Last night was the premiere of “The Next Iron Chef” on Food Network, the second such season that last year produced Cleveland’s Michael Symon and made fringe and now budding stars of Aron Sanchez and Chris Constantino. And just like last year, this season boasts ten very worth chefs. Here is the field:
Jehangir Mehta from New York City
Nate Appleman from San Francisco
Amanada Freitag from New York City (you may know her as an occasional judge on “Chopped”)
Seamus Mullen from New York City
Holly Smith from Seattle
Jose Garces from Philadelphia
Dominique Crenn from San Francisco
Roberto Trevino from San Juan
Eric Greenspan from Los Angeles
Brad Farmerie from New York City
My first question is, could they not find anyone from a state that doesn’t border an ocean? Or did Michael Symon already lay claim to that distinction? And by the way, the series is taking place in Los Angeles, a city that borders an ocean.
Anyway, after meeting the chairman and having him look and act like a snake with these weird sound effects, they were introduced to series host Alton Brown, who is looking, well, angry. The chairman had chosen an ingredient for each chef to make something in 45 minutes time that showed a personal and cultural connection for them. They would then tell their story and feed each other, and would also be judges for each other.
Chef Mullen made salmon confit, Freitag made beer stew, Greenspan matzo ball soup, Mehta mango sorbet that became mango lassi, Farmerie asparagus stir fry, Appleman country ham and green bean stew, Crenn braised apple salad, Garces chowder with queso fresco, Smith lamb kidneys (ewww), and Trevino masa migas (I have no idea what those are but they looked good). As they were tasting and voting on each dish, it became clear that Chef Appleman is a douche, Chef Freitag was as squeamish as I would be eating lamb kidneys, and Chef Garces is a damn good cook. I say the latter because he was a hands-down consensus winner.
Then came the main challenge, and for this one, each chef was also given an ingredient by the chairman. But this time, it was the type of ingredient you don’t normally see on a menu…vile, disgusting, really disgusting, bordering on non-food ingredients. Garces had cockscombs, which look like those things on top of roosters’ heads and I’m pretty sure that’s what they are. Greenspan had grasshoppers. Freaking grasshoppers. Bugs! Freitag had the most mainstream ingredient, eel. Mullen had sea cucumber, which is really like a fish and not a vegetable. Appleton had unlaid eggs, which had attached to them what were either intestines or a placenta. Now, I’m thinking two things here. One, I’m glad they gave the douche this ingredient. And two, hold your thumb about a 1/4 inch from your index finger. That’s how close this network is to making someone eat animal waste. And when they do that, I’m done watching anything on the network. Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson, you’ve been warned.
Anyway, Farmerie had durian, which is a staple in Asia that is a fruit that smells like limberger cheese. Trevino had chicken feet, Smith jellyfish, Mehta duck tongue and Crenn something called stinky tofu. It’s stinky because it’s like, fermented or something. Ewww. So there were at least two ingredients here that smelled and probably tasted like stinky feet. Literally.
But then since Garces won the first challenge, he had the right to make two of the chefs switch ingredients, and he chose Mullen and Crenn, who had to swap stinky tofu for sea cucumber. And I’m thinking, at this point, does it matter who has what? Because they are all disgusting.
They had to each make two dishes in 75 minutes time, and then present those to the judges–Anya Fernald, Jeffrey Steingarten and Donatella Arpaia. And it was at this point that I’m thinking that if the Food Network ever approaches me or anyone I love about being a judge on an Iron Chef show, I politely and disgustingly decline. Because I or they are going to have to eat those yucky creations. These three didn’t seem to mind at all, however.
Anyway, here is what they made and the order in which they were declared safe or not by Alton Brown:
Appleman: unlaid egg carbonara, and zabaglione custard
Mullen: stinky tofu wrapped in bacon (always a smart move with bacon), and stinky tofu and bean stew
Mehta: pickled duck tongue and duck tongue jam
Trevino: Phoenix chicken feet and “feet dust”
Freitag: Eel osso buco and grilled eel
Garces: braised cockscombs and cockscombs tempura
Farmerie: Grilled scallops with durian and durian custard
Smith: Jellyfish in a cold salad and as a soup with coconut
Crenn: braised sea cucumber and sea cucumber pudding
and Greenspan: a salad with roasted grasshoppers and grasshopper gremolata over, of all things, pork medallions.
And after being visibly disgusted by the unlaid eggs and bickering between Steingarten and the two ladies, the bottom line was not that someone couldn’t not be disgusted by the ingredient, but that Greenspan made flavorless pork to serve under his grasshopper gremolata. And for that he was, expectedly and deservedly, booted off. The dude was pissed, saying he couldn’t do anything really great with grasshopper, but again, it was the pork that did him in.
Okay, so we now have, what, eight weeks left? I really hope they tone down the inedible foods portion of this show and make things that I would actually consider eating. Because really, they’re going to alienate 99% of their audience, not just me.
See you all next week….