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Iron Chefs Arise!

Over the course of the Fall I planned and organized an Iron Chef competition for my kitchen crew. Last weekend was the event and it was a huge success. Both the guests and my crew loved it.

I have been a fan of the Japanese version of the show from before it was ever broadcast in this country. I remember reading about the program in a trade magazine and thinking that it was a fantastic idea for a cooking show and at the time there was nothing else like it. I used to compete in professional chef "cooking salons" all the time - it was part of keeping up my certification levels required by the national chef's association I belong to - the American Culinary Federation. So when I heard about the Iron Chef program I was intrigued. The show came along at about the same time we began to see the rise of the Food Network and chef celebrities like Emeril Lagasse.

I asked some Japanese exchange students to get me some video tapes of the show sent to them from their families back in Nippon. I daresay I was the first one in these parts to see the show. Even though the tapes I got were in Japanese and I understood nothing, I could still follow the action, knew what was being cooked and how it was being done. Culinary techniques are nearly universal. Eventually the show made its way onto the fledgling Food Network in a truncated, subtitled version, but the spirit and fun of the program was preserved. I loved the cheesiness of the show - the over the top "Chairman", the mystery ingredient reveal. But I also loved the very real skills of the Iron Chefs themselves - Morimoto, Sakai, Kinichi, and the hardcore challengers who came from all over the world. The announcers, producers and chairman may have had their tongues firmly in their cheeks, but for the chefs it was deadly serious business.

All these years later I'm still a fan of competition cooking shows - Top Chef is my favorite right now - but I still catch some of the old Japanese Iron Chef programs from time to time. I've had it in my mind to do an Iron Chef competition amongst our staff for a long time, but the timing was never right and I hadn't hit on a format that would work in the real world. Believe it or not, things that work on a game show usually don't pan out as actual real life entertainment. For one thing - you can't stop and edit real life. People who've spent too much time on reality shows learn that lesson the hard way - see Kate Goslin of "Kate Plus Eight" fame or Richard Hatch, the first winner of "Survivor". Anyway, I finally managed to hit on a format that seemed to look like it would work (at least on paper), and I had enough culinary fire power in the kitchens at the college to make for an exciting, top flight competition. There are some seriously talented cooks working there now.

The catalyst for getting the ball rolling on the whole thing was our production manager purchasing a block of tickets to see a speaking engagement by Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert. Bourdain is best known as the host of the Travel channel's show, "No Reservations". However, he is widely known amongst chefs and cooks for his book "Kitchen Confidential", an hilariously profane account of Bourdain's experience as an itinerant cook and chef in New York's cut throat restaurant world. The book struck a chord with cooks everywhere and became an immediate sensation. Eric Ripert is arguably the foremost fish expert in the country who owns and operates a four star restaurant in New York called "Le Bernadin". More notably, he is Anthony Bourdain's handsome, mild mannered and very French BFF. Ripert is Lou Costello to Bourdain's Bud Abbot. Their speaking tour is being called "The Good and Evil Tour". Bourdain will tell dirty restaurant stories while Ripert will actually try to impart some useful information. To illustrate just how popular amongst food pros and civilians these guys are - tickets for this event sold out in less than a day; for what will essentially be two guys talking about whatever comes into their pointy little heads. Needless to say when it was announced at work that the first place prize for the Iron Chef competition would be tickets to see this show for the entire winning team, I had immediate buy-in for the event and wild enthusiasm.

I spent a lot of time organizing, spending money and troubleshooting. It all turned out pretty well with only a few glitches. I enjoyed making the teams happy and creating a great evening of entertainment for the guests. Now the bar's been set. I have about 10 months before I have to think about putting the whole thing together again. Until then, I can put the file in a drawer and not think about it.

Iron Chef Competition : Team Menus

Team Busdrivers
Pork with Apple Peach Mostrada
Grilled asparagus
Red and Gold Roasted Potatoes
Grilled Pear and praline salad

Team Jackwagon
Corn Flake Chicken
Bourbon Chili Sweet Potatoes
Braised Collards with Pancetta, Corn and Peppers
Tossed greens with Grilled Peach, and Praline Pecans
Georgia Peanut Vinaigrette

Team Viands
Apple Brined Chicken Thigh
Orrechiette Pasta with Caramalized Onions and Smoked Paprika
Shredded Brussels Sprouts and Corn
Quinoa Sweet Potato Salad

Team Bob
Korean BBQ Brisket
Wehani Rice Pilaf
Lychee Vegetables
Sweet Chili Coleslaw


Jan. 13th, 2012 07:05 pm (UTC)
I hope you realize you are now responsible for any damage done to my keyboard as a result of the pool of saliva that has collected while reading this post.