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"All-Star Tag Team Battle: Battle Cranberry" - November 12

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. This, however, is a special case...

The Chairman has put a challenge to two of Food Network's most popular stars to enter the heat of battle against the Iron Chefs. The two have worked with the Iron Chefs in preparation for the battle, and the secret ingredient awaits, but as always, the Chairman has a few surprises up his sleeve. Let's meet...

The Challengers: Rachael Ray of "30 Minute Meals" and Giada de Laurentiis of "Everyday Italian." One has several cookbooks out and is the hostess of her own talk show in syndication. The other, a private chef and caterer based in Los Angeles, is the granddaughter of a movie directing legend and has parlayed her classical Italian training into a few cookbooks of her own.

Both chefs have asked the Chairman for the opportunity to battle each other in Kitchen Stadium, but before they do, he has asked that they spend time studying with two of his best Iron Chefs, Mario Batali and Bobby Flay. Giada goes to study with Flay, while Rachael goes to study with Batali.

The two enter KSA, thinking that they will battle each other alone... but nay, as the Chairman sends in the very maestros that prepared them for battle. Giada will cook alongside Flay, while Rachael cooks with Batali.

Prepare for battle...

The Crib Sheet:
Dan Mihalko, sous-chef
Anne Burrell, sous-chef
38 years EXPERIENCE 34 years

The Theme Ingredient: Cranberries, in fresh, dried, juiced, and sauced form.

The Rules: Each team 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 team that best articulates the theme ingredient through their dishes wins.

The Ruby Tuesday 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 Rachael: "Being surrounded by real chefs when you're not one really builds a lot of tension. But that's why I wanted to do it. I wanted to face my fear."

Opening thoughts from Giada: "I think my fear is I'll freeze... I won't know what to do. It's about time. It's about making sure you stick to a schedule. I think that almost stresses me out more than my food."

Tonight's Judges:
Comedian/media gadfly Mo Rocca (NPR's "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me")
Journalist Jill Bernstein (senior editor, Entertainment Weekly)
Fashionista David Evangelista ("The Early Show")

Rachael is boiling spaghetti in wine. Meanwhile, she's making a sausage ragout for... something. Flay is working on a tamale and some venison shanks. Batali is making a parfait using panettoni, while Giada is working with a zeppole.

Later in the battle, Batali tries to get the judges all nice and drunk with a cranberry bellini toast. The Chairman will allow it.

Semi-educational Jeopardy!-prep moment: Many people believe cranberries are grown in lakes. They're not. They're grown in bogs which are flooded. The ripe ones rise to the top and are harvested.

With 12:30 left, Batali has begun to plate his fregola and another dish, with caramelized cranberries. Flay is grabbing his first plate for a brioche. Giada begins her plating with 10 minutes to go, while Rachael is still working her ragout.  Flay is working on cranberry cod cheek tempura.

Batali's zuppa inglese... done. Rachael's pancetta-wrapped shrimp... done. Looks like we're also plating cranberry polenta. They'll go together. Giada is plating her ravioli. RAchael is plating wine-cooked bucatini. Batali plates his turkey osso buco.

And with one minute to go, it's all over but the garnishing.

"Three... two... one... Time's up." Battle Cranberry is in the books. Rachael thought the hour was excruciating, while Giada thought that was the fastest hour of her life. Flay: "If you want a rematch, you better call Don King."

Judgment (deLaurentiis/Flay): "Cranberries are a very versatile ingredient. They can be sweet. They can be savory. I consider it a very American ingredient, so I was happy to see it. It's also one that Giada would think of right away because of her Italian heritage. I think we were very happy with what we saw." Dishes: Cranberry Custard French Toast, Squash & Cranberry Ravioli, Cranberry and Duck Confit Tamales, Venison Osso Buco with Cranberry Risotto, Cranberry Zeppole.

Judgment (Ray/Batali): Batali: "I think our inspiration was to understand the bitterness and the sweetness of the cranberry to make it sweet at the same time." Rachael: "Ditto." Dishes: Cranberry Ajo Blanco, Pancetta-wrapped Cran-glazed Shrimp, Drunken Bucatini with Sausage and Cranberries, Turkey Osso Buco with Saffron Cranberry Fregola, Panettone Zuppa Inglese.

Giada and Flay's dishes look like gifts, but what about the taste? Kind of mixed. David liked the ravioli, but didn't LOVE it. And when it wasn't sweet, it was too tart. The dessert won raves and a question as to whether or not Italian police eat zeppoles. 

Rachael and Batali's dishes ran the gamut of flavorful to overwhelming. Mo begs to differ whether Rachael is a chef or not. quote of the night goes to Mo: "Alton said that panettone was brought by the Crusaders. If they brought your panettone, no one would've been able to resist conversion."

But whose cuisine reigns supreme? The verdict...

Taste 23 26
Plating 11 14
Originality 12 13

... 53-46 in favor of Iron Chef Mario Batali and Rachael Ray. Going to the floor... Rachael: "That hour goes by so much faster than my show." And Giada? "It's a pressure cooker. I felt like I had to go faster than I've ever gone before."

But with all the accolades she won... TV cook... her own talk show... Oprah's BFF... best-selling cookbooks...  Rachael Ray can now add "Iron Chef Champion" to her mantle.

Until next time, we bid you good eating.

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