I hope you understand the concept of "Iron Chef".
No? Well, the series originated on Japanese television. A fictional Chairman had devoted vast amounts of money and, presumable, the lives of several scenic designers to the building of "Kitchen Stadium," a huge sound stage surrounded by bleachers and a judge's booth.
On the playing field itself were two hyper-well-equipped professional kitchens. Each week, a challenger--an actual chef from an actual restaurant--"challenged" one of the four or five Iron Chefs to a cook-off involving a mystery ingredient which neither contestant knew about beforehand. The judges ate and rated the resultant dishes.
HINT: nobody won for pancakes, tuna roll or Mallomars. Inventive new recipes--which chefs of common sense might never prepare again--were key.
This show was massively popular in Japan and upon its importation to America. The combination of over-dramatics, interesting food lore and actual competition (winning wasn't everything, but no one wants to lose by more that a few points) proved addictive, and before long "Iron Chef America" debuted on the Food Network.
In this new version, the Chairman is younger and Asian-American (and very cute, although we preferred him with his head shaved). The actual narration ("play-by-play") is done by Alton Brown and Kevin Brauch, the judges are people like Ed Levine and Jeffrey Steingarten (not to mention Nina and Tim Zagat, Ted Allen, and a scary big chick who says things like "I have DIVERTICULITIS" and "possibly LACTOSE-INTOLERANT" which make me hate her), and the Iron Chefs are Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto, and Cat Cora.
So you get, let's say, someone like Wylie Dufresne or David Chang or Gabrielle Hamilton, some chef who's really experienced, widely admired and known as a creative force, and they pick Mario or Bobby or whoever to compete with (it seems most people want to go head-to-head with Mario, but all the Chefs get their play), and the Secret Ingredient is, let's say, Eggs or Rice or Kidneys or even Chocolate (and only one of the courses can be dessert, but one of them HAS to be dessert).
And then, as they say, "the heat is on!"
This program has been so very popular that it could not but be spun-off-upon.
Comes now "The Next Iron Chef", and I can't wait to see it. Several well-known chef contestants (most of whom have been winning challengers on "Iron Chef America") will go through all the food-comp paces over the course of several weeks.
Food will be prepared and the judges, among them Michael Ruhlman, will emit sound-bytes between food bites. Eventually, a new Iron Chef will be chosen.
The program is set, and was taped in, a "sacred place" to foodies--the Hudson Valley's own Culinary Institute of America, which is less than ten miles away from where I live in Kingston, New York.
Around here we refer to it as "the Cullinary", although it does depend to which class you belong. You should say "I had the best meal last night at Calico in Rhinebeck; did you know the chef was a CIA graduate?", but you must say "My uncle is a porter at the Cullinary". (I've heard that they aren't very good employers, either, but I don't have any proof; it might be hearsay.)
If you are ever offered a chance to come and see the CIA on a tour of the scenic Hudson Valley, please do; it is lovely and your snack at the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe will probably be the best food you eat during your stay. (Take a few sandwiches for the road, as well).
Sorry for so few pictures in this post; for a scenic place, CIA has remarkable few pics available for reproduction. Here are two Hudson Valley favorite food suppliers. I hope both are mentioned in the course of the program.
Meat case at Fleisher's Butcher Shop in Rhinebeck
Ronnybrook Dairy products--a New York favorite