Changing the Game: New Rules on Iron Chef America

by in Shows, January 19th, 2013

Iron Chef AmericaFans of Iron Chef America have probably noticed that there have been a couple of significant changes in the way that winners are selected in Kitchen Stadium recently.

No longer do the chefs get the benefit of a full hour of cooking before they are asked to present their first dish to the judges — the first dish is now expected in just 20 minutes. And to add to their discomfort, at some point during the 60-minute contest, the Chairman will also wheel out a small trolley to reveal a “Culinary Curveball” to be incorporated into the final presentation. Both of these new challenges carry with them significant points and how the chef performs can put them at a major advantage or disadvantage for the rest of the battle.

I can tell you that these changes have taken a bit of getting used to, both for the chefs and the judges. Now that I have taken part in a number of competitions under these new regulations, however, I can hold my hand up and say that I am a fan of the new format.

The 20-Minute Challenge

I particularly like this new element in Iron Chef America, as it serves to level out the playing field between the Iron Chef and their challenger. Many chefs can be intimidated by their surroundings upon their arrival to Kitchen Stadium, especially if it’s their first time. I have seen plenty of them freeze the moment the Chairman shouts, “Allez cuisine!” Some become incapable of producing the food we believe them to be capable of.

Here’s the deal: Because both chefs now have to create their first dish in just 20 minutes, that leaves little time for the challenger to encounter stage fright, so they can get straight down to the battle. It also means that the Iron Chefs can’t fall back on their normal game plans and have to be at their best from the get-go. If not, they can find themselves behind on points and playing catch-up for the rest of the contest.

A perfect example of this can be seen in the recent battle between Iron Chef Bobby Flay and Chef Viet Pham from Salt Lake City, Utah. The Iron Chef’s offering barely made it to the judging table in the allotted time and was so oversalted that it was marked down by all three judges. This gave Chef Pham a handy lead for the rest of the competition.

And, of course, there is one extra added benefit to the 20-Minute Challenge; in that it provides us with an all-too-rare opportunity to see Iron Chef Zakarian panicking, running and raising a sweat, all of which is surely worth the admission price on its own!

The Culinary Curveball

I was a lot less certain about the second change to the rules  the Chairman’s Culinary Curveball as I thought at first that its only purpose was to disrupt the chefs just for the sake of it. As I have seen the chefs react to the ingredients or tools presented by the Chairman, however, it’s obvious that it gives them both added inspiration and new creative possibilities.

In her very first battle against Judy Joo, Iron Chef Guarnaschelli was given a Danish aebleskiver pan as her Culinary Curveball, and she used it to prepare small Mortadella dumplings that impressed all the judges. The points they awarded for this creativity definitely helped her on her way to victory.

There is also some entertainment value to this new challenge. Few people who have seen the battle between Iron Chefs Forgione, Symon and Zakarian, and their rivals from Chopped (Conant, Murphy and Sanchez) will forget the amusing look of horror on the faces of all concerned as the Chairman pulled away the cloth to reveal a canister of liquid nitrogen during the Battle Thanksgiving Leftovers. The fact that none of them would consider this tool part of their normal culinary repertoire meant they were well out of their comfort zone.

While I know that change is often difficult to come to terms with, particularly when you are dealing with something as well established as the rules of Iron Chef America, I hope that like me, you will all begin to see the value in these twists and enjoy the new levels of excitement they bring with them.

At the very least, you can join me in shouting, “Run, Geoffrey, run!” whenever Iron Chef Zakarian is called upon to deliver his first dish in only 20 minutes.

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Comments (75)

  1. Myra says:

    I really hate the new attempts at making Iron Chef even less of a cooking challenge and more of a cheesy game show.

  2. Real says:

    Take Donatella off as a judge. She needs to Get off her high horse and learn how to lighten up. Stop creating new iron chefs that don't deserve the title. Find some real talent that people can respect and stop taking chefs from show to show. Your network is becoming all about the politics and less and less talent. There are thousands of better chefs across the country that u should spend money out seeking.

  3. MeWagner says:

    I am a faithful fan of FN, and always have my TV tuned to one of the cooking channels. I watch, and watch many several times.

    I personally LOVE the new ICA format!! I find it exciting, fun and even the judges seem to be having more fun, and be more personable. I love the new 20 min. dish requirement, and the "curve ball". I'm sure it is a bit more stressful for the chefs involved, but hey, they are "chefs" and are accustomed to stress in the kitchen.

    TY for the updated program, keep up the good work!

    • Just Wondering says:

      The originality of IC was incredible. Now its a cookie cutter version of other food "game shows". FN certainly can do what they want to freshen up a show but why change an original gem.


    THIS IS A HORRIBLE IDEA! IF THE CHAIRMAN (THE ORIGINAL JAPANESE CHAIRMAN) WAS ALIVE HE WOULD THROW A FIT AND COMMIT SEPPUKU! This show is slowly going down the tubes. I'm glad that I haven't watched it in years. Shame on you Food Network execs for taking the one show that made you a cult favorite so many years ago and ruining its history and reputation.

    • guest says:

      and get real chef that can cook not something out of your talent pool

    • uldihaa says:

      Takeshi Kaga ( real name Shigekatsu Katsuta) is alive and well and still acting in movies, TV shows and on stage.

      "I'm glad that I haven't watched it in years."

      Expressing an opinion based in ignorance is rarely a good idea.

  5. Sharon says:

    I am saddened by the 'curve ball'. It seems quite cheesy and in my opinion cheapens the show. Perhaps add this element only occasionally for ic vs ic battles? I was already tuning in less as the ' theatrics' tht Alton has been throwing were starting at take away from the competition. This may be the last straw for me….

  6. DDAY says:

    Are you kidding? what a mess, The show stood fine on it's own…why mess with a good solid program?
    Take it to GSN if you want giggles and things like that. I enjoyed the show for years with this nonsense. Guy Fieri even sought work over there apparently. Sad.

    • JustMe says:

      I totally disagree.. I do not watch for "giggles" as I get enough of that with my "babies".. I watch for method, new techniques, knowledge, and just to watch the "chefs" do their thing. I am only a cook, but I really like the "change"… I've watched the "old way" for almost two years, and while I enjoyed it and learned much; I really enjoy the "new" change. Perhaps my pov only applies to those who are older, are only cooks, and also enjoys change.

  7. Betty says:

    I enjoy the show, but am sometimes confused by the culinary terminology. For instance, what is gnudi? I even tried to google it and got "no results". I also put it on your website, got a few recipes on Giada's page, but it gave me nothing. Please explain!

    • Imagine taking a ricotta filling out of a ravioli and using it as the main ingredient. That's gnudi. It means "naked", and is a quasi-pasta, so to speak. You can mix spinach or other cheeses into it, roll it into balls, and treat it like pasta with the sauce of your choice. Google "pasta gnudi" for a few recipe options. Hope this helps!

      • JustMe says:

        Wow, thanks for the info. I am just beginning to make my own pasta as a pasts machine was was Christmas request. It does take a minute to learn, even for ppl who know their way around in the kitchen.

  8. I have to agree that the new rules make ICA look like a cheesy game show, especially since all of the other competitions on FN now incorporate the same "twist" format. I adore Food Network but they need to learn that there IS a such thing as too much of a good thing. It cheapens it, as someone else said. I will admit, however, that it's hard to resist when Alton Brown yells "It's the CART of CULINARY CHAOS!"

    I am willing to take Simon's advice and try to adjust to the new show. I love ICA and almost everybody on it. Don't get rid of the current hosts and judges, and I'll keep watching. Especially AB and Mark. Lose them and ICA is toast.

  9. Maggie says:

    I do not like the new format. i think the culinary curveball is a strike!! it needs to go.

    • Just Wondering says:

      I haven't heard of any chefs complain about the 1 hour time before. Sure it's a pressure cooker but that adds to the excitement and intensity and keeps the show going. The original Japan is the best and the first AICs were great. I guess since it's the American version it can be changed with each new chef.

  10. JustMe says:

    So sorry that my pov is not the same as most here. I have only watched FN or CC for about a two years or so. I do watch it hours on end, and watch many of the shows from 2007, 8, etc. I suppose it just depends on a persons pov. I am not "into" it as a career, for me it is about LEARNING.. New skills, foods, appliances, methods, teciniques etc.

    I am only a "cook", and not a "chef", and a bit older than knee high to a grasshopper.. I love change, learning new things, and watching the "chefs" and how they respond/interact. Watching the new format was good for me after watching the "same ole, same ole" for more almost 2 years.

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