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Iron Crock!

This is the premiere night for Iron Chef America on Food Network.

I'm very, very disappointed.

Iron Chef Sakai and Iron Chef Morimoto were brought over for the first episodes.

The kitchen is very nice - perhaps too nice, with too many bits of fancy hardware: flash freezers, deep fryers, electronically controlled smokers, etc.

They don't have the silly and impractical satin suits. They do have Mark Dacascos, the martial artist, acting as 'Chairman Kaga's nephew'. He does an admirable job.

And the part of Announcer, filled by Fukui Kenji (F'queesan) in the Japanese series is filled by Alton Brown, the 'scientific cooking' person. This is the guy who thinks that if you don't use exactly the equipment he recommends, you're doing it WRONG WRONG WRONG! And, since all food is merely chemicals, there is no 'art' to cooking. Right? Well, he does manage to say at least two stupid things in the first quarter hour, but they may have been scripted for him.

The American Iron Chefs: Wolfgang Puck (the hell? He's German, not American, and his comments about being in the vanguard of American-born-and-bred chefs seem peculiar coming from a European) ... specialty, French food. He also claims to be the one who popularized French cooking here. Uh, no. That was Julia Child.

Mario Batali will be Iron Chef Italian. An excellent choice. He doesn't talk much in this episode.

And then. The imbeciles made Bobby Flay an Iron Chef. Bobby "walks on cooking surfaces" Flay. It would be less annoying if he was merely gauche. But twice during the show I was treated to him doing things that would have me calling the health inspectors. First, tasting with his fingers and then returning to touching the food without stopping to clean his hands. Second, sipping out of a ladle that he was using to stir with, and returning the ladle and its contents to the pot.

So if you ever eat at a Bobby Flay restaurant and come down with the runs ... it's not because it's unfamiliar southwestern foods. It's the man's saliva carefully introduced into your food.

The Chairman introduced the Ingredient: Trout. BIG BROOK TROUT. LIVE brook trout.
This confused Bobby Flay. Sakai was fine with it.

The contest itself was everything you'd expect - very good things were done. Food was prepared. Food was tasted. Yummy faces were expressed.

However. The scoring was in three categories. Taste, Originality, and Plating.
That is, how good was the food, how original was it, and how did it taste.

Sakai, King of Iron Chefs, lost to the toad Bobby Flay, the man who whined about how he lost to Morimoto in New York because of equipment malfunctions... And why did he lose?

He and Flay tied on Originality.
Sakai, the man who's considered an artist for his presentations, got 14 of 15 points on Plating, while Flay (who presented greasy, flabby grits in a frying pan) was given a 15 of 15.

At that point I screamed BULLSHIT! ... there is NO way that Flay's presentations, which looked like something from Denny's, should have been given more than 10.

But it was in the Taste category that Sakai actually lost. The controversy is this: they didn't get really qualified judges. No culinary critics, no epicure. One chef, nobody who was familiar with Oriental style foods.

Iron Chef had several formal and informal rules, that Iron Chef America seems to have failed to learn from.

First, ICA requires five dishes from each competitor. Five is a lot. Sometimes you want to do three, sometimes, rarely, six. The idea is to express the nature of the ingredient, to reveal it thoroughly. Some ingredients don't benefit from more than one or two expositions. Leaving it up to the chefs would have been much smarter.

Second, when you have someone from another culture, you have at least one judge from that culture, so that their cuisine can be interpreted to the other judges.

Third, you have judges who aren't unfamiliar with the foods. No culinary judge should be boggled by seeing a truffle, or gasp in horror or confusion at the sight of a foie gras. Nor should something like shark fin confuse them, nor frankly, should they be baffled or horrified by the idea of ice cream made with fish as an ingredient. (Given that most ice cream sold in America contains some pretty damn weird ingredients, they shouldn't balk at all about a bit of fishy goodness.)

So. Food Network lost a LOT of credibility.

There are arguments to the effect that it was all right because it was american tastes etc. and the Japanese show catered to japanese tastes. This is arrant nonsense. Many people from other cultures were able to win there; they did so partly by catering to the tastes of the judges and partly by making wonderful food that tasted good and was attractively presented.

I'm very VERY disappointed by this show.