From Too Many Chefs -

January 20, 2005
Iron Chef:America First Impressions

OK, so I've withheld judgement of the new Iron Chef:America series until I had a chance to see the first "real" episode featuring Chicago chef and Mexican food expert Rick Bayless versus Bobby Flay.

Here's my evaluation of how this show stacks up against the traditional Japanese Iron Chef, or at least my impressions of both.

First, the good:

1. Stadium - The Kitchen Stadium they've constructed for Iron Chef:America is great. It's at least on a par with the original show.

2. Announcers - While I'm not sold on the roving floor reporter, I find Alton Brown to be one of the most engaging and well educated people on the Food Network. Picking him to announce was genius. Plus, when he doesn't know something, he'll admit it. Rick Bayless used a preparation Alton wasn't familiar with and Brown admitted he didn't know what it was. Later Brown came back with the information which someone else had researched for him without presenting it as his own knowledge. The smartest people know how to say "I don't know, but I'll find out."

3. The Iron Chefs - OK, not everyone likes Bobby Flay and Mario Battali, but they know their stuff. Having Mashuharu Morimoto on links the Japanese show and the American version nicely. Good personalities and differing styles make for interesting television. I'm glad they lost Wolfgang Puck. The guy is important in food circles, but I just don't think he comes off well on improvised television.

4. Disasters - "Dude, you killed this sauce." - Bobby Flay to one of his assistants. Conflicts make for good TV. The floor reporter's "Chef Flay is barking at his staff" made Flay stop a second in momentary exasperation. Good television.

5. Judges. I've been favorably impressed by the judges. Jeffrey Steingarten is the best of the bunch and is not afraid to say insightful things like (paraphrasing), "The problem with tasting a dish for the first time is that you can't compare it to anything else. This may be the best example of this dish in the world, but I just don't care for it." But would it kill them to put a psychic or member of the government on like they do in Japan?

Now the bad:

1. The chairman - OK, we're supposed to buy the fiction that this guy is the original chairman's nephew, but I'm just not feeling it. He's a karate wizard? Is that supposed to feed some stereotype Americans have about the Japanese? The otherwise horrible first try at an American Iron Chef got the chairman right by having the pompous but always entertaining William Shatner play the role.

2. Predetermined battle - It was obvious that Bayless had been picked to battle Bobby Flay from the preshot interviews cut into the program. No! No! No! One of the best moments of the original show was the macho challenge aspect when a challenger entered, was asked who he chose to challenge, and SHOUTED out the name with gusto. That tension is important and it's been lost. And for Pete's sake, why put Bayless against Flay when a battle of two ENTIRELY different styles would have been more interesting? I would have loved to see Morimoto's Japanese fusion or Battali's Italian versus Bayless's traditional Mexican.

3. Bring your own stuff - It's not a fair fight if each competitor can bring their own gadgetry to the mix as Bayless did. Bayless brought at least two food ingredients and a tortilla press - items Flay did not have access to. If there's aged masa and a tortilla press on one side then aged masa and a tortilla press should be on the other side as well.

4. No gross out factor - Let's face it. One of the main reasons Iron Chef was so appealing was the "weird" or "gross-out" factor. Japanese food is very different from Western food. They value different textures more than we do and enjoy flavors we'd find odd at best (of course, I'm sure they feel the same about us). Let's get some of that into the mix or at least kill the main ingredient live. Squiggling tentacles during the octopus battle on the original made it one of the best episodes ever. Of course, I guess with a secret ingredient of bison, that might be a little difficult.

5. Cumulative scoring - by which I mean we don't get to see how each judge voted. Come on! It was always fun to see how Fortune Teller Kuzuko Hosoki scored the dishes much lower than anyone else. Cumulative scores are dull. What is this - touch screen voting in Ohio?

6. The fix was in - Unless this is the video editor's fault, my impression is the fix was in. This being the first battle, it was important that the Iron Chef won. Flay did win by one slim point (saving face for Bayless by such a narrow battle) despite multiple comments about the flavor of Flay's food being off while the televised commentary about Bayless's entrees was almost uniformly positive. The winner had clearly been predetermined. Seeing the scores from each judge would make it clear exactly how it was fixed.

I will continue to watch the show, but I think it has a long way to go before it achieves the goofy weirdness that makes the original Iron Chef such a treat.

Note:I've had this story in the hopper for a couple of days, but coincidentally Adam over at The Amateur Gourmet also posts his review of the show today. He liked it better than I did, though I agree with his comments on Bayless's likeability.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at January 20, 2005 12:52 PM | TrackBack

I think your praise and criticism is spot on, except for one other "bad" item that I would add:

The original Iron Chef gave you a decent background/bio on the chef challenger (birthplace, training, restaurants worked in, career highlights). Iron Chef America only said that Bayless was an Oklahoma City kid who became a world-renowned expert in authentic Mexican cuisine. They showed the awning of Frontera Grill, but no mention of his restaurants or of some of the interesting and groundbreaking things he has done.

Posted by eatchicago on January 20, 2005 at 8:37 AM

Nice review. Being in Paris, I miss the original Iron Chef. It was a good t.v. experience!

Posted by Alisa on January 20, 2005 at 9:28 AM

EC - great point. I thought they should have played up the Chicago vs. New York thing and given a lot more attention to Frontera/Topolobampo.

Contrast that to an episode of the Japanese show where a chef who had started at the French Laundry was featured (I don't recall his name) and both the FL and his current restuarant were featured along with an interview with SF mayor Willie Brown.

Oh good lord, can you even imagine if they'd had Daley on to praise Bayless? That would have been poetry!

Posted by barrett on January 20, 2005 at 9:59 AM

After watching the show, I felt that the whole thing lacked the fun and silliness of the first one. I think I had more fun with the grossness and the bad translations than I did with the cooking.

I don't know if I'm going to watch another one, but I can find out.

Posted by Bryan on January 21, 2005 at 9:06 AM

I REALLY hate to be negative, but I have to say, as a fan of the original Iron Chef/Japan, I loathe, detest, despise the American version of Iron Chef. I liken it to the Franco Zefferelli's "Romeo and Juliet" to the Leonardo DiCaprio version - the latter bastardized the Bard with the 20th Century visuals/moreys ruined it - IMO

Posted by jj on January 25, 2005 at 8:55 PM

Excellent review. I read it first, then I saw it. It was exactly what you said. I will definitely be watching this again. It isn't perfect, but it's really enjoyable.

Posted by Abby on January 25, 2005 at 9:56 PM

Actually, the schtick with the new Chairman is true: his name is Mark Dacascos, he was a championship martial artist in Europe in his teens, and his mother is the sister of Takeshi Kaga, who plays the original Chairman.

Chairman Mark just doesn't have the same ring to it, though.

Posted by Sweth on January 26, 2005 at 3:19 PM

The show itself really does help us remember how exciting cooking can be. And of course, the promotional videos are hilarious... images/tv/ironchefamerica/videos.html

Posted by Amanda on July 29, 2005 at 1:49 PM

Can we start a Bobby Flay Sucks thread? He sends out this hater vibe that poisons everything he says/does, like the John McEnroe of Cooking...

Posted by belicena on September 16, 2005 at 12:13 AM

Iron Chef America Sucks!!! Can't compare to the Orginal Iron Chef Japan. Bobby Flay is way too arrogant, he sucks!!!

Posted by on October 15, 2005 at 10:07 PM

One of the judges, Jeffrey, is an incredible ass when he talks back to a judge that's a woman. Recently, in Flay vs. the Two Hot Tomalis, he belittles Natalie. His rude comments are unnecessary. (If you don't believe me, ask for a copy of the video. I watched it twice and was disgusted by it.) I don't understand why the foodnetwork channel allows this to continue. He seems to be in every show of Iron Chef America, despite his derogatory comments.

Posted by H.M. on November 21, 2005 at 10:15 AM

I think it's an insult to Kinichi-san, Sakai-san, Morimoto-san, and especially to Michiba-san to allow imposters like Bobby Flay and Mario Batali to use the words "iron chef" in the same sentence as their names. As for Cat Cora, PLEASE, you've gotta be kidding. Kobe-san, he's a few pegs down from the level of the true iron chefs, so maybe he could allow the actors from food tv to more easily compete. Remember, for the most part, the personalities on food tv are actors and actresses who can cook, not master chefs who can act. May Julia rest in peace.

Posted by Mike McDermott on March 12, 2006 at 5:24 PM

I absolutely HATE Iron Chef America!!!! When are we going to stop copying the Japanese?! Once again, it is rediculously "americanized" and not even 1/10th as entertaining as the orginal. And once again, we tend to take something from another culture and "over-do" it with the usual stereotypes. Even Mashuharu Morimoto looks like a clown. What happened to when he used to look like a "cooking warrior". This show is an embarrassment. I guarantee that the Japanese won't be translating our version and showing it on Fuji TV!!!! We should use it in detainee camps.

Posted by Todd Smith on November 10, 2006 at 10:45 PM

I think bobby flay is a cheater. On Iron Chef Battle Breakfast, he's dumbass went to brunch. How did that ignorant moron win?

Posted by Boo on March 15, 2007 at 11:07 PM

To be honest Iron Chef America sucks.. That's all. They need to revive Iron Chef in Japan.

Posted by Cblock on August 8, 2007 at 8:15 PM

and i didn't like the japanese version. so i didn't watch it. so you folks that don't like this version just don't watch it.


Posted by cindy on October 7, 2007 at 11:24 PM

great shows

Posted by sam russo on December 26, 2008 at 1:17 AM

I agree- I didn't think it was very fair that they were both able to bring their own stuff. I think they should have worked with what was in the kitchen. Would have evened out the playing field for sure.

Stock Pots

Posted by Sylvia on November 23, 2010 at 2:11 PM