I admit to not loving “The Next Iron Chef” on Food Network, but yesterday’s show excited me more and I’m looking forward to the final round next Sunday. Last night, the final three were still in Japan, and were asked to show their integrity and tell a story with a Kaiseki, or multi-course meal. They would be judged on taste, creativity and presentation, and the judges would be the regulars Anya Fernald, Jeffrey Steingarten and Donatella Arpaia, as well as Dr. Hattori, the commentator of the original Iron Chef series in Japan.

After having an hour to shop at the fresh market for fish and produce, chefs Garces and Mullen were laughing at chef Mehta, who bought a crazy amount of flowers in which to use as garnishes. Say what? I hope he remembered that presentation was only a third of the points.

During service, chef Mullen was slowed by arthritis in his leg and visibly in pain. But he pressed on like an Iron Chef hopeful should. And though all of the chefs struggled with the two-hour time limit, they all managed to plate their dishes.

Chef Mullen went first and made a salmon mousse; sea urchin with strawberries prawn and potato confit with aioli; salmon and prawns, tomato and oyster soup; a miso soup with rice; and a strawberry ice cream with caviar. They all loved the ice cream, but since chef Mullen decided to make rice with his miso soup and didn’t cook it to Japanese standards, all four judges were tough on him for that. Plus, Steingarten referred to the mousse as being hard as a golf ball. Yikes.

Chef Mehta used a ton of flowers to express his own happiness and love of life, but the judges all thought he overdid it. He made a clam salad; a lobster with zucchini blossom; green chile shrimp with pickled vegetables; seared scallop with ginger and chrysanthemum; and an ice cream with rose petals, crab tartate and mango. The judges also thought chef Mehta’s dishes were too sweet overall and Steingarten referred to his ice cream as tasting like soap. Also, chef Mehta may not have presented a traditional “kaiseke.”

Chef Garces wanted his presentation to be like a show with five acts. He started with a gazpacho with king crab; then a Peruvian ceviche; a grilled kampachi fish with vegetables; a hot pot with lobster and abalone; and a sea urchin custard with mango. The judges mostly loved chef Garces’ dishes and it was pretty clear he would be reaching the finals. The only real complaint was that the hot pot dish was a bit too salty.

So it would likely be between chefs Mullen and Mehta. Chef Mullen was commended for his pressing on through pain, but in the end the fact that he messed up the rice was serious enough to send him home.
Chef Mehta was told by host Alton Brown that his presentation was a high point as well as a low point, but he still delivered some excellent dishes and was ushered into the finals along with chef Garces.

These guys have been eyeing each other since Day 1, and now we know why….and after flying back to New York, they will face off in Kitchen Stadium to determine who will be the Next Iron Chef. I have to say Garces is the favorite, but Mehta is a fierce competitor and won’t go down without a fight. Who do you like? Let me know in the space below and see you next week for the finale results!