10 Thoughts On The Next Iron Chef So Far

1) I have skipped the last few weeks because, honestly, as I was writing the second episode column I realized that it wasn’t particularly interesting because, as I mentioned in the first column, I got a sneaky suspicion that this whole thing was a set-up to get Amanda Freitag on to the show. Look, I’m a wrestling fan and it’s generally accepted that when a new title is created, there’s a tournament to crown the first champion to give some legitimacy to the fake title. Sometimes it actually happens, sometimes it’s just made up. This smells like that. I don’t know if it’s the seeming disinterest of the chefs involved (save Chef Appelman, they’re not nearly as overcompetitive as Besh, Constantino, Sanchez, and Symon were) or it’s the seeming lack of strong personalities (again, save Chef Appelman). There’s also nothing I’ve seen to change my mind that she’s already been cherry-picked to win… be it getting an easy ingredient the day the chefs had to make Asian dishes or getting the nod over Chef Crenn when she was in the final two. I’d also mention — of the six remaining chefs, four are New York based (Chefs Mullen, Appelmen, Freitag, and Mehta) so Chefs Garces (Philly) and Trevino (Puerto Rico) — I wouldn’t be getting too comfortable.

2) And can someone tell me why The Chairman is filming all his vignettes from the same spot in an American Airlines terminal? And now an American Airlines plane? It comes off oddly disjointed. Like — I’m sure that it made sense to the chefs who were seeing these once every couple of days… but, to me, how long did the Chairman have to wait for that plane? People, the Iron Chef canon is incredibly over the top. For example, in the episode of Iron Chef America that followed this, the Chairman asked a Chicago chef if he could end 100 years of his city’s shame by winning in Kitchen Stadium. That guy doesn’t fly commercial. The Chairman should be flying to Tokyo on his own private jet with swords on the side and being hand delivered sushi from Morimoto. The man just rented out a airline hangar and made a replica, ten station kitchen stadium and now he’s flying American Airlines business class to Tokyo? C’mon.

3) Today’s theme is pressure. The chairman has sent Chef Suvir Saran, co-owner of Manhattan’s Devi, to judge their first challenge. It is to create their interpretation of India’s flavors in one bite. They have no meat and 30 minutes. Chef Mehta, with his first place finish last week, gets first crack at ingredients. The Indian guy gets the first crack at the India challenge. Well done. As the chefs cook, Saran wanders the kitchen taking Alton Brown’s job of making snarky comments about what the chefs are cooking. Such as “Salt? Why do you enjoy torturing your vegetables?” I’m a fan of this guy and I’d like to go to Devi… for lunch. The dinner menu seems a tad overpriced but I’m all over a $25 lunch Prix Fixe.

4) Chef Garces gets the worst of the judging because he used curry. It appears Indian folks hate stereotypes, too as Saran mentions that someone in India would make three dishes and never use curry. Chef Appelman, in his judging segment, throws a dig Chef Garces’s way by pointing out that his dish has no curry. Saran joins the growing list of people telling Chef Appelman that his food is undersalted and he, again, disagrees. Here’s a hint, aspiring chefs. If everyone but you thinks your food is undersalted, there’s a distinct possibility that your tastebuds might have a different salt sensitivity then the rest of the world. Disagreeing with everyone doesn’t make you right — it makes you a dick. Chef Appelman, however, wins the challenge. Chef Mehta, the Indian guy, finishes third. He appears unamused.

5) For the second Pressure challenge the chefs present the panel five Indian dishes in two hours. They will serve each course on the same plate — so the presentation is all five courses on one serving platter. Chef Appelman’s advantage is he gets to select his proteins first. He decides to take ALL the yellow snapper and a leg of lamb. As the remaining chefs are released, we see a scrum for ingredients. Chefs Mehta and Mullen tug-of-war over goat and Chef Trevino yoinks a chicken directly from Chef Freitag’s hands. Once again, the chefs seem extremely stressed over the time constraints. In previous weeks, they’ve freaked out at having an hour to make two dishes. This week they freak out over having two hours to make five. Again I wonder if any of the contestants have watched Iron Chef. I know at least two have them have been on it. If the time clock is this much of a concern, maybe they might have chosen a different path?

6) I’m really tired of Kikkoman’s Umami commercials. Spoiler alert — Umami is salt.

7) The Survivors: Chefs Freitag, Mullen, and Mehta. Donatella seems particularly annoyed at life today. Her comments are short and snippy and she is quicker than usual to dig at Steingarten. Then Steingarten would later make a dig at Fernald for being a sustainability hippy. Something tells me these three are really sick of being around each other. Chef Freitag was the only one who got a presentation dig. She went first so the judges wouldn’t as yet have known that all the presentations would be the same; food laid out at the five points of a star with a drink of some sort in the middle. They hated her slaw but loved her potato and rice dish and called her chicken “heavenly”. She survives. Chef Mullen seemed like as likely a cut as Appelman but survived (more on this later). The dig at Chef Mehta was he didn’t innovate anything and prepared his Indian food too traditionally since he’s, you know, Indian. Jeffrey (thankfully) pointed out that the grading of this challenge wasn’t supposed to be based on innovation. I’m glad someone pointed out that the metrics in some of these challenge are not Taste/Presentation/Originality.

8) The winner: Chef Garces. In fairness, though, if one chef presented a traditional Indian meal to Iron Chef judges and another chef presented an innovative Latin/Indian fusion meal that worked — the innovator would win. So it was probably correct to give Chef Garces the win in this challenge. It also bears mentioning that Chef Garces was the final chef to go, which means the judges were on their 31st – 35th dishes. It better knock their socks off and he did. Great job.

9) The losers: Chefs Trevino and Appelman. Chef Trevino hasn’t been particularly impressive in preceding weeks so I had him penciled in as fodder. Chef Appelman was more interesting. I’m pretty sure that he and Chef Mullen were roughly on the same level following the challenge and their previous work, but I have a feeling that the tiebreak fell somewhere between “seems really hard to work with” and “too obnoxious to be on television.” It was a nice touch that Food Network edited this episode together with a bunch of instances of Appelman talking about how great he was or his absolute certainty that his Indian dishes were the best, even though the judges spent most of the judging crushing all five of his dishes with comments that ranged from “too American” to “offputting.” He mentions that we’ll be seeing more of him. We won’t. To be honest, his indignation at the suggestion (by everyone) that he underspices his dishes isn’t really firing me up to check out Pulino’s when it opens in December, either. The idea of undersalted pizza doesn’t really excite me, if you can imagine, and the idea that they’ll be doing butchering work on premises isn’t really a kicker. Keep in mind, this place will be, literally, across the street from my beer store/supermarket and I have zero interest in it.

10) If you’re keeping track — we’re down to three New York and one Philly. Again, if I’m Chef Garces… I’m not pricing the hotels around Chelsea Market quite yet.