Oh, you go achieve greatness. I'm tired.
I shouldn't be ungrateful. The Next Iron Chef has placed me very, very slightly on the map (there I am, over to the left of Saugerties) and I ought to appreciate that.
But the fact is that, having seen Messrs Besh and Symon and all the other contestants run around like idiots, shop, grill, sweat, run around a little more, and end each and every hour with a plateful of gourmet treats for Judges Ruhlman, Donatella and Knowlton to scream over, I had forgotten that they were competing for a spot on an existing TV show with an existing format. And the fact is that that format has a hard time living up to what they've been through already.
I mean, here the boys were in comfortable Kitchen Stadium, where, if you can avoid the existential questions like Where is that dry ice smoke coming from and What are those weird choral grunts and moans we keep hearing, you can have yourself a pretty nice time--if you are a professional chef who, presumably, likes to cook with great ingredients and expensive tools for a small but appreciative audience.
It was indoors. No one forced you to grill. Your ingredients weren't hand-selected by your dearest enemy. You didn't even have to explain your wants and needs to French shopkeepers. The meals were to be eaten by three judges at ground level and you didn't have to use the ice cream maker if you didn't want to...honestly, it was pretty much a walk in the park for these guys.
Plus, in keeping with Iron Chef tradition, the "secret ingredient" was something for which recipes exist, classic cooking techniques have been created, and accompaniments have been prescribed. It was swordfish. Not even LIVE swordfish. Not even swordfish, and you had to use the sword.
True, it was given to the chefs head-on and it looked oddly like the characters from Spy v. Spy (big eyes, pointed face) but any chef could handle a swordfish. So I just didn't find it all that exciting.
And then the preparations...steamed swordfish this, swordfish mousse that...they just didn't seem exciting.
Of course, my disappointment was as nothing to the wrath of the three Iron Chefs (Flay, Cora, Morimoto) who, in a surprise move, acted as judges tonight. (I seriously wondered what they did with Ruhlman, Donatella and Knowlton, all of whom were dressed spiffily and waiting to be fed. Were they given any part of the meal? Were box lunches provided? or did they have to go out to the bodega across the street and get two over-ripe bananas and an individual serving of Corn Pops, and huddle together until they were called back in? It seemed a refinement of cruelty which Donatella did not deserve, although Ruhlman and Knowlton should have had this as a disciplinary measure long since. )
Yes, the present Iron Chefs were pretty damn nasty, although all of Morimoto's criticism, positive and negative, was so intelligent that all the contestants could do was thank him and bow awkwardly. That Morimoto is some kind of guy; perhaps I've mentioned to you the time that JC and I went to his restaurant in New York and the great man signed two copies of his menu for us.
Cat Cora, on the other hand, was as captious and carping as our High School Creative Writing teacher, Mrs. G., who practically got her tea poisoned for the way she corrected the grammar on our innermost feelings as expressed in blank verse. Once, JC tried to throw a desk at her, and even though he was about 6'5" and brawny and she was about 4'11" and wrinkled, no one thought it was an unfair match.
Bobby Flay was blandly pleasant throughout, but he shook his head about as often as he nodded it, which is a pretty harsh critique by Iron Chef standards.
And then the Iron Chefs sat down with the Judges, who had been pulled in from the corner of 9th Avenue and given some old blankets to huddle up in, and Alton joined them, and a conclusion was reached. Chef Michael Symon was to be the next Iron Chef...and everyone was happy. Including Chef Besh, I think, who is, after all, a remarkable man, and the most persuasive argument I've yet heard for the comeback of New Orleans.
And so to bed, leaving only one question unanswered: is Mario Batali really off Iron Chef? And, if so, how do they ever expect me to watch the show again?