Oct 4, 2010

The NEXT Iron Chef

I have some other posts simmering in the old blogsophere.  But I figured I would punch this one first while it was fresh in my mind.  Last night was the season premiere of one my favorite shows - Food Network's The Next Iron Chef.  This is the third season of the show and it is always exciting and entertaining.  They make these guys do the craziest stuff to try to win this thing.  Just an example.  Last night began with them having to make a sandwich that showed ingenuity in just thirty minutes.  Then for the elimination challenge they were send to a beach.  They were given a Little Green Egg grill to cook on - and that's it.  It wasn't even lit for them.  They had been asked what ingredient they would want on a deserted island.  Whatever they answered they were given as their main ingredient.  The only supplemental things they had were "tropical island ingredients" - shrimp, clams, coconuts, pineapple, stuff like that.  Some people had said suckling pig and turkey, so they were given that.  And then they had an hour to prepare a dinner.  Yeah, ridiculous stuff.

Anyway, last night was a longer episode, so we got to meet the competitors.  As they are panning around, one guy looks familiar.  I blurt out, "Is that Ming Tsai?"  Heather was like, "What?  Who's that?"  I explained that he is a really well known chef and has had his own TV show.  It pops up that he had hosted East Meets West.  She recognized that.  I was kind of flabbergasted.  Why in the world would they put Ming Tsai on a show trying to basically find a new celebrity chef.

This show is a huge deal for the competitors.  The winner gets to be on Iron Chef America.  But even the other guys who do well end up being used by Food Network, The Cooking Channel, or other cable channels for other shows.  In the first season, Michael Symon won and has had multiple shows.  But several other guys are in heavy rotation on Food Network (John Besh, Chris Consentino)  One of them - Aaron Sanchez - has been on at least four different shows.  Plus he just landed a big endorsement deal with a Latin American food company.

Last year they kind of put a ringer in there when Amanda Freitag competed after being a judge on multiple Food Network shows.  But her fame was from judging more than cooking - so in that she was on pretty level ground.  And it isn't like Jimmy Johnson or some past winner returning to Survivor where the clan can vote them out right away.  This is completely different.  Ming Tsai is not some random guy.  He one of the more famous chefs around.  He has been on Food Network for almost a decade.  He won a freaking Emmy for his show.  As the contestants were being introduced, the graphics would show an award they won - to give them legitimacy.  Several of them were James Beard award winners, which is one of the biggest awards for chefs out there.  They showed whatever for Tsai, and when he was introducing himself in his little bio, he just tossed out there, "I have an Emmy, I've won the James Beard Award."  He's won so much stuff that it was a throwaway line.  He could have been one of the original Iron Chefs and no one would have thought it strange.

The other contestants were equally incredulous.  On of them was like, "I looked over and saw Ming Tsai over there.  That's very intimidating."  I was wondering why in the world he would even compete in something like this.  It's almost as crazy as having Bobby Flay compete.  In his bio, he followed that earlier line with, "I know I can cook.  This for me to know if I can still really BRING it."  What?  He's only 46.  He's not 82 trying for a comeback.  This isn't George Foreman or Brett Favre trying to wing it with young kids half their age.  You don't lose your cooking chops as you get older.  It would be like Jean Paul Gaultier competing in Project Runway and saying, "I just wanted to see if I still knew how to make shirts."

Obviously, Tsai has the most to lose.  There is no excuse for him not winning.  Just like the other contestants, he has tons of restaurant experience.  But, he has a ton beyond that.  He already knows the pressures of the show, Iron Chef America, having been on it before.  In fact, he beat Bobby Flay in that show.  He's had his own show for years.  He's well respected.  And he can flat out cook.  You could tell the others were intimidated.  In the first challenge, they judged each other and one of them weakly pointed out that Tsai's sandwich had "too much bread."  Ming looked at him and took note.  When it came time to judge that guy's sandwich, Tsai stared the guy down and casually tossed out, "It had too much bread.  It was a 50/50 ratio of bread when it should have been 70/30 or so."  The camera cut to an interview with the guy afterwards.  "I should have seen that coming."  He destroyed the elimination challenge, acting like he cooked all of his meals on a Little Green Egg on the beach.  The only quibble the judges had was that his clam was "marginally overcooked."  Needless to say, he won that episode.  And one of the contestants said, "He's the veteran.  He should win."

It just strikes me as odd why they would have such an unlevel playing field for this version of the show.  Tsai's fame is already in the competitors' heads.  That last comment shows that - they expect to lose.  When you can have that effect on people by showing up, that is a HUGE advantage.  Tsai even said, "I know I can win this competition.  I want an undefeated record."  That shows that he isn't in this just to feel good about himself.  He wants to come in like Michael Jordan in a rec league basketball game and destroy everyone.  Some of the others seem more than ready to let him.  I'm looking to see which of them is willing to actually battle the giant.  That will make for some great television.

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