HOLLYWOOD—This is the one show that literally propelled me to explore my culinary skills in the kitchen. I mean watching some of the greatest chefs in the world go toe-to-toe on the hit Foot Network series “Iron Chef” is the thing any foodie or aspiring chefs desires to see unfold. To be honest I love “Iron Chef America,” but I was a bigger fan of “The Next Iron Chef” competition. Why?

This is a series that saw some of the best chefs go to battle to prove themselves worthy of becoming an Iron Chef and standing next to legends Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Cat Cora and Masaharu Morimoto. I mean the first season was getting its footing; the second season was a major improvement. I wasn’t a massive fan of season three, but season four, now that was a game-changer people.

I mean “The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs” was the best thing I’ve ever witnessed on television. I mean literally watching some of the best chefs in the world duke it out for the title was phenomenal, and that secret ingredient throw-down led to some of the best cooking and inspirational dishes I’ve EVER seen manifested in the kitchen. I was also a fan of “Next Iron Chef: Redemption,” which gave chefs who previously competed the opportunity to go after the title yet again.

So when I got word about 2 months ago that a new chapter in the franchise was coming into the forefront I was amazed. However, things are a bit twisted this time again, with “Iron Chef Gauntlet.” Instead of 10 competitors, this time we only have 7 of the greatest chefs in the country, who will go toe-to-toe until just 1 is left standing. That does not mean you’re victorious, because this season, the last man or last woman standing has to compete against 3 notable Iron Chefs (Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto and Michael Symon) to win the title.

I expected one Iron Chef, but 3 (and three of the best) that’s a lot of stress people. Speaking of the competitors, this season has an eclectic set of contenders including: Chef Jason Dady, Chef Jonathon Sawyer, Chef Michael Gulotta, Chef Nyesha Arrington, Chef Sarah Grueneberg, Chef Shota Nakajima and Chef Stephanie Izard. Now, I’ll be honest I haven’t heard the names of many of these chefs, but if the first episode was any indication, looks like Stephanie is a bit arrogant and loves to boast about her skills. Yes, many chefs tend to be, but this lady pinpointed the flaws in many of her competitor’s dishes, and after a moment it frankly became annoying.

The first challenge had the chefs cooking up one dishes utilizing wild ingredients. Now, this is where I’m slightly concerned as there are a few adjustments in the latest installment. The Chairman, Mark Dacascos is no more, however, host Alton Brown is back in the mix. Alton is a great food historian, but seeing him judge and host, I think the judging needs to be left in the hands of other esteemed cooks. I think an Iron Chef or other food critics judging the dishes would salivate my TV palate a bit much. Love Alton Brown, but this is a bit too much Alton for me. I mean he awarded Chef Izard! I’m sorry I thought Chef Gulotta had a much better dish.

It was indeed a nice twist to see the winner of the first challenge, get the opportunity to choose the contestant who would duke it out against Chef Grueneberg in the Secret Challenge showdown. However, deciding not to play politics, Chef Izard selected Chef Arrington. The secret ingredient challenge seemed more like an episode of Iron Chef America, so it was not as intense as I hoped for it to be. To be honest I’m enjoying both Sarah and Nyesha, so to see one of them have to pack their bags did not make me happy. The chefs dueled to make 3 dishes with lobster as the star ingredient. Guys, we’ve already seen lobster before in a secret ingredient challenge, how about we shake things up a bit? I do not want to see lobster again as a secret ingredient.

Ok, we’re 45 minutes into the episode and I’m not super stoked about the new format, I feel like previous installments saw ALL of the chefs cooking for their lives, now it seems like only 2 of the chefs are really fighting to survive. Now the final 13 minutes proved to more exciting because we have the great Donatella Arpaia back on the judging panel, as well as Iron Chef Zakarian. I always had issues with judging on many competition shows, but when it comes to Iron Chef I expect top-notch critiques, and we’re getting that here, but I really hoped to have 3 judge and not 2.

I’m thinking the dramatics that have become familiar with this franchise is slightly devoid here. However, this duel between Chef Grueneberg and Chef Arrington was not an easy decision for the judges, but it was Chef Arrington who was sent packing by a mere 2 points over her competitor. So with one down, only 6 remain, and I will say I’m slightly intrigued to see how the rest of the challenges will turn out. Fingers crossed, that the franchise gets back to its roots that made it so popular in the beginning. Remember; if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. “Iron Chef Gauntlet” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on Food Network.

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