HOLLYWOOD—I hold a large regard of my cooking skills in the kitchen to the Food Network, specifically the series “Iron Chef America.” If there was ONE thing I could tell anyone about the art of cooking is you have to be fearless and you cannot be afraid to experiment. This is a show where you see the titans in the culinary world like Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, Cat Cora, Maharasu Morimoto, Geoffrey Zakarian and so many others. I will admit I was specifically a fan of “The Next Iron Chef” series which put the best of the best against one another to join the echelon of the greatest chefs in the country. When that series ended, I thought that was the end of an era.
However, last year, the Food Network reintroduced the ‘Iron Chef’ saga back into the mix with “Iron Chef Gauntlet,” I was ecstatic, but not a fan of the format. In the end, Stephanie Izard joined the ranks, even though I thought Chef Sarah Grueneberg was far more superior in the kitchen. Well, the second season of the series is back, and I’m guessing this might be a direct result of Celebrity Chef Bobby Flay bidding adieu to the series. There is one hiccup that I’m not happy about: host and now judge Alton Brown. Alton is a far better host than he is as a judge.
I think it gives him too much power, and I don’t like that as a viewer. The people judging the chefs during the initial tests should be food critics, other chefs and those with vast experience in the culinary arena. This does NOT mean that Alton doesn’t have the chops to be a judge; I just don’t like seeing him judge the contestants. This time in terms of the Gauntlet, the last remaining chef must battle Michael Symon, Alex Guarnaschelli and Stephanie Izard if they want to join the ranks.
Something of intrigue this time around is the series returning to its roots, but highlighting specific skills that an Iron Chef must possess in order to hold the title. The premiere episode was all about ‘Resourcefulness’ and a specific protein had to be used in a multitude of ways to claim the victory. The chefs competing for the coveted title this time around include: Chef Dale MacKay, Chef David LeFevre, Chef Kevin Tien, Chef Timon Balloo, Chef Hong Thaimee, Chef Jeanie Roland and Chef Nicole Gomes. If I’m looking at first impressions, Chef Tien seems to have a chip on his shoulder, similar to what Chef Izard had last season. Confidence is one thing, arrogance is another thing people, but he brings energy to the kitchen that is fun to watch.
The test of resourcefulness allowed the chefs to select from a variety of proteins including duck, chicken, lobster, squid, turkey, salmon and flounder. Out of all these choices squid seems the trickiest of the bunch and at the same time quite risky to say the least. Turkey is hard because it takes plenty of time to cook and can be dry if not cooked properly or flavored with the right spices.
The other proteins seem feasible because the ideas are exploding in my head the same way they are for the chefs. I like what Chef Balloo did with the squid, but as soon as he mentioned squid meatballs I was concerned, especially with the cornstarch and other ingredients he used to formulate that meatball. Another standout was Chef MacKay’s use of the flounder; clever and quite unique. Hmm, Chef LeFevre might be in trouble because of that piece of plastic that was sitting right for the tasting for Mr. Alton Brown. Once again Alton and his quips are annoying me to the core. That sucks for Chef LeFevre who would have won if not for that piece of plastic, as a result Chef MacKay won the first round. Who was in the bottom? It was Chef Roland, and Chef MacKay came to play so he tossed in Chef Tien.
I love the notion of the secret ingredient showdown which gives the competitors the opportunity for redemption. This first secret ingredient showdown was Spanish Mackerel, which Chef Roland and Chef Tien had to craft 3 dishes in 60 minutes. I will admit I liked the notion of the 30 minute secret ingredient showdown. Why? More pressure and the chefs were forced to fine tune their abilities to a single dish and not multiples. Gotta say I’m utterly impressed with Chef Tien, he’s young, but his technique is near flawless and his creativity in the kitchen is leaving me speechless.
Our first round of judges includes some of the best, Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian and Chef Ching-He Huang, who I respect highly. Geoffrey Zakarian is someone who is very difficult to please America. I mean the guy will find a flaw in almost everything. I had no doubt that that Chef Tien would remain in the competition because as soon as I saw Chef Roland do that taco, it almost sealed her fate and I think she knew it.
When you look at Chef Tien’s dishes they seem elevated, with plenty of finesse and Kitchen Stadium ready. ‘Innovation’ is next week’s challenge for the chefs and I like where things are headed, just tweak this idea of Alton being a jack of all trades, he’s needs to be a host for this show that is where he shines best. “Iron Chef Gauntlet” airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Food Network.