Hamptons Seafood Showdown on the Next Iron Chef — Critical Moments

by in Shows, December 12th, 2011

Next Iron Chef: The Final Four
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.

In the penultimate challenge, the four surviving chefs were given the task of showing us just what truly passionate cooks they could be. To do this they were each handed $500 by Alton Brown and given two hours to source enough ingredients to feed not only the judges but also 20 noteworthy individuals of the Hamptons dining scene.

While they were running around in search of the best fish, seafood and produce they could afford, the judges waited in the comfortable surroundings of the Montauk Yacht Club. I would like to say that we relaxed, but it simply wouldn’t be true. Just as the pressure had mounted on the chefs with each elimination, so it was weighing down on the judges each week as we looked into the eyes of the despondent chefs we had to send home.

The pressure was even greater now as we were informed that we would have to choose two chefs to compete for the title in Kitchen Stadium while crushing the dreams of the two others. Michael Symon told me that the thought of the decision ahead was making him physically ill. I could totally sympathize, as Chefs Falkner, Chiarello, Zakarian and Guarnaschelli had all proved time and again that they were each capable of going on to the show.

On returning from their quest the chefs had two hours to cook, the guests started filling up the seats on the terrace and we were led to the judging chamber.

Alex Guarnaschelli

Chef Guarnaschelli was visibly nervous as she entered to present her three seafood preparations of fluke crudo, lobster and chowder. At this stage and with these chefs we were not expecting any major flaws in execution and we certainly did not get any with this offering. There were, however, one or two comments on Chef Guarnaschelli’s use of seasoning and she knew that a simple misstep with salt could be enough to end her participation in the competition.

As you may have noticed earlier in the competition, I am a bowl licker. Chef Guarnaschelli had drawn out this unseemly behavior in me once before and now Chef Falkner had done it again with her vichyssoise. It was sensational and rates as one of the best dishes of the entire series. It would have been foolish to waste a drop. There were some negative comments about her food, however. I thought her scallop dish was lacking in the smoke she had used in the cooking process and Michael Symon thought her cioppino was slightly bland. Otherwise it was another exemplary performance from the competition’s most creative chef.

Michael Chiarello

In my opinion, Chef Zakarian did not present his most elegant plate of food of the competition and I marked him down. That being said, there was no questioning the fact that each of his dishes tastes superb. That each judge had a different favorite tells you just how good they were.

Finally, Chef Chiarello, our favorite storyteller, entered with what I think were some of his finest culinary moments in the competition. His Tuna Arrabbiata was stunning and his lightly smoked fluke was almost as good, even if accompanied by the most painful pun in living memory. However, while my scallop was cooked to perfection, Iron Chef Symon felt his was slightly overdone, a simple flaw that could prevent Chef Chiarello taking that automatic spot in the finale.

I had Chef Zakarian and Chef Chiarello in my top two spots with Chefs Falkner and Guarnaschelli at the bottom. The other judges differed slightly which made for one of the toughest decisions and heated debates so far. After much argument, we agreed that the chef to be automatically eliminated today was Chef Guarnaschelli. It was not unanimous and we all acknowledged that she would have made a superb Iron Chef, but it simply was not her day.

We were equally lacking in agreement on the top chefs, but in the end the tastes of Chef Zakarian’s food, now and throughout the competition, were enough to make us believe he had earned his place in the Kitchen Stadium showdown. If you question how much this meant to him, I can tell you that his legs literally buckled as he was given the good news by Alton Brown.

Next Iron Chef: The Final Four

We made our way back to Kitchen Stadium for the Secret Ingredient Showdown. This time it offered up the challenging prospect of preparing three perfect mouthfuls with wine and crackers. Chef Chiarello brought out my most and least enjoyed bites of the six offered. His chicken liver mousse provided intense flavors and was topped with a piece of brittle that added both texture and sweetness. It was smart and thought-out cooking. However, his goat’s cheese topped with Cabernet “caviar” was more interesting than successful and none of the judges liked it very much.

Chef Falkner’s presentation was not as good as Chef Chiarello’s to my eye and she too had ups and downs when it came to taste. Her chicken mousse was not as powerfully flavored as his, but her shrimp and grits were terrific. Best of all, however, was a highly spiced Indian-style meatball with yogurt raita that was enough to make her my winner. The other judges agreed and that meant that, sadly, Chef Chiarello was the other person to hear the words “I am sorry, but you will not be The Next Iron Chef” from Alton Brown.

He too would have made an impressive addition to the Kitchen Stadium roster. But, after seven hard weeks of judging, Judy Joo, Michael Symon and I had chosen Chef Zakarian and Chef Falkner to duke it out for the title of The Next Iron Chef.

One more battle to go.

More behind-the-scenes extras from Super Chefs, episode 7:

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Comments (241)

  1. someonewhowatches says:

    I've enjoyed the whole series, but… Didn't the Japanese show have some sort of rule that if the challenger beat the same IC twice, they take their spot? Maybe that would be better than this reality TV stuff every year….

  2. Susan says:

    I had hoped Alex Guarneschelli would get to the final 2, if not win. She seems like a real person, not excessively egotistical. Perhaps egotism is the true mark of an IC.
    I think either of the final 2 are confident enough and skilled enough to take the title. GZ has been extremely annoying with the way he flaunts the rules. I felt his arrogance should have removed him early on.

  3. Dot says:

    The only good thing the FN has done in the past years is to remove Emeril Legasse from their lineup. He couldn't cook. Iron Chef, NFNS are rigged.

  4. jeri says:

    Just a little tidbit, I'm having a blast watching NIC from 2009 on the Cooking Channel. It is SO different.

  5. Cheri says:

    I have been watching FN for a long time. I have been watching IC from the days when it was in Japanese. I was hoping that either Robert or Anne would win. Most of all, I DISLIKE the two new judges. Where did they come from. They should not be judges. I am hoping that they both disappear after the new iron chef is chosen.

    • alli2sons says:

      I find the two new judges condescending and self-important. I think chefs should be the judges and leave food critics to do that elsewhere. I also wish the producers would dispense with the ridiculous "contests" and just have the contestants compete in a kitchen environment, with a secret ingredient each week.

      • WestCoastFan says:

        In the Finale the IC's are part of the judging panel. I think they do the judge switch up just to get variety. Donatella Arpia(sp) was a judge in the NIC1 – 3 but her co-judges changed during those 3 seasons. I was surprised when I first didn't see her as a judge for NIC4 but then thought better that a change was good. SimonM has been on for 2 NIC's if (and when) they do another he might be out as a judge and a new critic brought in.

  6. FanFare57 says:

    It's interesting that the judges pushed EF into the final. They had their say. The fans are having our say: So far, Anne has 30% of vote for Fan Favorite. Alex has 12% of the vote. GZ & MC are tied with 6% of the vote.
    Falkner has a grand total of 4% of the vote to be the Fan Favorite. Although it's just a side show, it demonstrates how many interested viewers there are, in watching Falkner compete. Nice going FN. You put your money on the wrong pony.

    • beachinfrizzy says:

      Oh, that's been done before. Remember last season? They booted wildly popular and-too-much-of-a-threat Ming Tsai (and his built-in audience), shafted the talented, refreshing and quietly hilarious Chef Tio because Queen Donatella doesn't like white food, were left with two NYC-based restaurant Italian Chefs (to take the spot of NYC Italian restaurant chef Mario Batali, hmmm) – Canora and Forgione. While Forgione at times was a douche and his cooking questionable ('inedible' grilled poultry, cow-pattie 'mud pie' dessert, tough ravioli and overcooked, oversalted meat in the pressure cooker) Canora was repeatedly shown acting like a total jackass, making Forgione more palatable in comparison. Nothing gets an audience behind the 'winner' like an unappealing runner up.

      • FanFare57 says:

        You make an excellent point. I'd forgotten how woeful Forgione's food was. Canora was a tempermental tween in the kitchen; constantly blaming everyone else for his misplaced ingredients.
        However, Tio wasn't a bargain either. Later, she went on to Top Chef Masters to flop even further into the abyss.

        • beachinfrizzy says:

          Really? I'm bummed to hear that, not that the contrived nature of TC and TCM 'challenges' have much to do with what Iron Chefs do…you know, actually COOK with a fully stocked pantry, capable assistants, and a functional kitchen where nobody needs to fight over the lone working hot plate…in other words, a level playing field. I thought she was great on NIC but didn't watch TCM for the same reason I've barely watched this season of NIC…not that interested in watching a 'competition' when it's painfully obvious who TPTB have preselected to win, or at least go far. She was probably invited onto TCM as cannon-fodder. Ah well, I still think about that lobster shepard's pie. On the other hand…"WHERE'S MY ARTICHOKES??" : )

        • WestCoastFan says:

          I felt bad that she didn't do well in TCM. She didn't win anything but I'm sure there was some donation made to her charity. I think the closest she came to being on the top was when she made that carrot soup for the "Under a dollar" challenge. I also know that her corn soup was well received but unfortunately she was on the losing team for the challenge involving Maroon Five. I do think the judges were a bit wrong in their comments for her salad dish with the pretzel for the "proposal" ep. I don't know if they knew the sentiment regarding the pretzel and it's meaning to the proposer to his proposee. I thought the girls reaction was cute as can be. "Salad and a pretzel, my favorite things. Just one thing missing…beer and a hockey game."

          Oh, and if your curiuous. She said, "yes". :-D

    • katiep says:

      I thought Forgione's cuisine is French-inspired, not Italian.

  7. southernvegan says:

    It's embarrassing to think that we have made these people millionaires, so we can treated as minions rather than fans. I purposely do not watch any host of any show that puts on airs. It is annoying and only works on those people who are social climbers. Show good techniques with ingredients I have available to me at any income range and save your fancy ingredients for your private dinner parties with your elitist friends. Foodies are a big group and the mere fact, that we are not being listened to by the network has caused a sour spot in all of their programming.

  8. southernvegan says:

    Did you see the advertisement for redemption of one Iron Chef contestant? or was that just my imagination?

  9. Lev says:

    I dont understand why the judging's arent done in a BLIND TASTE TEST – then once the top and bottom dishes are picked – THEN the judges find out WHO the chef was. The judges obviously have so many personal biases – it's not like they dont know each other! The biased judging is the worst part of the show.

    • Alli2sons says:

      I agree that the judging would be more fair and interesting if the tasting was done without a friend/collegue looking on. I also think that Michael Symon should have the deciding vote in a dispute since he is an iron chef.

    • WestCoastFan says:

      I don't think that would be completely feasible. Chefs have a certain style to their cooking and perhaps to a lesser point a certain style of plating. If a judge were familiar with that Chef style it still might color how they perceive the dish. I mean honestly if a pasta dish came up to you and you could tell that it was fresh made you're internal guide would most likely say, "Chiarello did this".

  10. @dadpages says:

    This show isn't fixed, but Iron Chef America is. The best television of the year was All-Star Chopped. Where the celeb chefs REALLY had to cook and the baskets were a surprise. ICA is a campy travesty.

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