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"Flay vs. Bowles: Battle Chocolate" - February 11

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: Graham Elliott Bowles creates contemporary American cuisine at the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago, more specifically his restaurant Avenues. his signature dishes read like a surreal gourmet shopping list at a candy store. For good luck, this chef always wears red socks in the kitchen. Today, Mr. Red Socks takes on the Blue Tetsujin. Bobby Flay. And the gloves are off.

Prepare for battle...

The Crib Sheet:
FLAY
Brian Ray & Vicki Wells, sous-chefs
VS BOWLES
Alexander Martinez & Amy Sutton, sous-chefs
24 years EXPERIENCE 12 years
Southwestern COOKING STYLE Progressive
12-5-2, won last battle against David Bull BATTLE RECORD Challenger

The Theme Ingredient: white, milk, and dark chocolates and nibs from various sources.

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!" And Battle Theobromine cacao is on!

Thoughts from the challenger: "We don't have the home court advantage. Well, I definitely have youth on my side, and that could be for better or for worse, you know--the immaturity aspect versus--but you know, I'm not set in my ways." Alexander is working on some apples and onions while watching some Mexican chocolate (a grainy chocolate with a hint of cinnamon).

Thoughts from the Iron Chef: "It's basically you against the ingredient in the kitchen. You can only do basically in my opinion the best you can do with that ingredient. What we always do is go with our gut." That as he grinds canela (Mexican cinnamon). The challenger is working a huge hunk of white chocolate, which is nothing more than cocoa butter with sweetener added to it.

And at the top of battle, we heard "Slay Flay" from the VIP Box.

It is a very real possibility that we may have ice cream on both sides of the kitchen. Broth is going down on Bowles' side while he gets some early plating out of the way. And sure enough while that is happening, Amy is firing up the ice cream maker of death. Brian's giving some pomegranates the smackdown. Bowles is adding milk to the strongly spiced broth, while Amy readies the CO2 gun for some frothing of some sort.

Flay, meanwhile, is working on a chocolate/blue cornmeal batter, pureed pumpkin, and a dark chocolate cream mix. Bowles is reducing apples, onions, and carrots in red wine, and he's plated a melted white chocolate mixture. And he's boiling lobster tails.

First quarter out of the way, it's time to meet...

Tonight's Judges:
Culinary author Ted Allen ("Queer Eye for the Straight Guy")
Culinary/lifestyle journalist Karine Bakhoum (KB Network News)
Culinary critic Jeffrey Steingarten ("The Man Who Ate Everything")

The closest we've seen to protein thus far is sushi-grade tuna for the challenger.

Semi-educational Jeopardy!-prep moment: Let's talk chocolate. We have bittersweet, unsweetened baker's chocolate, coverture chocolate, and white chocolate. They all come from one source: the dried cocoa bean. The beans are ground into cocoa nibs. It can be separated into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. Combine them with sugar and milk solids in varying concentrations... and you get various amounts of chocolate, except for white chocolate, which is only made from cocoa butter, sugar, and vanilla.

Back to battle, as Vicki is working some caramel, while Bowles adds chocolate to the red wine reduction. Bowles is working spice-encrusted bison.

"Thirty minutes have elapsed." Flay's custard is where he wants it. Vicki has spread melted chocolate on the back of a baking sheet. Flay's also working on some duck. Bowles has made chocolate & goat-cheese beignets.

Those caramel sheets have been broken into shards, while Bowles has poblano soup with Mexican chocolate, and ground corn nuts. Vicki just turned on her ice cream maker, while Amy is making some guacamole. Meanwhile, the Chairman is trying to silence the crowd with some chocolate. The chocolate-rubbed duck is down on Flay's grill. Bowles has sliced his lobsters.

Flay is working on his chocolate Johnny cakes. Bowles plates his first dish: the seafood and pickles on white chocolate. Under 15 left, and the ice cream machine on Flay's side is not working... The challenger's lobster carpaccio is down. The tuna's down on bok choy, while plantain chips get dusted with chocolate. He's also plated cocoa nibs in a chocolate essence and some more chocolate in a mesquite smoker.

The challenger offers his ice cream maker to resolve the cream quagmire. Brian blowtorches his figs, caramelizing them. "The blowtorch will get you on TV every time." Vicki's making chocolate cigarettes.

Plating now underway on both corners. Chocolate pumpkin soup on Flay's side, while the chocolate duck breasts are resting on Brian's barbecue sauce. The beignets on Bowles' side are down as well. Vicki is making a parfait, while the Iron Chef has plated all five dishes with two minutes remaining. The challenger is also almost done. The rest is now in presentation. Bowles has plated his bison with his beignets. And now Flay races the clock to complete his souffle... and "three... two... one...." Done. Put it down, walk away, Battle Chocolate is history.

Bowles: "Obviously we didn't really have any home field advantage. It was very intimidating." Flay: "Chocolate is a very challenging ingredient. That makes it much more interesting."

Judgment (Bowles): "One of the philosophies that I always carry is let food taste like itself, try to put it in a new different, whimsical way and let those true flavors shine." Dishes: Lobster Carpaccio with White Chocolate Panna Cotta, Savory Mexican Chocolate Soup, Grilled Ahi Tuna with Chocolate Essence, Cocoa Dusted Bison Tenderloin with Chocolate BBQ Sauce; Chocolate Ice Cream, Plantains, Chocolate Soda Pop.

Judgment (Flay): "I thought chocolate was very very difficult. In my flavors, which tend to be on a spicier side, I'm going to try to use it to balance and at the same time become an important flavor component." Dishes: Mexican Chocolate Pumpkin Soup, Chocolate Espresso Duck Breast, Chocolate Blue Corn Johnnycakes, Dark Chocolate Caramel Parfait with Cranberry-Raspberry Compote, Bittersweet Chocolate Souffle with Blackberry-White Chocolate Sauce.

Jeff likes the combination of flavors on the challenger's end. Ted believes his savory dishes succeed. Karine finds the dishes surprising on both ends. Ted cites interplay. Jeff disagrees with Karine and a judge fight almost ensues. 

But whose cuisine reigns supreme? The verdict...

  IRON CHEF CHALLENGER
Taste 26 21
Plating 12 12
Originality 11 14

... 49-47 in favor of Iron Chef Bobby Flay. The challenger's creativity is offset by the flavors of the Iron Chef's dishes. Despite skills, talent, a giant gob of chocolate, and a vocal set of fans, Graham Elliott Bowles was not able to wrest victory from the Iron Chef.

Until next time, we bid you good eating.

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