"Trevino vs. Batali:
Battle Catfish" - January 23
Editor's Note: What follows is a
televised-move-by-televised-move recap. Because a
sixty-minute battle, intro, and judgment has to be
edited into 45 minutes of airtime, not every move will
Roberto Trevino, a three-venue chef/restauranteur and
vanguard of Nuevo Latino cuisine who has given San Juan,
Puerto Rico new prominence on the food map. He
challenges the Italian Iron Chef, Mario Batali. So we
have two inroads with one common destination, and both
chefs are evenly matched. Gentlemen, prepare for battle.
The Crib Sheet:
Mark Ladner & Anne Burrell, sous-chefs
Ken Ballogdajan & Hector Crespo, sous-chefs
The Theme Ingredient:
whole live channel catfish.
The Rules: Each chef
must create a five-course meal, with each course
utilizing the theme ingredient, within 60 minutes. The
judges will score the dishes on a 20-point scale: 10
points taste, 5 points plating and presentation, 5
points creativity and use of ingredient. The chef who
best articulates the theme ingredient through his dishes
The words of
the Chairman's dear uncle.... "Allez cuisine!"
The Battle: We start
with the net fishing and the net killing. Trevino stews
catfish head for maybe flavor or texture. Batali is
toasting currants and pine nuts. Honey also in the pan
right now. Over on the challenger's side: catfish steaks
and a mix of water, sazon, and Israeli couscous. Batali
adds dried shrimp to his briny mixture meanwhile, while
fennel is being caramelized, couscous goes into the mix,
and peppers get the julienne treatment. Batali percusses
with his catfish, in effect dicing them and frying them.
On the challenger's side,
sous-chef Ken is peeling catfish skin off of the meat
(catfish don't have scales). Replay shows Batali
flambéing catfish in rum. "It's going in the involtino
inside the cartoccio."
Culantro gets chopped on
Trevino's side. Sous-chef Ken is saving catfish tails
for later... "Fifteen minutes have elapsed." Looks like
they're going for a bisque of some sort.
The Judges: Nina
Zagat: co-founder and co-chair, Zagat Survey, LLC
(trivia: twice judged episodes of the original Iron
Chef). "I'm looking forward to having a taste of
Karine Bakhoum: culinary consultant, KB Network News. "I
thought you could only fry catfish."
Jeffrey Steingarten: author, "It Must Have Been
Something I Ate"; culinary critic for Vogue magazine;
the resident Asako Kishi. "They have very good catfish
Back to Battle:
Heirloom tomatoes join Batali's thinly-sliced fish,
while Trevino counters with plantains, clams, and other
shellfish. Anne helps Batali out with butternut squash.
Fennel broth is strained, while Trevino prepares two
ceviches. Batali is giving catfish fillets the roll up
for their in cartoccio. "In a garbage bag, tossed in the
oven!" Mark is putting eggs, catfish, spices, scallions
and such in the ring mould. That'll be nice.
Is Trevino working on a
paella? All signs point to yes. Is he also working on a
"love potion" with ancho and Mexican chocolate? You bet.
Is Batali countering with a bernaise-esque tomato sauce?
Oh yeah. Back to the culantro, as Trevino also mixes up
some limes, honey, and miso paste.
And Batali corrects Alton
and Kevin again with his tortelloni, while Mark pipes a
catfish/herb concoction into zucchini blossoms. "Thirty
minutes have elapsed."
the channel catfish gets its name from the two
protuberances on its face, which it uses to gather food
from the bottom of freshwater environments. We here in
North Carolina call them "mud cats".
And remember that in
cartoccio? Mario's JUST getting the paper for that.
Remember the cattails? Trevino is wrapping them in
bacon. Remember the tortelloni? It's going to have
potatoes in it. Remember the squash blossoms? Fried.
Remember Trevino's hominy for grits? Of course you
don't. I just told you about them.
Batali begins plating with
an infusion of leaves onto his catfish rolls. "Twenty
minutes to go." Ken skewers catfish, deep fries, and
serves with the chocolate love potion. And what is
Trevino planning on doing with that spare fish? "All
show." Apparently nothing.
The couscous goes into
Trevino's paella, while mushrooms and sesame oil are
sauteed. "Fifteen minutes to go." The steaks are cooking
on Trevino's side, while Mario is topping his catfish
off with a truffle shaver... That isn't truffles...
Among the flares: prosciutto wrapped in mozzarella and
deep fried. Trevino meanwhile has plantains, all in a
PVC fitting. Ceviches and chiles colorados are going
into shot glasses. Plating continues with cat tails.
"Five minutes to go."
Batali finished with
with... eggs benedict? Tortelloni is plated with
caviar. And with less than five ticks on the clock,
Trevino is done with his five. Batali has four, he needs
to pull another dish out of his ass. They're making a
vinaigrette very quickly. And the cartoccio... DONE!
"Thirty seconds to go!" Hurry up and plate!
three... two... one... Time's up" And Battle
Catfish is over! That was close. Batali: "Not only am I
challenged with myself, I'm challenged BY myself."
Trevino: "I was just trying to smoke it out." Now
Judgment (Trevino): "I think we needed to
represent the Latin kitchen. I have a real passion for
Asian cooking. I wanted to combine the two and create
something fantastic." Dishes: trio of catfish
ceviches with fresh tostones, miso honey catfish,
Israeli couscous catfish paella, catfish "chop" with
risotto-style posole, catfish fritters with Aztec
chocolate love potion.
Nina thought that he had
ceviches on his mind. She also likes the miso honey
catfish taste and presentation. Jeffrey doesn't equate
class with topping every dish with a potato chips, and
thinks the paella is overcooked. He does like the
chop, though. As for the fritters, they "get high marks
Judgment (Batali): "Catfish is an unusual fish, but
we worked with it, we worked around it." Dishes:
catfish squash blossom and roasted catfish in saor,
catfish Yankee breakfast, catfish & potato tortelloni,
catfish acqua pazzo, catfish in cartoccio.
Jeffrey reconstructs his
first dish wrong. "Can I have another plate." Nina likes
the presentation. The breakfast... not so much. Karine
is overpowered by the butter in the tortelloni. Jeffrey
likes the tortelloni enough to pay for it. While
everyone praises the soup, the Chairman is still putting
the thing together.
And now, whose cuisine
reigns supreme? The verdict....
... 52-43 in favor of
Iron Chef Mario Batali. Until next time... I bid you good