Iron Chef America: The Review

I saw Iron Chef America for the first time last night (Apparently, the New York Times did, too). It was Bobby Flay versus Rick Bayless, two southwestern-style chefs in an epic TV battle.

I’ve watched reruns of the original Japanese show on and off for years; I’ve squirmed as the Iron Chefs had to catch and kill giant eels; I’ve twittered at the ridiculous vocal talent chosen for the voiceovers. Each battle in Kitchen Stadium seemed more over the top than the next, with warring “factions” dueling it out in ever-more preposterous contests of honor.

The American version of the classic Japanese show retains some of the outlandishness of the original, but also tones it down just a bit. The new Chairman holds a yellow pepper as he mugs for the camera — the same type Kaga used to chomp zealously in the original Iron Chef — but substitutes a green apple before taking his bite. The new Chairman still yells “Allez cuisine!” to start the contest, but without the charming Japanese-French accent.

I’d always wondered how much of a surprise the “surprise ingredient” really was on the Japanese show; the New York Times article reveals that the “surprise” this time was simply whether it would be striped bass or buffalo. I’m not sure what I think of that. Maybe the dishes would be a bit more polished, but isn’t part of the point supposed to be watching these guys think of their feet?

Alton Brown, everyone’s favorite cooking nerd, takes over the hosting duties in the new show. He’s the perfect choice — knowledgeable about cooking, but quirky enough to keep things interesting. He’s an interesting enough character to handle both the “play-by-play” and the “color commentary” by himself. I’m not sure if a second host would be able to keep up with him.

One fascinating aspect of the new show is that we’re finaly able to hear (and understand) the chefs’ banter with their sous-chefs, who seem to have an elevated role in the new show. Did the original Iron Chefs get to choose their helpers, or were they provided by “Gourmet Academy”? In any case, watching the dynamic unfold (especially Flay’s ogre-like kitchen persona) was fascinating.

I’m not sure Iron Chef America will ever match the original’s winning combination of masterful cooking and unabashed kitschiness, but it does give us a glimpse into the real work celebrity chefs do. I’ll definitely TiVo a couple more episodes.

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