Well, here we are watching…The Food Network.
Not a Challenge where they’re baking a Simpson’s 109th Anniversary cake but an actual show. I must say TFN is a little low rent, even for as long as it’s been on the air. But it has some grandiose notions with the big music and the massive doors with the knives that open and close. (You KNOW they added the sound of those doors.) But Let me say a few words about the bespectacled elephant in the room, Alton Brown.
Alton is not a chef.
He was a DP and a video director and thought cooking shows were dumb so, according to his bio: “Convinced he could do better, Alton left the film business and moved to Vermont to train at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vt. Soon after, Alton tapped all of his training to create Good Eats, a smart and entertaining food show…”
This does not say he graduated from culinary school.
And I don’t think he ever actually cooks himself. Yet he has like three TV series, has written four books, won a Peabody Award and a James Beard Award for one of his cookbooks.
Now I like this MF about as much as I like Ted Allen from Chopped (and formerly Queer Eye For The Straight Guy.) And I Hate Ted Allen.
When I watched Iron Chef (the American version) I would literally mute the show whenever Alton Brown was on screen.
I’m never gonna run away with this smug bastard but I’m hoping that perhaps blobbing about this series will change my mind about him to the point where I won’t trash him in front of the creatives who did the Welch’s juice commercials with him as the spokesperson. Yeah.
I was on my second glass of rosé.
But enough regrets, let’s meet some of our contestants!
Chef Marco Canora has an Italian influence and knows how to spin things on his fingers. (Was that a plate? What was the point of that, Canora?)
Bryan Caswell has four restaurants in TX and looks like Seth McFarlane’s grumpier, hairier, less successful older brother.
Female Chef Duskie Esties (I am not making that up) has two restaurants, pink All Stars, two kids, lives on a farm with them and her husband and could probably be a wide receiver for the Browns with that thick a** neck. She should not be wearing Pigtails. Therefore she will be known as Pigtails!
Ming Tsai is here! He owns Blue Ginger in- WELLESLEY! I was bussed out to school in Wellesley for 12 years, thanks METCO! More important, thanks (for waiting in line for a couple of hours, which is all you had to do back then, to get me a better education) Mama! Chef Tsai is a James Beard winner and won an Emmy for his cooking show. Apparently he’s looking for a show on the Food Network. That shouldn’t be too hard because Aaron McCargo, Jr won The Next Food Network Star the season before last and has one and I thought he was crap.
The Chairman of The Next Iron Chef is Mark Dacascos, the son of the original Iron Chef Chairman from Japan. Like his father he realizes he doesn’t have to do much other than wear a nice suit (well, his Father was a little more Vegas) and be incredibly dramatic (which includes back flips) which is kinda fun.
Alton told the chefs The Chairman has one opening in his Pantheon. I think Liberace used to say that too…
Then he said the word is ‘Ingenuity.’ The word appeared on the screen in case we didn’t hear him correctly. So did the words: Secret Ingredient Challenge. What’s going on with this now?
A table of bread was wheeled out. All kindsa breads. They were challenged to make an ingenious sandwich that said something about who they were. (While also saying they could make a sandwich.) They had half an hour. Everyone ran for it. Chefs yelled out things like ‘chili Flakes’ and ‘butter!’ as if these things would magically appear.
Pigtails made a grilled lamb meatball sammy with cherries two ways. She tried to put everything through the meat grinder: lamb, cilantro, I think there might have been peppercorns and rocks in there too cause the grinder broke. Luckily she fixed it.
Marc Forgione has a Michelin Star. His father is Larry Forgione whom we’re all supposed to know and has way less hair. Apparently several of the chefs knew his Chef Daddy. Chef Forgione made fresh sausage in a grinder too. (Man it’s like Play Doh’s Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop up in this piece with everyone grinding meats.)
Meanwhile Alton walked around while they cooked and said snide things like: “You have plenty of time, don’t you?” and “In Kitchen Stadium I’ve seen people cry at this point.” He counted it down and then told the Chefs the judges for this challenge would be: THEM.
Chef Tsai said he does east/west cuisine. He made a Teriyaki tuna and leek shiitake truffle fondue sandwich on a baguette. Chef Caswell commented said there was too much bread and he would have dug it out.
Chef Tsai told Caswell his fried fish banh mi (Vietnamese) sammy had too much bread and then he actually smiled afterwards. Hmm, so that’s how you’re gonna play it, Tsai? Bitch-like?
Everyone seemed to appreciate Chef Forgione’s old school sausage and peppers sandwich.
Mario Pagan owns a restaurant in Puerto Rico-Ho! Puerto Rico-Ho! He did a chorizo manchego with sautéed onions in sherry. The chefs wanted more moisture, sherry or acidity, the chorizo was dry.
Chef Celina Tio from Kansas City had long ponytails and minimal makeup. She made a breakfast Cuban sandwich with house made pickles, brioche, fresh egg and vinaigrette.
Chef Maneet Chauhan is ready to release the tiger! Her personality would butt heads with traditional Indian ladies. Translation: I’m saucy! She made a chicken cucumber and mint sandwich with mango mint chutney. Most of the Chefs liked the hot and cool of it. Chef Tsai thought it was too spicy.
Chef Canora made a tomato and egg bruschetta. The Chefs thought it was delicate and Pigtails thought the fact that it was vegetarian was ‘rockin.’
Mary Dumont is Executive Chef of Harvest in Cambridge—wow we have TWO Massachusetts Chefs?! She did a tempura-fried oyster on cornbread with pickled radishes and yellow tomato soup. They all wished it had more radish. Puerto Rico said it wasn’t the best idea to dunk a sandwich in soup.
Everyone were impressed with Ponytail’s grilled lamb meatball sandwich with goat cheese and cherries too ways (pickled and in the sausage.) She seemed humble and said ‘Thank you.’
Chef Tattoo (Andrew Kirschner) has the most visible tattoos. He reminds me of tanner Richard Edson from STRANGER THAN PARADISE and STRANGE DAYS.
Chef Tattoo made a proscuito fontina and spring vegetable bruschetta. A few Chefs said they didn’t know if they ever had mustard on their bruschetta. Done in by a condiment?
Alton asked each of the Chefs to pick a winner and a loser and said there would be an advantage for the winner. It came down to Ponytail and Chef Canora as favorites. Chef Pagan and Chef Dumont were the least faves.
(Chef Pagan picked his own sandwich as the worst- huh?)
Then Pigtails said: We’re not allowed to pick ourselves, right?
Alton: Be honest if you thought you liked yours best it, go for it. He said “I mean it’s hideously obnoxious, but…”
Ooh, I’m starting to like you now, Alton.
He also said no one had ever done that before and that this was also a test of character…
She had every opportunity to change her mind but- Pigtails picked her own sandwich as the favorite and Chef Pagan’s as the least favorite. And-
(The sammy competition, as far as friends and fans, she wins nothing.)
Then Alton walked them to the Judges Chambers and introduced them to:
Iron Chef Michael Symon; Donatella Arpaia, a Chef, Restaurateur and Author whose hairstylist couldn’t decide whether to go Raphaelian or with ‘the first day of school in the sixth grade’ hairstyle; and UK food and travel writer Simon Majumdar who looks like one of the sex traffickers in TAKEN.
Then the Chairman appeared on a flat screen and asked what the one ingredient was that the chef’s would want if they were stranded on a desert island. Apparently they answered at some point because after the commercial they walked on to a beach. Each had a station grill and a cooler. Alton wore an outfit that was a cross between Miami Vice and some detective who solves crimes while wearing a straw hat.
They were shown a supply of island ingredients- stuff like lobster, prawns, coconut milk, cactus but no olive oil, no butter, no flour! No shit?!
Some chefs had picked duck, turkey, pig and corn. Puerto Rico had limes- limes? Pigtails got five extra minutes because she won the sandwich challenge.
Chefs who didn’t pick a protein were pissed that Pigtails was out there grabbing clams and prawns and other things they could have used.
With 3 additional minutes left while everyone else watched and gnashed their teeth, Pigtails began to butcher her pig.
A whole baby pig, head, hooves and all.
Then Alton called time and everyone ran for it. Chef Forgione slid into the ingredients Hank Aaron style and sprayed a layer of sand all over the fresh herbs. Nice.
Not everyone could get the grill started. The hour went pretttttty quickly. Alton: “Honest to goodness if you haven’t plated I’d be thinking about it.”
Then the Judges showed. Maneet (Chef Chauhan) said she picked turkey as an ingredient to have stranded on a desert island because “a turkey is home.” (Eh, maybe if you’re sleeping in it like a tauntaun.)
She made a roulade out of the turkey breast and wrapped and grilled it in a banana leaves. Nice! Then she made a sauce of innards and coconut milk, caramelized plantains (that looked too thickly sliced to be caramelized to me) and a watermelon mango slaw. Jesus!
Um, anyone else notice they make hella more food on this show than TC? I hope there are some homeless people on this island that are gonna get the leftovers. Judge Donatella said she liked it but the plantains were undercooked. Judge Majumdar said it was a little too spicy.
Chef Forgione chose free-range chicken. He usually cooked chicken under a brick at his restaurant (I hope it’s a new brick) this time he cooked the chicken under a coconut and prepared it with rosemary honey and honey.
He grilled them then braised them in the ginger honey. Judge Symon said there was a disconnect, everyone thought it was too sweet.
Pigtails made a suckling pig surf and turf. She looked like she had 4 plates of stuff. Clams and prawns with heads on and pig on skewers with pineapple, coconut milk on top of grilled red onions, candied chili and avocado. But the only pork was two bites on a skewer. Hello?
Chef Majumdar asked if she was trying to bludgeon people into submission by using all the ingredients. (!!!) Judge Symon said the pork texture was off and a little mushy. He said the dish would have been better without pork! Dayum.
To camera, Pigtails said if she went home her pigs would never forgive her. Apparently they’d say: “you got one of us and you didn’t know how to use us!?” And then she’d answer by chopping their head off and turning them into a pork entrée.
Chef Tsai also had a suckling pig and wanted to use every part possible. He had a clam in coconut stew, pork and clam alentejana (a Portuguese dish) combo of leg meat and kidney with pork skin in coconut stew and then pork loin confit and finally tropical parfait. Whew!
Symon said it was a risky dish to do this out of the gate and his clam was overcooked. Everyone thought the flavors were bold.
McFarlane’s Older Brother had the amberjack. A giant fish that he quick cured with cactus pear and finished with cactus berry and lime coconut broth on the bottom. Judge Symon thought it was ingenious, there was some discussion over the seeds he left in the cactus pear though. Donatella thought it added texture. Judge Majumdar said he couldn’t digest them and made a crack about how he was British and he still had teeth so he didn’t want to crack them. Ouch.
Chef Canora had a whole pig as well. He did stuffed pork loin and lemongrass pork shoulder. Donatella said it wasn’t that moist. Symon liked the dish. Donatella wondered if it was ‘ingenious.’ Oh, right, they’re using words with every challenge. Eh. I dunno about all that. One thing I did like is seeing the judges all had little notebooks. You never saw Tom, Padma and Gail with them.
Chef Dumont from Cambridge made a corn broth out of coconut milk with lemon mint and then a ragout of corn with prawns and onions. She also used the cornhusk as a vessel and made a grilled corn chutney. Donatella said acidity was missing. Chef Majumdar liked it.
Chef Kirschner made a duck salad with green papaya and mango and Donatella took a bite, cried out and turned away. Whoops! Someone ate a grilled pepper. Judge Symon didn’t think he rendered the duck fat correctly. (How the hell do you even do that?) None of them were sure if it was ingenious. Alton: “Ingenuity, not there.”
Puerto Rico, trying to redeem himself, did a prawn ceviche with a lime coconut cilantro and mint mojo with plantains and green papaya and lime relish with honey. Say that three times fast.
Chef Majumdar thought the balance of flavors was lovely. Judge Symon said he got a touch of grit. Puerto Rico said he couldn’t control if sand blew into the dish. Yeah, Symon, there were no tents provided. Ease up.
Finally, Chef Tio made corn two ways- prawn with roasted corn and Fresno peppers, she actually used the cobs and cooked them with the prawns to thicken the sauce (yum!) Then she made oyster with raw corn salsa and she used the corn silk in the presentation. Judge Symon said it looked simple but packed a punch. Donatella was bored. She didn’t think the dish took a long time. Chef Majumdar: “What did she do with the rest of the hour, play Suduko?”
Hm, I think I’m gonna like it here…
After the break, Alton welcomed the Judges to the Chamber of Judgment. (That’s a little much.) Oh, I see, they all chat amongst themselves TC style but each Judge picks a top three. Cool.
Judge Majumdar picked Chef Canora, Chef Tsai (Wellesley!) and Maneet. Donatella picked Chef Tsai, Chef Dumont (Cambridge!) and Maneet. Judge Symon loved that she used turkey and said it was gutsy.
Judge Symon liked Canora, Forgione and Tsai.
Bottom Three: Pigtails, Tio and Kirschner. Judge Symon added Puerto Rico (ho?) Judge Majumdar picked Pigtails, Kirschner and Forgione. Judge Symon said Forgione did what no one else did, he made a perfect protein. Eyes rolled on this one.
Alton asked for two names from each, a winner and a loser. Ultimately, the decisions were unanimous. Everyone was summoned like that time my friends and I were in the guidance counselor’s office when we almost got busted in high school for… that- well, I’ll tell you about it later, Mama!
Maneet and Chef Canora ‘survived to cook another day.’
Chef Tsai was the winner. He nodded like whatevs and went back to the kitchen.
Everyone else survived. It was down to Chef Forgione, Pigtails and Puerto Rico.
Chef Forgione was told…he had to keep his standards up if he wanted to stay but he survives to cook another day.
(I gotta say Alton plays a decent Simon Cowell for someone who prolly can’t cook a soufflé to save his testes.)
Alton glared at Pigtails: “You took an entire pig and rendered two bites of pork and neither one of them were very good.”
Chef Kirschner was told…he had not made anything with ingenuity at all and he wouldn’t be the first Iron Chef. Awww, Kirschner’s eyes were a little wet as he went back to the kitchen. The remaining chefs were confused: ‘I thought the last person to leave was the one going home.’
Naw, that’s not how they roll in Kitchen Stadium.
Pigtails stood in front of the Judges. Alton: “Are you familiar with the expression by the skin of your teeth?”
She said she wasn’t (you know that’s a lie!) but she was now.
Alton: “I would take some serious time to bone up on your meat science…” (that goes on The List) and then: “Are we clear?”
Ouch! Well, I’m not gonna say I’ll buy his books or start drinking Welch’s but, with those much deserved comments, I’m starting to appreciate Mr. Brown a bit more.
The chefs all said goodbye to Kirschner. No one spoke to Pigtails at all. And perhaps they never will…
I think I already know who I want for this contest. Whaddaya gonna pick?