry likes the tacos, while Victoria appreciates the simplicity of the trout fillets and the flavor of the trout tamales.
Live vote before going to Sakai's dishes. Flay's still a dog. Sakai knew he would have a good time cooking. Sakai's dishes: trout custard in Chinese soup, trout tartare with ginger sauce and lime, spicy homestyle trout soup, trout with parsley sauce and bell peppers, and golden trout ice cream.
He used the sharkfin in the soup to honor Iron Chinese Chen, who couldn't make the trip due to being ill. Victoria loves how the delicateness of the fish goes through the first two dishes. Brian enjoys the contrast of textures. Kerry likes the simplicity. Brian thinks the ice cream is subtle, and Kerry thinks it works well with the fruit. "This is what we call extreme cuisine."
Now comes the all-important question: whose cuisine reigns supreme? Here's the Chairman.
"In the battle royale of Sakai and Flay, today's winning master is... Iron Chef Bobby Flay!" The two congratulate each other, as well they should, judging from the point total:
FLAY: Taste 24, Plating - 14, Originality - 17, Total - 55
SAKAI: Taste - 22, Plating - 13, Originality - 16, Total - 51
Flay may have doubted a bit in the battle (and so did the viewers as the final tally gives the nod to Sakai). "When you go against the Babe Ruth of the Iron Chefs, you're just lucky to be there."
Congratulations to Bobby Flay, whose cuisine reigns supreme tonight.
My take, well, as an Iron Chef fan from the first time I saw the show on a bootleg tape at a COUp meeting in 1998, it's hard to me to remain unbiased... so I'm not even going to bother. An excellent addition to the ongoing legacy. Of course, the shift of the spotlight to food as opposed to just recreating pro wrestling results in something that honors the original series. Of course, the addition of Alton Brown and the subtraction of William Shatner doesn't hurt either.
But one episode doesn't a favorite make. I have to watch at least three more. Oh, you have three more. Cool! Next time: Batali vs. Morimoto.
April 25, 2004
If memory serves me right, Chairman Takeshi Kaga has sent two of his Iron Chefs - Hiroyuki Sakai and Masaharu Morimoto - to do battle in Kitchen Stadium America against his nephew's own army of Iron Chefs - Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, and Bobby Flay. The first "Battle of the Masters," Battle Trout between Sakai and Flay went to Iron Chef Flay. Today, another battle, this time, between the vanguard of Neo-Japanese Morimoto (65-7) and the New York Italian master Batali (rookie).
The theme ingredient for this battle is SPINY LOBSTER. Reminder: both chefs have one hour to come up with at least five unique dishes that present spiny lobster. The chef that does so the best as judged by the panel of three wins.
"With an open heart and an empty stomach, I say unto you, America... ALLEZ CUISINE!"
And battle is on. Both chefs grab a load of spiny lobsters, which are really more or less overgrown crayfish prepared specifically for their tail. Morimoto's side has already started their rice cooker, meaning that we may have some sushi in the offing. Morimoto also preps some rocks. As in the type you skip on the river. Meanwhile, Batali and his sous-chefs have a short talk before going into motion.
First live poll of the night shows that Batali and Morimoto are dead even. And rightly so, as both chefs are dead even when it comes to experience, Morimoto's 20 years against Batali's 18, and philosophies, both are mavericks in their fields.
Tuna is being chopped on Batali's side, while Morimoto is blanching his lobster tails with some more lobster in the blender. Batali is breaking out the pancetta and dropping potato slices in the fryer for a cannelloni, while Morimoto is preparing a soup of sorts. Batali is prepping onions with lobster and pancetta, a tomato sauce, and some habanero chiles, all going in a soup.
"Fifteen minutes have elapsed." Let's go to Kevin Brauch with the judges. Tonight, they're John O'Hurley from "Seinfeld" (among other things), Melinda Clarke from "The OC", and restaurateur Kerry Simon from... the last battle. Morimoto is removing meat, while Batali is simmering tomato paste. Morimoto is simmering himself, as he's a little concerned over things (of what, we don't know).
Batali is making his cannelloni filling, and currently has a slight upperhand in the live vote, 52-48. Morimoto's side goes to the bonito flakes for a stock. Along with dashi, it's as good as a chicken stock. Konbu is wrapped into the skewered lobster tails. In this fasion, it's used for its connective tissue properties, like a fat netting only, well... not. Odds are that Morimoto will also go for its flavor. The lobster itself was more than likely dipped in ice water containing cognac. That's our Morimoto, alright!
Iron Chef Flay (2-1) is on the sidelines, talking about Morimoto's stealthiness. "It's always a surprise at the last second. I think he plays head games with himself." Meanwhile Batali's sous-chef Ann is cutting up urchin for a soup, maybe a soup bowl. Meanwhile, she strains out the eggs. To be truly edible, the urchins have to be harvested in calm waters for three days.
On Morimoto's side, shrimp, lobster, and white mountain potatoes are being blended for noodles. Melinda in the judge's box is fascinated by the chefs' speed, while Kerry tries to explain it, using the silent communication theory.
Batali is almost finished with the cannelloni proper, while Morimoto is pureeing lobster and pushing it through a tammy (a fine sieve used to make mousses). Kevin confirms that the urchins on Batali's side are going to be used as bowls for his soup.
"Twenty minutes to go." Morimoto is piping his lobster puree into a little foamer pump. I know this because of the CO2 pipe in Morimoto's mouth. This will definitely be a mousse, but how is he going to serve it? Batali thinks that Morimoto is together, young, and a formidable opponent. Morimoto likes Batali's theme song and his jovial nature.
Batali has begun work on a saltimbocca. Morimoto is locked and loaded on his foamer. He's also locked and loaded on his piping bag for his potato/lobster/shrimp noodle. Live vote still a dead heat as the noodles come out of the kelp broth as soon as they go in. Hearts of palm are sliced on Batali's side, while Ann dices lobster and adds it to a dough mixing, to be deep fried into a fritter.
Over on the burners, Batali adds on marsala wine to his saltimbocca, creating a little bit of a blaze. Morimoto loves his noodles, as he is all smiles on his side. One of his sous-chefs is pan-frying lobster. One of Batali's sous-chefs is going to serve up some sweetbreads with hearts of palm and black truffle. Morimoto has a lot of herbs, while Ann has a foam action going on with her espresso machine (I tell you, if this goes to series, she would make a formidable challenger).
Morimoto has begun plating on his noodles and lobster sashimi, it looks like. Batali's pea soup gets chives as Morimoto's chefs prepare tempura. Ann's fritters go into the heat as well.
"Ten minutes to go." Kevin reports that both chefs are pleased with their results, as Morimoto gets his rice out of the cooker and into a soup in an enameled vessel, very common in Japanese cooking. Tempura is just coming out of the oil with a few minutes left in the battle. Mark, one of Batali's sous-chef, is thinking carpaccio, while the Chairman makes his way to the judges. And remember that piping pump from earlier? Morimoto is serving its contents in shot glasses with caviar. "Would you slam that back as a shooter?" Kevin asks Alton? Only if it had sake in it. It all goes into a bed of ice.
Soup is going into the urchins in Batali's side as well as the frothed milk, while Morimoto has spears of bamboo. Lobster roe goes to work on Batali's side, as he pulls out his cannelloni. Morimoto gets his wasabe ready as final plating has begun, five done on Batali's side, three on Morimoto. We get two more later, so it looks like five on five. The rocks from earlier are out and into an enameled vessel with the wrapped lobster tails, with tea leaves and sake going in as well.
"One minute to go." Big fun on both sides. Big plating. Morimoto scrambling, Ann needs to refroth her milk. Chefs are almost done plating. "Five seconds... three... two... one... Time is now up." Battle Spiny Lobster is now in the books. Batali was abnormally quiet, while Morimoto is happy with his dishes. Morimoto gets six dishes to Batali's five. Remember, each judge is allocated up to 20 points for each chef. Of those 20, ten will be awarded for taste, five for presentation and plating, and five for originality and theme.
Morimoto was going for a changeup in texture and flavor, with a few surprises in store. After all, he is the guy with the surprises. His dishes: Lobster sashimi with fresh wasabe; chopped lobster mousse; fresh lobster noodles; lobster tempura - three flavors; konbu wrapped lobster tail with sauce America; lobster, egg, and Japanese rice soup; and Middle Eastern spiced lobster.
Melinda has never had dishes like these before (she says that about all of his dishes). Kerry and John like the balances in the dishes. After tasting the konbu wrapped item, John makes this determination: "I'm going to find every river stone in the San Fernando Valley." Favorable marks for Iron Japanese. "Very adventurous," Kerry says.
Batali was going to treat lobster in a creative way while respecting the integrity of Italian cuisine. His dishes: Lobster tonnato; sea urchin, shrimp, and lobster cappuccino; potato and lobster cannelloni, lobster saltimbocca with a salad, and roasted corn and lobster zeppole,
Kerry tastes the freshness in the tonnato. John likes the presentation of the cappuccino and the cannelloni. "When faced with an absolutely impossible ingredient, I can guarantee you that the best thing you can do is wrap it up in something and fry it," Batali says of his zeppole, while the judges appreciate the subtle sweetness of the lobster.
We've scored the chefs, now it's time to reveal... Whose cuisine reigns supreme? Here's the Chairman.
"Today's winning master is... Chef Mario Batali!" Well fought, well met, as Batali's taste bested Morimoto's. That's where he won the battle.
BATALI: Taste - 28, Plating - 14. Originality - 15, Total - 57
MORIMOTO: Taste - 23, Plating - 14, Orginality - 14, Total - 51
Batali was at home with lobster, and 48 percent of the fans were at home with the verdict, as tonight, Mario Batali's cuisine reigns supreme. Next time, a two-fer, as Morimoto will try to avenge his loss battling Iron Chef Puck, while the second battle is a tag-team affair with a twist. How I LOVE that T-word.
April 25, 2004
If memory serves me right, Chairman Takeshi Kaga has sent two of his Iron Chefs - Hiroyuki Sakai and Masaharu Morimoto - to do battle in Kitchen Stadium America against his nephew's own army of Iron Chefs - Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, and Bobby Flay. American Iron Chefs Batali and Flay took both Battle Trout and Battle Spiny Lobster. Morimoto was the opponent during Batali's bout, so he has an axe to grind with the Iron Chefs. He'll take it out against Iron Chef Puck in this battle.
The theme ingredient is EGGS, everything from salmon roe to ostrich eggs to your standard chicken variety. Reminder: both chefs have one hour to come up with at least five unique dishes that present eggs. The chef that does so the best as judged by the panel of three wins.
"With an open heart and an empty stomach, I say unto you, America... ALLEZ CUISINE!"
And battle is on. Both chefs grab some eggs, and it looks pretty elementary here. Eggs are the most versatile of food items and there isn't really anything you can't do with them. Morimoto begins cracking chicken eggs into a bowl, which is customarily unusual for him. But then again, both chefs are customarily unusual. Only difference is in the numbers: Puck is a California cuisine master of 41 years while Morimoto is a Japanese master of 20 years (and a 65-8 record, having dropped his last match).
Puck breaks out some flour for a pasta, while Morimoto prepares to break open an ostrich egg with a hacksaw. Very standard considering that ostrich eggs are harder than hardrock. While he does that, Puck's going to prepare his pasta dough. Live vote at foodnetwork.com shows the fans giving Puck the nod, 53-47. Morimoto finally cracked his shell, getting its contents in a bowl. Now, they're shaped like footballs, the ones we have in battle, but amazingly enough, they can get bigger. Taste? Like chicken, Alton tells us.
Puck breaks out leeks, only using the white and tender parts. Morimoto plays human blender with his ostrich eggs, converting them into some glutinous batter, possibly a noodle. Puck's sous-chef Sherry is going for some Meyer lemon juice, a little tarter than most lemons. Puck himself is using fresh cream on his ravioli filling. Next on Morimoto's side, foie gras slices and noodles, sliced off the back of a cooking sheet.
"Fifteen minutes have elapsed." Puck flips crepes and sets them down for porcini filling. Kevin reports that Puck's his usual self after initial jitters. Meanwhile Morimoto's no stranger to egg battles, having fought one against Iron Chef Japanese II Komei Nakamura in 1999.
"Twenty minutes have elapsed." Judge time, as we meet one of the men who got whacked on "The Sopranos", Vincent Pastore, someone who whacks with a hammer on "Trading Spaces", Paige Davis, and someone who uses the word "whack" a lot in his food column in Vogue, food critic Jeffrey Steingarten. Back into battle, with Morimoto blanching his noodles in ice water, while Puck peels potatoes and water chestnuts.
Iron Chef Batali's on the sidelines with Alton. "They're both highly aware of the tension going on around here. No question that these are cooks that actually cook" Mentioning sous-chef Sherry, they think that Puck brought out the big guns in choosing her to assist. Another formidable challenger? We'll see, I guess. Omelette pan and Kobe beef (bred to produce intramuscular fat, literally "like buttah") out on Morimoto's side, Morimoto still a 52-48 dog here. Morimoto thins out his omelette with chopsticks, very typical. Sherry starts on custard on Puck's side, adding Meyer lemon juice and sugar at about 34 minutes left.
Puck starts to roll out his dough, while Morimoto puts a blowtorch to what looks like a flan. They go into a steamer. Morimoto starts on carving bigeye tuna, possibly for a sashimi. A meringue, though, is taking form on Puck's side.
"Thirty minutes have elapsed." Morimoto pumps his team up while Puck throws flour at the camera. "Just like basketball, the last five minutes," as Puck describes his team coming together for the final plating later. Meanwhile, Morimoto plays with a red snapper. He's now a 51-49 favorite. Sherry's happy with her custard as she puts it into the blast freezer.
"Wolfgang just made a bit of a mess," Kevin reports as a couple of pots meet the floor. Meanwhile Morimoto pulls out chu-toro, the fatty part of the tuna, and scallops. Ice cream machine also fired up with ostrich egg and vanilla. Puck stops to make a toast, while Morimoto slices tuna for sushi... or a flower.
"Twenty minutes to go." Sherry's working with simple syrup, making candy threads for later. Maybe a garnish? Nope. Using it to candy potatoes. Meanwhile, concern over Morimoto's fish strategy over his egg strategy. Puck fries up wonton sheets. Okay, NOW comes the candy garnish as Sherry makes up some Gossamer threads out of sugar, water, and corn syrup.
"Fifteen minutes to go." Morimoto's omelettes are turning into a hash. Puck finishes up a truffle sauce, while his sous-chef Lee starts plating. Morimoto starts plating as well. Abalone gets diced, while we get sushi rice with vinegar.
"Ten minutes to go." Seaweed and sharkfin go into a bowl. More Gossamer threads out of the Puck camp. The custard on Morimoto's side coming out with duck breast and foie gras. Meanwhile, Morimoto marries toro with pizza dough. The ostrich ice cream is finally done, while Puck's plating is starting to take form. So the custard that Sherry made is being thinned out with milk and used as a sauce for her meringue.
"Five minutes to go." We have a problem on Morimoto's side, as the sushi rice isn't cooling fast enough. They try to use cold vinegar to do the job that really should've been done five minutes ago. Meanwhile, we have what looks like a mini-cr¸me brulee on Puck's side. Morimoto's got an ostrich-shell bowl for his ice cream. Puck is frying dumplings. Egg drop soup is almost done on both sides.
"One minute to go." Morimoto's happy for some reason. Good for him. He's got poached eggs and sukiyaki to be cooked at the judges' table. Wasabe meeting the gring as we countdown. "Five seconds... three... two... one... Time is now up." Puck tells his team that they've done it. Morimoto screams out "Yosh!", which basically means, "We did it." Final preps go down as we go to judge. Remember, each judge gets 20 points - 10 for taste, 5 for presentation, and 5 for originality.
Morimoto's subtheme was springtime in Japan. He makes it no secret that he was going for the ostrich egg: His dishes: Blue fin tuna pizza with quail egg, duck egg custard, Japanese spring wakatake soup with egg, chirashi sushi over Japanese rice and shredded egg, Kobe beef shabu shabu sukiyaki with poached egg, and ostrich egg ice cream with crispy fried spaetzle.
The judges think the dough's a little tough. He rebounds (sort of) with the custard, failing to win over Vincent ("If I was an easy critic, I wouldn't be here."). He does like the wakatake soup, though. But winning marks with the sukiyaki and the ice cream. And Paige thought it was very fun to watch him hacksaw the egg open. But nonetheless, Puck is now a slight favorite.
Puck's subtheme was just playing with so many types of egg. His dishes: ham & eggs, egg bread, and roasted potato with caviar; quail eggs with scallops and black truffles; potato mille feuille with salmon roe; sweet and soup egg drop soup; leek & quail egg open face ravioli; duck egg crepes; and lemon floating island.
Jeffrrey points out that Puck used the eggs as the main course to Morimoto's accessory. More favorable marks for his next three, while Paige has an Iron Chef female judge moment. The ravioli is Vincent's favorite today. Jeffrey calls the floating island a near-perfect dessert. So it's main dish versus accessory. Morimoto could be in trouble. Let's go to the Chairman.
"In two categories, plating design and originality, the Iron Chefs tied, 13 points each. Today, taste has told the tale. With 21 points... Iron Chef Morimoto. With 26 points, Iron Chef Puck has prevailed." And congratulations all around, as there is no disgrace in defeat. Next time, the tag team finale.
If memory serves me right, Chairman Takeshi Kaga has sent two of his Iron Chefs - Hiroyuki Sakai and Masaharu Morimoto - to do battle in Kitchen Stadium America against his nephew's own army of Iron Chefs - Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, and Bobby Flay. The American chefs are three for three, going into this, the tag team finale, which will pit Morimoto and Sakai against Flay and Batali.
The theme ingredients are SCALLOPS, LANGOUSTINE, and SEA URCHIN. Earlier, I noted that this battle was going to have a twist. Here comes the twist and five, four, three, two, now. "It appears that in my excitement, it appears that I have forgotten one more secret ingredient for this battle. It is my honor for the first time to bring together our two cultures, our two food worlds, in competition, not against each other, but rather... with each other. For today, we shall make history together as Iron Chefs Sakai and Batali chop as one, while Iron Chefs Morimoto and Flay share their wisdom on the same cutting board. Gentlemen... switch partners."
So there you have it. The tag team finale is a game of culinary mixed doubles. "With an open heart and an empty stomach, I say unto you... ALLEZ CUISINE!"
And battle is on. Rules are a little bit different. Each chef is responsible for two dishes, while each team is responsible for one. Morimoto and Flay, twice opponents, are shouting their strategy while Batali and Sakai try to work past their communication barrier in talking their game. Morimoto starts grating wasabe, while we have our first live vote, giving Flay and Morimoto the 2-1 nod. Batali gets every ingredient in Kitchen Stadium, including some chorizo for some Sicilian-style selections. Morimoto chops open some sea urchin, while Sakai opens up a chicken egg very carefully, definitely for a custard.
Trouble on Morimoto/Flay's side, as Flay needs a band-aid while chopping tomatillos. Morimoto is soaking scallops in sake, which will take pretty quickly. Also, sous-chef Patricia is working on a chili oil for Flay. Batali calls Sakai a zen master again, while his sous-chef is pounding langoustine meat. Compliments abound, as Sakai calls their team "happy fun".
Alton shows us a langoustine, which "looks a lot like a really really big shrimp, but it does, like a true lobsterette, have itty bitty pinchers." It's actually a prawn.
"Fifteen minutes have elapsed." Batali is making a bouillabaisse. Morimoto is making a broth of his own. Sakai is making potato noodles. Kevin is making nice with the judges. Today, they are one-fifth of the Fab Five, resident gourmand of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" Ted Allen, one-whole of the on-air "Extra" anchor team Dayna Devon, one-seventh of the recurring characters on "Friends" James Michael Tyler, and one heck of a food critic Jeffrey Steingarten.
Morimoto's scallops have gone to a rice cooker, while things are on fire with Sakai, as he's also making a green panko with parsley. Bread crumbs out of parsley? Magic. Batali is making a Sicilian lifeguard sauce with couscous. AS the vote seems to draw the two teams, Morimoto breaks out a hibachi grill that he WAS hoping to use against Bobby Flay in competition. Flay creates the sauces, while Morimoto is making the dishes, the brigade system they call it.
Over on Sakai's side, he's wrapping langoustine tails with the potatoes from earlier. Flay cut his finger, but he's okay. Morimoto's scooping out urchin roe, while Flay is butterflying langoustine.
Ted notes that Sakai and Batali are in some "Vulcan mind meld." Dayna thinks that this is like the Oscars. James notes the smell. Jeffrey is waiting for the fur to fly when Morimoto and Flay start cooperating.
Morimoto has started plating with urchin fillets and scallops. Meanwhile Flay has langoustine heads in the fryer. Also, a cauliflower custard inside the urchin shell is in the works. Meanwhile, Batali is working some little calamares for later.
"Thirty minutes have elapsed." Let's go to the sidelines with Iron Chef Puck, who thinks that today's match is perfect. "I'm just upset that I'm not a part of it." The seafood is great for all of the chefs, especially the Japanese. Langoustine's out on Morimoto's side with shallots, chili peppers, and oysters. Urchin also goes into the oven. Live vote is still draw.
Flour, egg, and curry powder is going into Sakai's blender, possibly a fritter. Flay's making a yellow roasted pepper sauce with miso and rice vinegar. Foie gras also pulled out on Morimoto's side, possibly on top of a dish. Miso, habaneros, and honey go into a malfunctioning blender.
Sakai is dredging the scallops on one side with the panko and parsley dredge, while Batali shares some chorizo broth. They like it. "That was just love." Meanwhile, Flay gets no love from his sauces. They're burnt. As Sakai puts some eggs into the bamboo steamer, Flay is worried that his custard won't set.
"Twenty minutes to go." Morimoto sears some scallops, while their sous-chef is putting some Serrano ham in the fryer. Sakai's sous-chef meanwhile is chopping some black truffles to be used in a sabayon. Meanwhile the potato-wrapped item sautˇs. Sakai thinks that having two Iron Chefs is definitely a benefit.
"Fifteen minutes to go." Morimoto's scallops are meeting the heat on his grill. They need a bit more time as plating begins.
"Ten minutes to go." The fritter's first, while Flay is on the run. Morimoto goes for some cedar branches to grill with the langoustine. A beautiful presentation going on Sakai's side, while Morimoto grabs some rocks and seaweed for presentation, maybe? Chefs Batali and Sakai are plating their joint venture, while Flay is getting trout roe to plate. Sakai deep fries celery for a garnish. And... they're done!
"Five minutes to go." Small cedar fire in Morimoto's kitchen, while he puts rice balls onto the grill. Flay creates an oyster Rockefeller. "How much time?" "Three minutes to go." That answer your question? Batali grates some roe fresh from the freezer. Sakai's just ecstatic about working with him in the future. They toast their doneness.
Meanwhile Morimoto pours his own sake for a celebration. "One minute to go." Grilled langoustine tails were made in Flay's honor. And we're running out of time here, as the plates are quickly coming together. Cauliflowers soup is coming out of the oven, while Morimoto heads for the goblets... "Five seconds... three... two... one... Time is now up." And we're all done for fun. Now it's onto the tasting. Remember 10 for taste, 5 for plating, and 5 for originality.
We start with Sakai and Batali. Their dishes: egg & sea urchin sabayon, Arborio rice crusted scallops, potato-wrapped crispy langoustine, barely-cooked langoustines in a shrimp and chorizo broth, panko & parsley crusted scallops, and Sicilian Lifeguard-style razor clams and scallops.
They love the texture and the presentation in the sabayon, but Jeffrey thought that the inedible garnishes didn't work. Ted likes the ground risotto. James thinks the langoustine goes great with the sauce americaine. And we think that Jeffrey is the "Asako Kishi" of Iron Chef America (popularly known as the "West German Judge", Kishi-san was basically the show's resident Simon Cowell in Japan). Dayna thinks the final dish is healthy and wonderful. It's the yin-yang at work.
Morimoto and Flay are next: crispy rice ball with scallops, sea urchin, & langoustine; seafood tapas; steamed scampi, scallops, & sea urchin; shellfish impersonating oysters; and Japanese-grilled shellfish with three dipping sauces.
Wonderful broth, Jeffrey and Ted point out. James notes the spiciness of the tapas. Jeffrey likes the foie gras and the spices. Ted downs the shellfish whole, and likes it. The fusion dish is presented beautifully, as Dayna points out. Ted cites and enormous range of flavors today. Could mean the win for Morimoto and Flay. Let's go to the Chairman.
"Iron Chefs... Morimoto and Flay!" Congratulations all around, as Morimoto and Flay... don't know whose hand to shake first. Clearly, they were the favorite, judging by the scoring:
MORIMOTO/FLAY: Taste - 36. Plating - 18, Originality - 17, Total - 71
SAKAI/BATALI: Taste - 29. Plating - 12, Originality - 14, Total - 55
Final live vote went to Sakai and Batali, 54-46. Well, there you have it, America. Iron Chef America is in the books. If you missed it, you can either wait for Food Network to rerun the show ad nauseum, or you could go to Foodnetwork.com and order the DVD. Either way, a simple recap can't do justice to what happened this weekend. Clearly one of the best competitions I've ever seen. You have to see it for yourself.