Like the crack of a starter’s pistol the master of ceremonies bites into a yellow pepper. Two veteran chefs steam, stir-fry and stew in a competition that attracts contestants from around the world. Pots clamour, spatulas fly and the sound of sizzling fills Kitchen Stadium. Iron Chef is a Japanese cooking show that is gaining global recognition for its innovative, live-action cooking battles. It pits two chefs and their dishes against each other. From Shrimp Dumpling Watermelon Soup to Lobster Mousse with Sea Urchin Sauce, the cuisine showcases each chef’s personal culinary skill.
Iron Chef Backstory
Iron Chef is satirical, humorous and dramatic. According to Greg Martin, Sous Chef at the English Bay Boathouse, the show is reminiscent of American Gladiator. He says,“It is basically a group of people getting together in their field and showing off their skills.” Although it is a cooking competition, it is aired with live action commentators and the camerawork of a sports broadcast. It has been dubbed and subtitled for North American viewers. Voice-overs attempt to capture the tone and intensity of the commentators and chefs.
The fictional character, Chairman Takeshi Kaga, gives Iron Chef its offbeat sense of humour. Chairman Kaga is rich and eccentric: his appearance is a cross between medieval royalty and the glitz of Liberace. The premise of the show is that Chairman Kaga was bored and needed something new to occupy his time. He spent nearly $400,000 building Kitchen Stadium. Housed in the largest studio at Fuji TV, the set takes four hours to set up. Kaga invites top chefs from around the world to compete for his pleasure, choosing the chefs based on their cooking philosophies. Kaga’s culinary artists are known as the Iron Chefs.
Four Chefs, Four Styles
Iron Chefs represent the peak of expertise in four styles of cooking: French, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese. Masahuru Morimoto is Iron Chef Japanese III. His style is described as a fusion of Japanese flavors, Chinese seasoning, and bold Italian cuisine. Iron Chef Chinese, Kenichi Chen, places a strong emphasis on catering to individual taste and on each dish’s relation to the entire meal. Hiroyuki Sakai is Iron Chef French. Even with his vast knowledge of food preparation, Sakai is sometimes confronted with ingredients unfamiliar to French cuisine. Nevertheless, time and time again Sakai prevails over other chefs. And finally, Masahiko Kobe is Iron Chef Italian, the former top chef at the Enoteca Pincchiori Restaurant in Italy.
At the beginning of each show Chairman Kaga reveals a secret ingredient, which he unveils over the musical soundtrack’s crescendo. When the ingredient appears, the two competing chefs hustle for a portion. They must create four to five gourmet dishes that contain the secret ingredient; the recipes are improvised on the spot. One dish is usually a dessert, which results in many bizarre creations, like Squid Ink Ice Cream. The competition is limited to one hour, creating an urgency that captivates the viewer.
The pressure is on to finish as the chefs race against the clock, using every ounce of creativity to produce their bold taste sensations. On the sidelines waits a tasting panel, which is comprised of four Japanese celebrities. At the end of the hour, the challenger serves the judges first, and the Iron Chef serves last. After each tasting, the judges cast their votes, and suspense rises. Only 20 points decides who will win: 10 points are awarded for taste, five for presentation, and five for originality. Sometimes the chefs are so closely matched that a tie results, in which case, Chairman Kaga selects a new ingredient, and a 30-minute rematch ensues.
Iron Chef Name Reigns True
The Iron Chefs win often. Their victories exceed their defeats; however, it is not unknown for an Iron Chef to lose to a competitor. Winners do not receive a prize or become an Iron Chef, but they do receive great honour. Recently Canadian Michael Noble participated in the Iron Chef competition. Noble is a first class chef, and he is currently opening a yet unnamed restaurant near the Calgary Convention Center. A regular on Canada’s World Culinary Olympics Team, he is no stranger to global competition.
In Iron Chef, Noble took part in the Potato Battle, where he challenged Iron Chef Japanese Morimoto. Noble’s dishes included Potato and Salmon Mille Feulle, Tuna Sauté in Potato Soup, Mashed Potatoes and Cod Sauté, and Lamb and Potato Roll. When asked by the announcer whether he beat the Iron Chef, Noble replied, “When you meet new cooks…it’s a winning thing.” The judges voted three to one in favour of Morimoto. Considering it was the Canadian chef’s first time on the show, it is not surprising that the Iron Chef won.
In Canada, the popularity of Iron Chef continues to grow. Although the program ended in 1999, Canada’s Food Network shows episodes each week. The producers of Iron Chef also film seasonal specials such as the “Battle of New York,” which pitted Morimoto against America’s Bobby Flay.
Iron Chef has been instrumental in changing people’s opinion of gourmet cuisine. It gives a fresh look at the world of cooking. The show gives insight into the cooking philosophies of top chefs and reveals a competitive side not often seen outside culinary circles. Drama, sportsmanship and Squid Ink Ice Cream are making the world sit up and take notice.