Any concerns that the 10 chefs competing on this season of The Next Iron Chef might not feel the pressure, given their remarkable culinary achievements and already stellar careers, were dispelled the moment they came face to face with the three judges on the edge of the lakeside.
The beads of sweat running down their brows were not only caused by the blazing sun under which they had been forced to cook, but also from the stern warnings given by the judges. We made it very clear that taste would count for everything during this competition, and their reputations not at all.
Chef Spike had drawn the “lucky” straw and, while he might have thought it amusing to pair Chef Irvine with Chef Burrell and wise to pair himself with Chef Samuelsson, there was a very distinct possibility that it could all come back to take a large chunk out of his youthful posterior.
The Chairman’s Challenge had been “Resourcefulness” using heat and meat, and it was obvious from the array of dishes the gusto with which the chefs had attacked the whole hogs provided. They had been tasked to prepare two dishes for the judges, and there were some genuine highs and lows as they were presented to us.
An unlikely pairing of Chef Zakarian and Chef MacMillan produced two almost flawless dishes that whisked the judges to Provence, quite a remarkable feat given the limitations of their ingredients and equipment. Chef Hughes and Chef Chiarello were a close second, although I marked them down for serving me an incinerated potato that had obviously received heat that would have been better used on a woefully undercooked pork chop.
The rest of the teams were much harder to judge. All had terrific elements to the food they offered us, but all also had some real misfires. In the end, it was the combination of ribs with less meat on them than Kate Moss and a pork stew that tasted as muddy as the lake water from which it had been made that consigned Chef Spike and Chef Samuelsson to the bottom of the pile.
That meant that Chef Spike’s original decision had come back to haunt him in considerable style and he would now have to face off against not only his teammate, but also a chef for whom he had expressed huge admiration. Their selection of scallops as the main ingredients gave both chefs the chance to shine in the Chairman’s fiendish new challenge, “The Secret Ingredient Showdown.” And shine they did, both showing why they had been included on the roster in the first place.
Chef Spike’s perfectly seared scallop and complex sofrito came topped with shavings of roe frozen in liquid nitrogen. Faced with a lesser opponent, it would have been enough to keep him in the competition. However, Chef Samuelsson’s risky choice, to present the judges with two dishes, paid off and, in his delicate miso soup made with scallops and clams, he provided one of the truly exquisite tastes of the whole competition.
That was enough to earn him a reprieve. As he left the judging chamber it was clear that his near demise had shaken any last vestiges of complacency he might have carried with him into the competition. Chef Spike however, was not to get a second chance and he was the first in Season 4 to hear those dreaded words from Mr. Brown: “I am sorry, but you will not be The Next Iron Chef.”