Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Allez, Cuisine!

It has been established in this journal that I'm a foodie - I watch cooking shows. I experiment with recipes from the newspaper. I even read recipe books. And as a foodie, I'm getting pretty excited about the upcoming Iron Chef America specials that are coming up on Food TV the weekend of the 23rd.

For those of you who have not encountered it, the original Iron Chef is a Japanese import: two parts cooking show, two parts sports match. The host (Chairman Kaga, looking like a mad scientist in sequins) has supposedly recruited the best chefs in Japan, his Iron Chefs, and challengers come in every show to cook-off against them in a 1-hour time limit with a mystery ingredient (Crab! Summer Squash! Sea Cucumber!). A panel of celebrity experts (ranging from singers and actors to a fortune teller and a member of the Lower House) judge the meals. The Iron Chefs win two times out of three, and the cooking is given a play-by-play by a baseball announcer and a color commentator. The show has its own ritual pattern, and has a wide audience. It can currently be found on Food Network at about 11 PM every weeknight now.

So this show was incredibly popular in Japan, and a cult hit (with dubbing and subtitles) in America. So they decided to do an American version, and UPN hosted two Iron Chef America specials.

And they were horrible. Pretty much the definition of someone taking an idea and just not understanding what it was that made it popular in the first place. They filmed it in Vegas. They had a loud studio audience with pre-made signs. They had it hosted by Bill Shatner. No one had heard of the chefs. It was a badly-congealed mess. After the first one, they shifted the second special to a time slot where it would do minimal damage (hey, its UPN), and everyone figured the Iron Chef was done.

But Food Network, who has done very well off the original Iron Chef shows, has resurrected the idea with its own specials, and it looks like they get "it". First off, the American Iron Chefs are recognizable names to Foodies - these are guys with their own shows on the Food Network and on PBS - Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and Wolfgang Puck. Then they invite as the first challengers two of the Japanese Iron Chefs - Hiroyuki Sakai and Masaharu Morimoto (Mormimoto has a resturant in Philly, and Sakai is opening one in Hawaii, so they've got their own investment in hitting the American audience). Instant name recognition.

And I heard the kicker today - the color commentary for the show will be Alton Brown, who (of course) has his OWN show on Food TV, the cerebral and entertaining Good Eats. Alton would have been my choice for color commentator that knows his stuff. Still don't know who the "chairman/host" will be of the show.

This, for all intents and purposes, is a good matchup, and I have high hopes for this. I mean, better than the hopes I had for the first Star Trek movie. This is really appealing to my food geekiness. Cool!

More later,