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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Web design by Jason Elliott. Logo by Chico Alexander. 

Batali vs. Morimoto - April 24

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 first "Battle of the Masters," Battle Trout between Sakai and Flay went to Iron Chef Flay. Today, another battle, this time, between the vanguard of Neo-Japanese Morimoto (65-7) and the New York Italian master Batali (rookie).

The theme ingredient for this battle is SPINY LOBSTER. Reminder: both chefs have one hour to come up with at least five unique dishes that present spiny lobster. The chef that does so the best as judged by the panel of three wins.

"With an open heart and an empty stomach, I say unto you, America... ALLEZ CUISINE!"

And battle is on. Both chefs grab a load of spiny lobsters, which are really more or less overgrown crayfish prepared specifically for their tail. Morimoto's side has already started their rice cooker, meaning that we may have some sushi in the offing. Morimoto also preps some rocks. As in the type you skip on the river. Meanwhile, Batali and his sous-chefs have a short talk before going into motion.

First live poll of the night shows that Batali and Morimoto are dead even. And rightly so, as both chefs are dead even when it comes to experience, Morimoto's 20 years against Batali's 18, and philosophies, both are mavericks in their fields.

Tuna is being chopped on Batali's side, while Morimoto is blanching his lobster tails with some more lobster in the blender. Batali is breaking out the pancetta and dropping potato slices in the fryer for a cannelloni, while Morimoto is preparing a soup of sorts. Batali is prepping onions with lobster and pancetta, a tomato sauce, and some habanero chiles, all going in a soup.

"Fifteen minutes have elapsed." Let's go to Kevin Brauch with the judges. Tonight, they're John O'Hurley from "Seinfeld" (among other things), Melinda Clarke from "The OC", and restaurateur Kerry Simon from... the last battle. Morimoto is removing meat, while Batali is simmering tomato paste. Morimoto is simmering himself, as he's a little concerned over things (of what, we don't know).

Batali is making his cannelloni filling, and currently has a slight upperhand in the live vote, 52-48. Morimoto's side goes to the bonito flakes for a stock. Along with dashi, it's as good as a chicken stock. Konbu is wrapped into the skewered lobster tails. In this fasion, it's used for its connective tissue properties, like a fat netting only, well... not. Odds are that Morimoto will also go for its flavor. The lobster itself was more than likely dipped in ice water containing cognac. That's our Morimoto, alright!

Iron Chef Flay (2-1) is on the sidelines, talking about Morimoto's stealthiness. "It's always a surprise at the last second. I think he plays head games with himself." Meanwhile Batali's sous-chef Ann is cutting up urchin for a soup, maybe a soup bowl. Meanwhile, she strains out the eggs. To be truly edible, the urchins have to be harvested in calm waters for three days.

On Morimoto's side, shrimp, lobster, and white mountain potatoes are being blended for noodles. Melinda in the judge's box is fascinated by the chefs' speed, while Kerry tries to explain it, using the silent communication theory.

Batali is almost finished with the cannelloni proper, while Morimoto is pureeing lobster and pushing it through a tammy (a fine sieve used to make mousses). Kevin confirms that the urchins on Batali's side are going to be used as bowls for his soup.

"Twenty minutes to go." Morimoto is piping his lobster puree into a little foamer pump. I know this because of the CO2 pipe in Morimoto's mouth. This will definitely be a mousse, but how is he going to serve it? Batali thinks that Morimoto is together, young, and a formidable opponent. Morimoto likes Batali's theme song and his jovial nature.

Batali has begun work on a saltimbocca. Morimoto is locked and loaded on his foamer. He's also locked and loaded on his piping bag for his potato/lobster/shrimp noodle. Live vote still a dead heat as the noodles come out of the kelp broth as soon as they go in. Hearts of palm are sliced on Batali's side, while Ann dices lobster and adds it to a dough mixing, to be deep fried into a fritter.

Over on the burners, Batali adds on marsala wine to his saltimbocca, creating a little bit of a blaze. Morimoto loves his noodles, as he is all smiles on his side. One of his sous-chefs is pan-frying lobster. One of Batali's sous-chefs is going to serve up some sweetbreads with hearts of palm and black truffle. Morimoto has a lot of herbs, while Ann has a foam action going on with her espresso machine (I tell you, if this goes to series, she would make a formidable challenger).

Morimoto has begun plating on his noodles and lobster sashimi, it looks like. Batali's pea soup gets chives as Morimoto's chefs prepare tempura. Ann's fritters go into the heat as well.

"Ten minutes to go." Kevin reports that both chefs are pleased with their results, as Morimoto gets his rice out of the cooker and into a soup in an enameled vessel, very common in Japanese cooking. Tempura is just coming out of the oil with a few minutes left in the battle. Mark, one of Batali's sous-chef, is thinking carpaccio, while the Chairman makes his way to the judges. And remember that piping pump from earlier? Morimoto is serving its contents in shot glasses with caviar. "Would you slam that back as a shooter?" Kevin asks Alton? Only if it had sake in it. It all goes into a bed of ice.

Soup is going into the urchins in Batali's side as well as the frothed milk, while Morimoto has spears of bamboo. Lobster roe goes to work on Batali's side, as he pulls out his cannelloni. Morimoto gets his wasabe ready as final plating has begun, five done on Batali's side, three on Morimoto. We get two more later, so it looks like five on five. The rocks from earlier are out and into an enameled vessel with the wrapped lobster tails, with tea leaves and sake going in as well.

"One minute to go." Big fun on both sides. Big plating. Morimoto scrambling, Ann needs to refroth her milk. Chefs are almost done plating. "Five seconds... three... two... one... Time is now up." Battle Spiny Lobster is now in the books. Batali was abnormally quiet, while Morimoto is happy with his dishes. Morimoto gets six dishes to Batali's five. Remember, each judge is allocated up to 20 points for each chef. Of those 20, ten will be awarded for taste, five for presentation and plating, and five for originality and theme.

Morimoto was going for a changeup in texture and flavor, with a few surprises in store. After all, he is the guy with the surprises. His dishes: Lobster sashimi with fresh wasabe; chopped lobster mousse; fresh lobster noodles; lobster tempura - three flavors; konbu wrapped lobster tail with sauce America; lobster, egg, and Japanese rice soup; and Middle Eastern spiced lobster.

Melinda has never had dishes like these before (she says that about all of his dishes). Kerry and John like the balances in the dishes. After tasting the konbu wrapped item, John makes this determination: "I'm going to find every river stone in the San Fernando Valley." Favorable marks for Iron Japanese. "Very adventurous," Kerry says.

Batali was going to treat lobster in a creative way while respecting the integrity of Italian cuisine. His dishes: Lobster tonnato; sea urchin, shrimp, and lobster cappuccino; potato and lobster cannelloni, lobster saltimbocca with a salad, and roasted corn and lobster zeppole,

Kerry tastes the freshness in the tonnato. John likes the presentation of the cappuccino and the cannelloni. "When faced with an absolutely impossible ingredient, I can guarantee you that the best thing you can do is wrap it up in something and fry it," Batali says of his zeppole, while the judges appreciate the subtle sweetness of the lobster.

We've scored the chefs, now it's time to reveal... Whose cuisine reigns supreme? Here's the Chairman.

"Today's winning master is... Chef Mario Batali!" Well fought, well met, as Batali's taste bested Morimoto's. That's where he won the battle.

BATALI: Taste - 28, Plating - 14. Originality - 15, Total - 57

MORIMOTO: Taste - 23, Plating - 14, Orginality - 14, Total - 51

Batali was at home with lobster, and 48 percent of the fans were at home with the verdict, as tonight, Mario Batali's cuisine reigns supreme. Next time, a two-fer, as Morimoto will try to avenge his loss battling Iron Chef Puck, while the second battle is a tag-team affair with a twist. How I LOVE that T-word.

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