Iron Chef America on Food Network is easily one of the longest running game show/reality TV shows still running on basic cable, or on any network really. The series originally started in Japan, then it moved here and was briefly on Fox and hosted by William Shatner. That stint was very short and then the show was taken over by a burgeoning basic cable network whose entire content was to be food focused. The approach was very much that of a sporting event. Two of the best in their field would compete with a given set of rules that included ingredients and a time limit. Three judges score the competition and there’s a host and two color commentators. One of the show’s commentators was and still is food scientist Alton Brown.
For the first eight years of the show the rules remained the same; an Iron Chef, one of the best in the world would face off against a competing chef. The two chefs’ would have to each craft five dishes in one hour all featuring a mystery ingredient. As the show has continued a spinoff show started called the Next Iron Chef. On that show top tier chef’s competed in various trials to become the next Iron Chef added to the team on the main series. Last year the show added two new rules; the first is that the competitors must have their first dish prepared and served to the judges within the first 20 minutes, the second rule is that the show’s host would throw the chef’s a culinary curve ball at the halfway point of the cooking. The curve ball could be an additional ingredient but thus far it has been some sort of cooking tool that must be utilized in the chef’s dishes. The show producers have to be careful not to over complicate the set up too much and causing the whole thing to implode in on itself.
This season the series is set up to do something it has never done in its running time. The subtitle of this season is “Tournament of Champions”. The season gets that title because this time around there will be no outside competitors; the Iron Chefs will all be competing against each other. The both humorous and cool thing about this season is that the “game” is set up more like a sporting event than ever before. The season will consist of a single elimination bracket with the newest Iron Chefs competing first and working their way through to the Chefs that have been on the show the longest. This is probably the best way to set the show up because to do it any other way would immediately be saying this Iron Chef is better than that one when they are all supposed to be the best of the best.
The first episode of the season was last Sunday and it featured the show’s two newest Iron Chefs: Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian and Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli. This was a fun battle because these two chefs are actually close friends. They competed on The Next Iron Chef together and after Zakarian won Guarnaschelli joined his team as his assistant. She won a follow up season of Next iron Chef and now the two are battling it out as Iron Chefs. During the battle Alton Brown referred them as the “Sid and Nancy” of Iron Chef. Is this a compliment? At any rate their secret ingredient was potato chips for which they used as breading, in a dessert, and Zakarian even made pasta with the tasty snack. In the end Iron Chef Zakarian handily defeated his good friend and moved forward in the bracket set to compete against Iron Chef Michael Simon the next time he steps into the arena.
Iron Chef America might not be football or basketball but it is a sporting event in that professionals at the top of their game are competing. The difference here is that there’s an additional level of artistry involved, which of course makes the scoring difficult. The judging of art is so subjective and so much based on opinion. There are aspects of this particular art that can be judged such as texture of ice cream or over cooked fish but when the basics are perfectly executed the scoring suddenly becomes left to the tastes of the judges. It’s a tough thing scoring art, but it’s a fantastic ride watching these pros work.