Movie Snacks and Tofu on the Next Iron Chef — Critical Moments

by in Shows, November 14th, 2011

alton brown chairmans challenge
Next Iron Chef judge Simon Majumdar joins us on the FN Dish each week to share his insider’s take on what went down Sunday night.

The ability of many Americans to consume an entire meal while watching a movie equally amuses and frightens me. Whenever I head to the movie theater, I almost inevitably find myself seated next to someone slavering over a tray of cheesy nachos larger than a football field or thrusting their hands deep into a tub of popcorn only a tiny bit smaller than my first car.

Once they have finished with the savory element of their repast, they usually move on to dessert and the carefully crafted dialogue of many a great film (and some pretty dreadful ones, too) is drowned out by the rustle of wrappers or the sound of hard candy cracking under firm tooth pressure. Most of these “treats” are neither good nor good for you, and when Alton Brown informed the judges of the Chairman’s latest challenge, I suspect we rolled our eyes as much as the eight remaining chefs did.

It speaks volumes to the quality of this year’s roster for The Next Iron Chef that not only were most of the chefs able to meet the Chairman’s Challenge to show their “Ingenuity” head-on, they also fashioned some staggeringly good dishes from ingredients that would have made lesser chefs run a mile in the opposite direction.

Elizabeth Falkner

Chef Falkner had been firmly in the middle of the pack in the first two challenges, but this test really gave her a chance to display not only her skill at making desserts, but also to remind us that she has considerable savory chops as well. Her malt ball-battered fish and chips had all the judges purring in pleasure and, when added to a dessert that was unsurprisingly excellent, it was enough to make her our clear winner.

We had challenged Chef Burrell to stop playing it safe and she took us at our word, presenting us with a truly sensational roast quail, where the secret ingredient was used in the stuffing. A root beer float may have been less ingenious, but it was equally delicious. One taste had Iron Chef Symon leaning across and whispering to Judy Joo and myself that “she’s definitely in the game.”

Chefs Samuelsson, Zakarian, Guarnaschelli and Chiarello filled out the middle of the pack. All had terrific dishes, but all had flops. Judy Joo picked up immediately on the fact that Chef Guarnaschelli’s ice cream had split, while Chef Chiarello had underestimated the effect of gelatin in Gummy Bears, leaving him with a dense and unpleasant Panna Cotta. That was a great shame, as his first course of lamb chops remains in my top 10 sublime dishes of the entire competition.

People often say that nice guys finish last. In this case, it was two of the nicest guys in the competition. Chef MacMillan totally missed the point of the challenge by trying to re-create the flavors of rather than using sour candy in his first dish. His second dish was deemed too sweet by Iron Chef Symon and he took his place in the bottom two.

Chuck Hughes

While Chef Hughes prepared a perfectly cooked “popcorn” shrimp, he presented it on a salad that still had me picking traces of popcorn from my teeth for the next few days. His vanilla popcorn “risotto” was better, but not by enough to save him landing in the bottom two. Sometimes it is hard to pick winners and losers, but there was no argument among us that these two chefs would have to face off in the Secret Ingredient Showdown to see who remained in the competition.

Tofu is a pretty tough ingredient for any chef to shine with and, unsurprisingly, both combatants went down the Asian route for their single dish. While Chef Hughes’ silken tofu, with a crisp outer coating and soft, melting insides, was delicious, it sat in a “one-size-fits-all” dipping sauce that overpowered the main ingredient.

Although Asian cuisine is Chef MacMillan’s great love, his dish did not go without criticism either, particularly as he took the risk of presenting us with a trio of bite-sized morsels. I thought he used different types of tofu in three very different ways without any major flaws. My colleagues, however, did think that he had simply thrown too many ingredients at us and marked him down accordingly.

It was by no means certain who would survive. However, after much deliberation, it was Chef Hughes to whom Alton said “au revoir,” and Chef MacMillan who breathed a huge sigh of relief as he returned to the kitchen.

More behind-the-scenes extras from Super Chefs, episode 3:

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Comments (113)

  1. Christine says:

    I didn’t find anything offensive with “foodgasm.” If anything, I thought it was cleverly said. Most of us know that sensation of tasting something so amazingly delicious…let’s not make it an issue. Good luck, Elizabeth! Everyone goes on & on about you being a pastry chef… Well, you’re Iron Chef to me because you’re awesome at sweets & you’re definitely kicking some with savory!!!

  2. devi says:

    Chiarello is too pompous for me. I'd like to take him to the alley.

  3. TigerJeanne says:

    I think that ALL judging should be "blind" in that the judges do not know who cooked what, thereby eliminating favorite chefs.

  4. nicoleD says:

    I too am tired of Alton Browns egotistical and demeaning comments. I'd like to see him actually have to compete with some of these stupid ingrediants. I never liked Chef Zakarian from his rude attitude on chopped, but at least he his now putting his money where his mouth is. The fact that Hughes lost is unbelievable! He actually used his ingredient where McMillan didn't. As to the rest of the judges they should all be iron chefs or at least experienced chefs, not just someone who writes about food. Maybe even allow the viewers a small vote as we are the ones who watch the show. I was really excited about this show, because I had never even heard of the last two Iron Chefs they added, and dont watch if they are the ones challenged. I have actually heard of these Chefs, but after the last two eliminations I no longer care who wins. This show is a joke, they dont eliminate based on the rules and the judges dont stand behind their critisim.

  5. Tina says:

    Is no one commenting on how offensive this article was to Americans? The first sentence he said "The ability of many Americans to consume an entire meal while watching a movie equally amuses and frightens me." just kept perpetuating the stereotype of all Americans. I've lost all respect for this man.

  6. Sarah Putnam says:

    My dad made a very distasteful joke at Chuck's folly when he got "the cleaver".

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