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"Flay vs. Pagano: Battle Barramundi" - April 30

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 Challengers: one of the premiere caterers in New York City and the runner-up of the first US series of "Hell's Kitchen", the head chef of Fat Ralph's on Sag Harbor, Ralph Pagano.

Looks like Ralphie wants to go through hell again, as he draws Iron Chef Bobby Flay.

The Crib Sheet:
Brian Ray & Neil Manacle, sous-chefs
Scott Kampf & John O'Connell, sous-chefs
22 years EXPERIENCE 19 years
Southwestern/American COOKING STYLE New American
7-4-2, tied last battle with Susur Lee BATTLE RECORD Challenger

The Theme Ingredient: farmed barramundi fish from Massachusetts.

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 wins.

And now, with an full heart and an empty stomach, the words of the Chairman's dear uncle.... "Allez cuisine!"

The Battle: "Live ingredients always add a little extra texture to the battle. First you have to catch it, then you have to kill it, then you have to clean it, then you have to fillet it. Then you have the raw ingredient. That's going to take up a lot of time that you're allotted." So says the Iron Chef.

Meanwhile, the challenger has forgotten the key step of killing the fish. "I liken the Iron Chef Kitchen Stadium to full-contact cooking. This is it, cooking under fire. You know, what can go wrong will go wrong. To be brought on this stage is very humbling. To be invited to do so is the pinnacle of my career."

Okay, back to the IC side. Catch, check. Kill, check. Clean, check. Fillet, check. Over on Pagano's side... "What'd I tell ya? WHAT'D I TELL YA?" He's shouting at a still-very-much-alive-fish.

Meanwhile, aromatic veggies are being incorporated on both sides. Scott is adding bones to a fumet, which is a French fish stock. Pagano adds some lemon grass. Brian is making anchovy and tarragon butter. Scott is mixing miso and sake. Scott meanwhile will score the skin of the fish, I'm guessing to make it crispy.

The IC is frying the outside of the maters. Neil adds some piquillo peppers. And Pagano has some mangoes, some potatoes, and some coconut milk. And some mae ploy. Sounds like a sweet chili paste. The tomatillos on the IC side are getting a puree.

John, meanwhile, is prepping a pan with veggies, while Flay is grilling lemons. Pagano is adding mirin to vanilla. "Time?"

"Fifteen minutes have elapsed." IC's poached leeks are in the oven. Meanwhile, the challenger is making sushi rice with enoki and shiitake.

Tonight's Judges:
Food critic/author Ted Allen ("Queer Eye for the Straight Guy")
Restaurant critic/author Gael Greene (New York Magazine)
Designer/entrepreneur Marc Ecko (Ecko Unltd)

Back to Battle: Brian is breaking down two more barramundi, saving the tails. Marc's votes, by the way, will go to whoever can come up with fish and chips.

Flay has added fish to his cioppino sauce, while Pagano has sautéed his shiitake. And... FIRE! And flying fish. Pagano is zesting oranges, while Scott is peeling chorizo.  Flay is breaking down another fish, while Neil is making potato peels. Pagano is breaking down his mae ploy chili sauce. The IC is seasoning his new fillets, his skin-on fillets with anchovy butter. It's going into the oven. Pagano's miso-sake mixture is marinating the barramundi. The fumet, meanwhile, is boiling away, while Pagano is making thin slices of barramundi. Brian is making a mango salsa...

"Thirty minutes have elapsed."

Pagano is making a santuko, turning garlic into paste. He's also making chorizo and potatoes in the same pan. And new on the challenger's side... Lobster tails! On the IC side, Neil is breaking down more fish, while Flay is scoring a whole fish. It's a salt-crust grill for him.

Pagano is sauteeing turmeric barramundi. The leeks are out on the IC side, while John has pulled out rice paper and glass noodles.  Pagano is straining his mae ploy into a chinois. "Twenty minutes to go." Clams are out on the IC side. Pagano added the sauce to the barramundi strips that he was working on.

Semi-educational moment: old legend. Back in the Dream Time, two lovers ran away from the village, and as a means of escape, had to become fish in the water. The dorsal spikes are a representation of the spears that hit them on their way into the water. Google "Dream Time" and "aboriginal legends" for the whole story.

The citrus barramundi and the miso barramundi are on the challengers side ready for their final application. Flay is working sourdough bread and olive oil, while he's working on saffron sauce. And barramundi are added to the cioppino. "Fifteen minutes to go."

The dishes are staring to come together on both sides. Flay has broken out the spirits for his fish, with 10:30 left, as Pagano breaks out the banana leaf for his crudo. Also looks like barramundi spring rolls ready. Tequila, grapefruit, and quantro are mixed on the IC's side. Pagano is thinking about plating with less than seven ticks on the clock.  The cioppino is almost done on the IC's side. Pagano finishes his summer rolls. Both sides have some last minute cooking to do with five minutes left. Flay has one, two... dishes. Pagano has three. Flay's en papillote is coming out. "Three minutes to go."

Pagano is prepping his fumet for the final application. Flay has four dishes now to Pagano's three with 1:56 to go. Pagano has three left, and we have... "One minute to go." We're still waiting on that fumet. Flay is plating his final seconds to go. Pagano finally plates his fifth dish in time. Flay has five, now it's all over but the counting...

"Five seconds... three... two... one... Time's up."

And Battle Barramundi is history!

Judgment (Pagano): "Since these are domesticated fish, but in origin they are from Australia, we decided to keep the preparation to Southeast Asian, Thailand giving a little flare to the dishes." Dishes: Barramundi Miso, Walkabout Barramundi Soup, Barramundi Summer Roll, Barramundi Crudo, Diablo Glazed Barramundi.

Judgment (Flay): "Barramundi is not a fish that I have had a lot of experience with, so I related it to dishes I could do with red snapper" Dishes: Cioppini with Barramundi, Yucatan Marinated Grilled Barramundi, Potato and Horseradish Crusted Barramundi, Barramundi Fillet en Papillote, Salt-Crusted Barramundi.

Will Ralph Pagano taste the bitter pill of defeat for the second time? Whose cuisine reigns supreme? The verdict is...
Taste 28 19
Plating 15 11
Originality 13 12

... 56-42 in favor of Iron Chef Bobby Flay. No other way to say it. Ralphie got smacked. Both chefs wrangled with a fearsome fighter of a fish, as the Tetsujin notches another one for the home team.

Until next time, we bid you good eating.

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