The current season of “The Next Iron Chef” on Food Network is rolling right along, and last night they accelerated things again as two aspiring chefs were eliminated. Now we are in Final Four territory.

Last night’s episode began with the chairman introducing Indian chef Suvir Saran, who then asked the chefs to create their own impression of Indian food, in small bits and strictly vegetarian. Of course, this would appear to give chef Mehta an advantage because he was of Indian heritage. But he had also won the previous challenge, so he also had a tangible advantage….which wound up being having first choice of ingredients.

Mehta made an eggplant dish but used some sort of fabric to make a “plate,” and this confused Saran because he wasn’t sure if he could eat the plate or not, and he couldn’t. Each of the other chefs, for the most part, made some sort of bread and some sort of chutney to accent their dish. The favorite and winner of the challenge was chef Appleman, who made a cauliflower and potato curry dish.

Before the main challenge, the chefs were told that this would be a double elimination and that four of them would be getting on a plane and heading off to a far-away location to continue competing. Their task was to create a 5-course Indian meal in just two hours using the ingredients currently in the kitchen. Chef Appleman had his choice of ingredients since he won the previous challenge and he went with snapper and lamb. Then it was a mad dash as each chef was tugging and pulling on the remaining proteins like kids tugging at candy. Here is a brief cross-section of what each chef made:

Trevino–chicken tikka and beef curry

Garces–spinach and cheese paneer, prawns and dal soup

Appleman–Aloo gobi, eggplant stuffed with lamb, sag paneer, and roasted banana

Freitag–Naan bread with chicken mughlai (she served it, disgustingly, with the chicken’s head on the plate…ewwwwww!)

Mullen–goat vindaloo, spiced prawns and red lentil dal

Mehta–rice, dal, spicy okra, fritters and semolina dessert.

The judges liked most of the dishes, but a few of the negative comments were that Mullen’s dal was an “unpleasant interpretation,” and that Appleman’s banana smelled and tasted funky. If fact, I’m pretty sure judge Donatella Arpaia wanted to say it tasted like stinky feet.

The first one to safety and who was handed a ticket to the next destination was chef Freitag, but then host Alton Brown told chef Trevino that he was the first chef to be heading home. Garces was the next to safety, and Brown informed him that he had won this particular challenge and would have an advantage next week.

Mehta was the next in the final four, leaving chefs Mullen and Appleman, both of whom have shown that they could be frontrunners recently. And both were cocky, saying they didn’t expect to be eliminated. So the next one in the finals was….chef Mullen! Appleman and his cocky attitude were sent packing, and I have to admit I was surprised, because despite his attitude, he seems to be an excellent chef. Brown told him as much, and that he had a bad night and it cost him. Wow.

So your final four is Freitag, Garces, Mehta and Mullen…..and it appears to be a wide open competition. As to where they are headed? Tokyo, Japan….where the Iron Chef concept began and where Food Network star and original Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto will be on hand to help judge.

See you all next week!