Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Next Iron Chef: This Apple Thing Is Hard

So, when I sat down to recap this show I actually was eating an apple. I bought a whole bag of them. They're good for you! So I tried to take that iconic Iron Chef America shot where the chairman's nephew takes a big hearty bite out of a red apple. What I found is that it's totally impossible to do that without looking insane: I have a new found respect for the chairman's nephew and America's next top models.

Alton Brown is the host.

I'm sorry, but I'm not an Alton Brown fan. I should qualify that. What I mean is, I'm not a fan of his TV persona, at least not his wacky, frenetic Good Eats TV show persona. He's all bubbly and chipper and popping in and out of the frame. Peter and Travis actually like that show! I suppose I like the science behind it but honestly I can't deal. I did catch him on The Next Food Network Star and he was all dour and dry and mean. Which is to say, much more to my liking.

So we have Alton as the host, eight established chefs and 3 judges. I initially went over to the show's site to get some info, but I am immediately jealous to see that the "amateur gourmet" "New York's Funniest Food Blogger" will be recapping the show for the Food Network.At least it's not Andrea Strong. I can't dislike though because he actually seems nice and he looks like my cousin.

The eight chefs are John Besh, Chris Cosentino, Jill Davie, Traci Des Jardins, Gavin Keysen, Morou Quattara, Aaron Sanchez and Michael Symon.

The three judges are Donatella Arpaia, Andrew Knowlton and Michael Ruhlman.

Okay, so it'll be 8 challenges that take place around the world (pretty cool!) Not cool? The insane, organ-heavy soundtrack moaning and groaning throughout the entire show.

The first challenge takes place at the Culinary Institute of America. We meet some of the chefs and find out little tidbits, such as Besh was once a marine, Traci has the most experience, and some highly redundant personal philosophies.

Michael's is: "I'm in it to win it...you got it, bring it." I feel like he should cut this motto in half.

Julie's is: "I don't mind arguing a point...or making one." Huh?

Gavin is apparently the youngest, and has taken on the burden of "Representing every young chef in America."

MINI CHALLENGE: (ahem, the quickfire.)

The chefs, after meeting Alton Brown, are taken to a gym. Yes, a gym. I think this could have been done in a kitchen, but Old Alton says that the "Chairman" thinks cooking is a martial art and requires speed. Do we really need to maintain this magical iron chef thing for the whole season? Sigh. Anyway the chefs are going to be judged on timing and also skill; they must break down a chicken, fillet a salmon, do something to lamb, cut daikon (thin enough to read the paper through), shuck some oysters/clams and also get 2 cups or so of liquid out of a coconut.

I do like how we're getting some chef skills here (like on Top Chef when we found out Casey couldn't cut onions. Just saying.) Although, ironically, as Traci points out, most of these chefs are at the level where they have people under them doing these things.

Besh has the fastest time, but Sanchez does everything with the most skill, so he wins. Morou is incredibly fast but winds up slicing his hand open and also isn't as meticulous as the others.


"The Chairman," says Alton, "has a sweet tooth, but he likes his desserts...weird." The challenge will be to create 2 desserts, in 90 minutes, and one of the desserts has to use a savory ingredient. Also, they can't use butter, sugar or cheese.

Sanchez has the advantage so he picks his ingredient first; he goes for duck confit.

Michael picks bacon, Cosentino picks Tripe, Morou picks chorizo, Traci picks salmon roe, Besh has catfish, Gavin has squid and Jill gets left with beef shoulder.

They go to the kitchen to work, where I swear they are using Viking blenders. Does the culinary institute really have their students work with Vikings? Or is this product placement? I actually was given a Viking blender as a Christmas gift. It's almost too nice for my kitchen. It's hardcore.

The chefs are having serious problems in the hot kitchen. I actually feel kind of a kinship with them because of this; memories of overly-ambitious dinner parties gone awry fill my head. Ice cream machines aren't working, (been there) stuff won't whip (yup) and flan won't set. (okay I've never made flan..)

Michael is really having the most trouble with his bacon ice cream. Ha. In fact, when Alton comes over to see how it's going, the machine is going completely nuts, with cream just pouring out of the machine. And then, the tray just falls out. Michael looks like he might flip and Alton shows some smarts and starts edging away, saying, "I'll just walk away!" Michael decides to make it just a bacon sauce not a bacon cream.

Besh, who I like alot, is making a catfish stuffed truffle. I know! At one point he screams, "Why did I pick catfish!" The pressure from being from the south?

Cosentino is soaking the tripe in something to make it less...tripey. Good luck. I have heard that people often soak tripe in milk. During all of this, the soundtrack is still going nuts; it sounds like the Roman Army is about to come marching through. It's very distracting.

By this point, all of the chefs are bright red and sweaty. It really must be hot in there! That does suck. I've had things go straight to the garbage due to heat/humidity. For instance, pie dough. Oh, the heartbreaking moments I've had with pie dough! The tears! The apologies! The declarations that there is no going back, that it'll never happen again! And yet, year after year in the heat of summer, I always go back to that tricky pastry dough. Blueberry tart is just too good.

There weren't any disasters, which I suppose shouldn't be a surprise since they people are professional professionals. Michael is criticized for making something inspired by his pastry chef (the bacon creme french toast) and Traci is with him in the bottom two for making something topped with salmon roe, which they felt wasn't desserty enough.

I would honestly say there isn't much she could have done there, but maybe frozen the roe and covered it with white chocolate with some type of ginger essence? Because I was going to say that it's impossible to make a fish dessert, but Besh actually has won with his "Catfish three ways." Besh made a white chocolate hallah bread pudding with bananas foster and a catfish and grape truffle, and a parfait of catfish and white chocolate served in a biscuit, and some catfish beignets. I'm impressed!

He modestly says, "I don't claim to be the catfish dessert making king" - but I think we can safely assume that no one else is claiming this. It's all yours, Besh.

Ultimately, Traci Des Jardins is sent home. As Alton (very nicely puts it), "Sometimes there are ingredients that can't be wrangled." This moment really makes me see potential awkwardness of this show. I mean, the judges might actually KNOW these chefs, personally. Also these are some of the top chefs in the nation - how awkward to be sent home.

Personally, I think Michael should have been sent home. Bacon is so easy (compared to salmon roe) and he really did play it safe.

Traci does seem a little teary in her interview, but she says "I had lots of laughs. Tomorrow is a new day."