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"Morimoto vs. Cantu: Battle Beet" - January 21

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 be shown.

The Challenger: Homaro Cantu, a science-obsessed child who once built a rocket car out of a soda bottle. Today, he heads the kitchen at Moto, where his menus are printed on edible paper and his entrees are cooked with liquid nitrogen. Today, he challenges a man who has a few dirty tricks of his own, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.

Prepare for battle...

The Crib Sheet:
Ariki Omae & Makoto Okuwa, sous-chefs
Ben Roche & Darrell Nemeth, sous-chefs
23 years EXPERIENCE 12 years
Neo-Japanese COOKING STYLE Postmodern Cuisine
70-12-1, won last battle against Patricia Yeo BATTLE RECORD Challenger

The Theme Ingredient: beets, red, golden and Chioggia varieties

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 that best articulates the theme ingredient through their dishes wins.

The Kia battle clock is set at 60 minutes, which will start when the Chairman, with full heart and empty stomach, utters the words of his dear uncle.... "Allez cuisine!"

Opening thoughts from the challenger: "For me, it's an opportunity to show the world that we can bring different things to the table, and it doesn't have to be something that's totally scary." Rebuttal from the Iron Chef: "I'm going to be doing my own style. I don't copy anybody. Maybe people are thinking he knows a few techniques and that I don't know anything, but I know a little bit." Remember, this is a man who once stewed natto in Coke.

And in case you didn't notice, on their scrolling light boxes, Cantu's team has "Courage plus humility plus respect."

And while Morimoto is working with proteins (wagyu (American Kobe) beef, Atlantic salmon, and fatty tuna), Cantu is working with juices.  Makoto is also juicing beets.

"Fifteen minutes have elapsed." Morimoto has broken down a lot of beets while working with sushi rice. Meanwhile, Cantu has deflating nitrogen balloons. To compete, the IC has napkins tie-dyed with beet juice.

Semi-educational Jeopardy!-prep moment: Beets (beta vulgaris) is a very ancient plant, harvested around the seashores of Europe.

Tonight's Judges:
Culinary journalist Melissa Clark ("Chef Interrupted")
Author Naomi Moriyama ("Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother's Tokyo Kitchen")
Culinary critic Jeffrey Steingarten ("The Man Who Ate Everything")

The beet balloons are being rolled into liquid nitrogen. Needless to say, kids... don't try this at home. Looks like Morimoto will open up with sushi. And it looks like he's got a baby shrimp and fatty tuna mousse. Halfway into the battle, and Cantu is working miso paste into mayonnaise. And over on the challenger's side again... pipettes, edible packaging materials, edible paper, and balloon frozen beet paste. You know, nothing surprises me anymore.

And he's using a laser to caramelize the powdered sugar on his wontons.

Morimoto is beginning to plate his beet sushi. After a picture with a horchata, they make a picture of the picture on the horchata. "Ten minutes to go." Morimoto's ramekins are being filled with the beet puree.

Beet tempura is in the offing on the IC's side. Challenger is making maki rolls covered in edible paper. And the Iron Chef is breaking out some liquid nitrogen.

"Three minutes to go." Challenger is squeezing red beets and eggs into the liquid nitrogen. And back with the maki rolls, this warning... "Confidential property of and copyright h. Cantu. No farther use or disclosure is permitted without prior approval of H. Cantu."

Beet souffles out on the IC side. Soup, tartare, sushi, and ice cream are also plated. With a minute left, it looks like both chefs are just working on final touches.

Five seconds...  three... two... one... "Time's up." Battle Beet is over! Put it down... Walk away.

Cantu thinks he's just nuts. Morimoto says he can roll with the challenger no problem.

Judgment (Cantu): "Our inspiration was really USB cables and personal computers. We also like to accentuate the beauty and naturalness of beets." Dishes: Beet Maki Rolls with Synthetic Champagne, Hot and Cold Beet Soup, Surf & Turf Prepared Tableside, Frozen Sphere of Beet, Mascarpone with Beets and Liquid Delivery System, Chocolate Pudding with Julienned Beet and Horchata Paper.

Judgment (Morimoto): "Beets are not in the family of Japanese cooking, so I had my work cut out for me. I'm honoring the judges, as you can see, by wearing traditional Japanese clothing. Also to honor the judges, we dyed the napkins with beet juice." Dishes: 3 Kinds of Beet Sushi, Toro Tartare with Pureed Beets, Cold Beet Soup with Beet Foam, Beets Cooked in Miso; Tempura, Udon & Rice; Beet Souffle with Yellow Beet Ice Cream.

Cantu's dishes are delicious, but hard to understand. And where's the beet? His dishes are very... user friendly. Morimoto, however, took a non-traditional Japanese ingredient and made it his own by incorporating traditional and non-traditional means.  But whose cuisine reigns supreme? The verdict...

Taste 25 26
Plating 13 14
Originality 13 12

... 52-51 in favor of Challenger Homaro Cantu. This could've gone either way, but slim leads in plating and taste give the challenger the win.

Until next time, we bid you good eating.

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