Last night on Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef,” the final four chefs were whisked off to Japan, where they would compete in the birthplace of the Iron Chef series. For the initial challenge, Chefs Garces, Freitag, Mehta and Mullen had to first create small dishes with the UMAMI flavor profile (a savory soy-based flavor originated in Japan). Iron Chef Masumatu Morimoto would be the judge.

Each chef appeared to do a nice job with this challenge, but chef Mehta won it with his leeks with panko; soy clams; grilled beef; apples; and strawberries. Morimoto thought he did the best job of incorporating the UMAMI profile, and suddenly he is looking like a contender.

Then they brought in the commentator for the Iron Chef series in Japan, Dr. Hattori, who would announce the main challenge along with host Alton Brown. The challenge would be to create another set of small meals in a bento box with rice as the centerpiece, but using each of the five flavor profiles–salty, sweet, bitter, sour and UMAMI. They would have 90 minutes to create these dishes and chef Mehta would have the advantage of first choice of ingredients.

Chef Mehta made oyster sherbet (ewwww!!), shrimp UMAMI, salty pork and rice, bitter melon salad and a sweet berry dessert.

Chef Mullen went with bitter tempura, bibimbap (some sort of Japanese specialty) with Kobe beef, green olive/sardines with rice, sour sticky rice with octopus, and yuzu ice cream with rice crackers.

Chef Garces made bitter green salad, pickled sardines, octopus with rice cakes, UMAMI pork belly and a sweet rice pudding with raspberries.

Finally, Chef Freitag made a kuromutzu fish, an UMAMI Kobe beef teriyaki, salty rice balls with seaweed, bitter radicchio tempura, and a black sticky rice with fruit for the sweet dish.

The judges, which were Dr. Hattori along with the main judges for the season–Anya Fernald, Jeffrey Steingarten and Donatella Arpaia–liked something about each of the chefs’ creations. But the winner of the challenge and now current frontrunner was Chef Garces.

The next one sent to safety was Chef Mehta, so it was down to Mullen and Freitag. The judges liked Mullen’s ice cream a lot and also liked Freitag’s fish, but in the end they chose Chef Mullen to continue and sent Freitag home.

So now it’s down to Mullen, Mehta and Garces to compete for the title of the Next Iron Chef. All three appear like they can make noise in the next two weeks, so this thing is pretty much wide open. Who do you like? We’ll find out more next week…see you then!