Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Whose Review Reigns Supreme?

As folks lucky enough to get the Food Network (which our local cable system finally offered us a few months back) doubtless know, the 10-installment Iron Chef America series has now debuted. (The less said about some other FN shows the better.) Hanan Levin found a nifty online ICA game on the site (I really should visit the FN site more but, you know, not enough hours in the day...). And so far I've read two nifty reviews of the debut show, one by Laura Gjovaag (whose birthday is today - happy birthday, Laura! - so why don't you give her a really nice gift and enter her Bloggity Contest to win cool stuff?!) and a slightly longer and more detailed one from Natalie Davis. (My favorite part is where she talks about the Chairman, as she's a big fan of actor Kaga Takeshi. I had no idea that the end of the IC story has the Chairman heading the fictional Gourmet Academy "until his untimely death by fugu"!)

Overall I agree with the ladies' conclusion, that the show is well worth watching. I tend to disagree with Laura about Alton Brown - watching the Battle of the Masters reruns I was also a little taken aback at first that he was the lone commentator, but Brown does seem to talk with the fairly nondescript floor reporter and celeb tasters enough, and he usually has another Iron Chef American commenting briefly as well, so it breaks up the monologue nicely. The thing is, Brown is so gosh-darn knowledgeable as well as entertaining that he's like Fukui-san and Hattori-san rolled into one, and let's face it, those two are usually the only commentators worth listening to in the Japanese show. And while Laura thought Bobby Flay did a nice job on the premiere show, I think he tends to be a little too, um, intense for my tastes. It's like you want to cross over to the other side of the street if you see him coming. I got that from his Vegas special too (and honestly, if you're a filthy rich big-name TV chef with umpteen successful restaurants to begin with, how much of a "gamble" is it really to open up another franchise place in Vegas, one of the upcoming food capitals of the country?).

Natalie's review reminded me of other observations I wanted to make:

  • I wish the American uniforms were more costume-like, I think those blue denim workshirts are fine for Iron Construction Worker America but not for chefs. And I see the flag everywhere, it's all over baseball uniforms, I don't think it's needed on the chef togs. You never saw the rising sun flag on the Japanese Iron Chefs' costumes. Although I will say I loooove that Batali wears shorts.
  • I think the American in-jokes and nods to the original more than make up for the loss of some of the Japanese campiness. While I agree completely that the fictional American Chairman doesn't seem to have an actual reason to pursue a culinary passion (it's just not set up that well), I think the nephew part works well, and I love the winking substitution of him biting an apple instead of Kaga's honestly-I'm-not-really-choking-on-this yellow bell pepper.
  • Also, I wouldn't really use the word "bland" to describe ICA. If anything, it has much more in-your-face attitude, in keeping with modern Bush-era culture, rather than the ultra-polite "we pretend it's gladiators but they all have great respect for each other and constantly bow" Japanese style. Remember, it was Flay who danced atop a cutting board when he won his first IC battle, much to the shock of Japanese viewers (and, let's face it, most of us normal people) who consider such antics inappropriate at best. And honestly, how does Chairman's "allez cuisine" karate chop, which you castigate as "ridiculous," make him "dull?" If anything, it would make him too hyper. :)
  • Um, Natalie? The reason Masaharu Morimoto "looks remarkably like Kaga's third Iron Chef Japanese" is because the third Iron Chef Japanese is Masaharu Morimoto... unless you meant that line as a joke?
  • Yeah, I'm looking forward to seeing a female challenger too. I also like that there are female sous chefs, and that ICA pays much more attention to sous chefs than IC does. Maybe in the next series, a female Iron Chef? (No, not Rachael Ray! - but I'd pay good money to see Iron Chef Paula Deen or, if they brought a non-Food Network person in, maybe Iron Chef Lidia Bastianich...)
  • I'm glad ICA kept the "secret ingredient" motif (although I really wish they'd call it the "theme ingredient" the way IC does), but I hate that the battles are pre-selected by the Chairman rather than having the challenger, you know, challenge. One of IC's charms is that you usually didn't know who was going from battle to battle. In contrast, FN's site already lists the contestants for almost every match and they're trailing the one from this coming Sunday. Bah. (And oh, yes, I'm sooo rooting for former Food TV chef Ming to wipe the floor with Flay...) I also don't like that they've pre-set the number of dishes at 5, and they're calling them "courses" as if they have to go in a certain order. And is it me, or do they just seem to show one plate of every course at the end of the 60 minutes, rather than every plate (x5 or whatever) laid out? If they only need to plate one dish of each course by the time limit that's almost like cheating.

    Well, that was far longer than I had intended, and I didn't even get started on the "foie gras phenomenon" (sometimes if Robin and I are really tired we wait until the first appearance of either foie gras, truffles or caviar and then turn off the TV, as at least one of the three ingredients will inevitably appear early on in any given IC episode). Nitpicks aside, like Laura and Natalie I'm quite enamored of the show, and I look forward to the rest of the series.

    Update: David at Barista puts in his two cents.