IRON CHEF AMERICA:
Battle of the Masters
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Our ultimate competition is with ourselves. That is what my uncle told me when I would visit him as a young boy. Now I prepare myself for my most savory challenge. My uncle, the man the world knows as Kaga the Chairman, has decided that although America is a young country, we now possess the proper palate to host our own Iron Chef competition, an American celebration of the world's high art of cuisine.

Recaps by Chico Alexander, GSNN


FACT FILE:
Host ("The Chairman"):
Mark Dacascos
Culinary Commentator: Alton Brown
Iron Chefs: Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Wolfgang Puck
Creator: Keiichi Tanaka (based upon "Ryori no Tetsujin/Iron Chef")
EP: Steve Kroopnick
Packager: Triage Entertainment, Fuji Television Network, Food Network
Aired: April 2004


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Tag Team Battle - April 25

If memory serves me right, Chairman Takeshi Kaga has sent two of his Iron Chefs - Hiroyuki Sakai and Masaharu Morimoto - to do battle in Kitchen Stadium America against his nephew's own army of Iron Chefs - Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, and Bobby Flay. The American chefs are three for three, going into this, the tag team finale, which will pit Morimoto and Sakai against Flay and Batali.

The theme ingredients are SCALLOPS, LANGOUSTINE, and SEA URCHIN. Earlier, I noted that this battle was going to have a twist. Here comes the twist and five, four, three, two, now. "It appears that in my excitement, it appears that I have forgotten one more secret ingredient for this battle. It is my honor for the first time to bring together our two cultures, our two food worlds, in competition, not against each other, but rather... with each other. For today, we shall make history together as Iron Chefs Sakai and Batali chop as one, while Iron Chefs Morimoto and Flay share their wisdom on the same cutting board. Gentlemen... switch partners."

So there you have it. The tag team finale is a game of culinary mixed doubles. "With an open heart and an empty stomach, I say unto you... ALLEZ CUISINE!"

And battle is on. Rules are a little bit different. Each chef is responsible for two dishes, while each team is responsible for one. Morimoto and Flay, twice opponents, are shouting their strategy while Batali and Sakai try to work past their communication barrier in talking their game. Morimoto starts grating wasabe, while we have our first live vote, giving Flay and Morimoto the 2-1 nod. Batali gets every ingredient in Kitchen Stadium, including some chorizo for some Sicilian-style selections. Morimoto chops open some sea urchin, while Sakai opens up a chicken egg very carefully, definitely for a custard.

Trouble on Morimoto/Flay's side, as Flay needs a band-aid while chopping tomatillos. Morimoto is soaking scallops in sake, which will take pretty quickly. Also, sous-chef Patricia is working on a chili oil for Flay. Batali calls Sakai a zen master again, while his sous-chef is pounding langoustine meat. Compliments abound, as Sakai calls their team "happy fun".

Alton shows us a langoustine, which "looks a lot like a really really big shrimp, but it does, like a true lobsterette, have itty bitty pinchers." It's actually a prawn.

"Fifteen minutes have elapsed." Batali is making a bouillabaisse. Morimoto is making a broth of his own. Sakai is making potato noodles. Kevin is making nice with the judges. Today, they are one-fifth of the Fab Five, resident gourmand of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" Ted Allen, one-whole of the on-air "Extra" anchor team Dayna Devon, one-seventh of the recurring characters on "Friends" James Michael Tyler, and one heck of a food critic Jeffrey Steingarten.

Morimoto's scallops have gone to a rice cooker, while things are on fire with Sakai, as he's also making a green panko with parsley. Bread crumbs out of parsley? Magic. Batali is making a Sicilian lifeguard sauce with couscous. AS the vote seems to draw the two teams, Morimoto breaks out a hibachi grill that he WAS hoping to use against Bobby Flay in competition. Flay creates the sauces, while Morimoto is making the dishes, the brigade system they call it.

Over on Sakai's side, he's wrapping langoustine tails with the potatoes from earlier. Flay cut his finger, but he's okay. Morimoto's scooping out urchin roe, while Flay is butterflying langoustine.

Ted notes that Sakai and Batali are in some "Vulcan mind meld." Dayna thinks that this is like the Oscars. James notes the smell. Jeffrey is waiting for the fur to fly when Morimoto and Flay start cooperating.

Morimoto has started plating with urchin fillets and scallops. Meanwhile Flay has langoustine heads in the fryer. Also, a cauliflower custard inside the urchin shell is in the works. Meanwhile, Batali is working some little calamares for later.

"Thirty minutes have elapsed." Let's go to the sidelines with Iron Chef Puck, who thinks that today's match is perfect. "I'm just upset that I'm not a part of it." The seafood is great for all of the chefs, especially the Japanese. Langoustine's out on Morimoto's side with shallots, chili peppers, and oysters. Urchin also goes into the oven. Live vote is still draw.

Flour, egg, and curry powder is going into Sakai's blender, possibly a fritter. Flay's making a yellow roasted pepper sauce with miso and rice vinegar. Foie gras also pulled out on Morimoto's side, possibly on top of a dish. Miso, habaneros, and honey go into a malfunctioning blender.

Sakai is dredging the scallops on one side with the panko and parsley dredge, while Batali shares some chorizo broth. They like it. "That was just love." Meanwhile, Flay gets no love from his sauces. They're burnt. As Sakai puts some eggs into the bamboo steamer, Flay is worried that his custard won't set.

"Twenty minutes to go." Morimoto sears some scallops, while their sous-chef is putting some Serrano ham in the fryer. Sakai's sous-chef meanwhile is chopping some black truffles to be used in a sabayon. Meanwhile the potato-wrapped item sautes. Sakai thinks that having two Iron Chefs is definitely a benefit.

"Fifteen minutes to go." Morimoto's scallops are meeting the heat on his grill. They need a bit more time as plating begins.

"Ten minutes to go." The fritter's first, while Flay is on the run. Morimoto goes for some cedar branches to grill with the langoustine. A beautiful presentation going on Sakai's side, while Morimoto grabs some rocks and seaweed for presentation, maybe? Chefs Batali and Sakai are plating their joint venture, while Flay is getting trout roe to plate. Sakai deep fries celery for a garnish. And... they're done!

"Five minutes to go." Small cedar fire in Morimoto's kitchen, while he puts rice balls onto the grill. Flay creates an oyster Rockefeller. "How much time?" "Three minutes to go." That answer your question? Batali grates some roe fresh from the freezer. Sakai's just ecstatic about working with him in the future. They toast their doneness.

Meanwhile Morimoto pours his own sake for a celebration. "One minute to go." Grilled langoustine tails were made in Flay's honor. And we're running out of time here, as the plates are quickly coming together. Cauliflowers soup is coming out of the oven, while Morimoto heads for the goblets... "Five seconds... three... two... one... Time is now up." And we're all done for fun. Now it's onto the tasting. Remember 10 for taste, 5 for plating, and 5 for originality.

We start with Sakai and Batali. Their dishes: egg & sea urchin sabayon, Arborio rice crusted scallops, potato-wrapped crispy langoustine, barely-cooked langoustines in a shrimp and chorizo broth, panko & parsley crusted scallops, and Sicilian Lifeguard-style razor clams and scallops.

They love the texture and the presentation in the sabayon, but Jeffrey thought that the inedible garnishes didn't work. Ted likes the ground risotto. James thinks the langoustine goes great with the sauce americaine. And we think that Jeffrey is the "Asako Kishi" of Iron Chef America (popularly known as the "West German Judge", Kishi-san was basically the show's resident Simon Cowell in Japan). Dayna thinks the final dish is healthy and wonderful. It's the yin-yang at work.

Morimoto and Flay are next: crispy rice ball with scallops, sea urchin, & langoustine; seafood tapas; steamed scampi, scallops, & sea urchin; shellfish impersonating oysters; and Japanese-grilled shellfish with three dipping sauces.

Wonderful broth, Jeffrey and Ted point out. James notes the spiciness of the tapas. Jeffrey likes the foie gras and the spices. Ted downs the shellfish whole, and likes it. The fusion dish is presented beautifully, as Dayna points out. Ted cites and enormous range of flavors today. Could mean the win for Morimoto and Flay. Let's go to the Chairman.

"Iron Chefs... Morimoto and Flay!" Congratulations all around, as Morimoto and Flay... don't know whose hand to shake first. Clearly, they were the favorite, judging by the scoring:

MORIMOTO/FLAY: Taste - 36. Plating - 18, Originality - 17, Total - 71

SAKAI/BATALI: Taste - 29. Plating - 12, Originality - 14, Total - 55

Final live vote went to Sakai and Batali, 54-46. Well, there you have it, America. Iron Chef America is in the books. If you missed it, you can either wait for Food Network to rerun the show ad nauseum, or you could go to Foodnetwork.com and order the DVD. Either way, a simple recap can't do justice to what happened this weekend. Clearly one of the best competitions I've ever seen. You have to see it for yourself.

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