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. Lou says:

    Every one of these folks who are bagging on the 20 min. dish requirement, AND the "culinary curve ball" are taking this (and perhaps THEMSELVES too seriously). I've been an avid watcher of ICA for years, and I believe the show is better because of these two new aspects. While I can take or leave the 20 min. dish requirement, the "curve ball" is terrific–maybe an ingredient, or piece of equipment for the chefs to utilize? The "curve ball" is GREAT for picking up tips on how that ingredient or piece of equipment will / can be used. All in all, its an excellent show, now made even BETTER. Some last thoughts: Please instruct Kevin B. that it's "ALTON" not Elton. It's about as aggravating as seeing him in the face of these chefs as they are trying to get things accomplished during the show. He used to stand some distance away as they would make an inquiry of the chef, but now has become what is lightly referred to as a
    "personal space impinger".

  2. concerned viewer says:

    I have watched and loved IC for a while now, and am not sure at all about the new rules/change of format. It is looking too gimmicky/game showish.
    However, I have decided I will not be able to watch the judging part of any airing that has Judy Joo and Eden Grinshpan as judges. I was horrifed last night to see their dining etiquette!! Judy's arm and elbow on the table, Eden stuffing just about her whole hand in her mouth at one point. That may be able to be corrected with different camera angles, shots, etc. However, Judy's arm on the table cannot be corrected, except by her.
    I agree with a previous poster that Kevin needs work on Alton's name. That is becoming pretty irritating.

  3. Guest says:

    I'm sorry but I still love the original format of the show. This new format is extremely gimmicky and definitely makes the show too whimsical. Ohhh and PS, Im still pissed that Alex won NICA, definitely should have been Faulkner, Frietag or Appleman. Each of those chefs would have brought some flare to the lineup.

  4. Packer says:

    It's way over-producing. Idon't mind the 20-minute challenge. I rather like it. But I hate The Culinary Curveball. This is not "The next foodnetwork star!" or "Next Iron Chef." This is Iron Chef. We want to see top skill vs top skill. We want to see real top competitions. We don't want twists & turns during their cooking time. And I don't like revealing the taste scores before the chairman announces the match result. Just get rid of those two points.

  5. Suzanne says:

    More spectacle and circus atmosphere than serious cooking competition…

    The original and only respectable Iron Chef was kitschy BUT it was also respectful of its culinary inspiration.

    This American twist (which does not represent America well) is just a gimmick to introduce drama because we live in a short attention span culture. It takes more than it gives as such stunts merely demean the ICA brand.

    Shame on Food Network!

  6. Bubba says:

    As a young child I used to be glued to food network every night to watch a rerun of the original Iron Chef. I admired the beauty and finesse that Chef Sakai, and Chef Chen, and Chef Michiba, and of course Chef Morimoto when his time came, displayed to me and how the show centered around respect for the ingredients and a true love for what these Chefs do. I wanted nothing more than to become a future Iron Chef, to rise to the ranks of a true master and artesian. To EARN the title and its responsibilities. But now, the title is nothing more than a joke. It means nothing and carries with it no respect. No honor. What was once a powerful, moving experience is now just a great american debacle. While the "curveball," is a fun playful idea, its overpomped. The cheesy sound affects are damn too much to bear anymore at that. While the Japanese version inspired me to cook, ICA will remind me to stay true to who I am and not sell out and cheapen my reasons to cook.

    • Amandafan says:

      Bubba speaks for me as well. The original Iron Chef made me want to cook and eat interesting dishes – it expanded my culinary interest and exploration. Iron Chef America turns my stomach with gimmicks and sideshows…

    • uldihaa says:

      For the Japanese, the original IC was just overly dramatic and over-blown as ICA is to Americans. Since you're big fan of the original, surely you remember the introduction of the challenger? Always accompanied by a rather over-done scene that wouldn't have looked out of place in a super sentai show?

  7. the new format is just dumb. the beauty of iron chef was equal battle of your best work against his best work. now this stuff is putting luck into it. come on curveball?! it ruins others food. the 20min i kind of like, it shows their quick work.

  8. John Ostrander says:

    Hate hate HATE the new rules. I've watched IC going back to the original version and I might quit it. As someone else noted, IC is NOT Chopped or any of the other shows with a "twist". The secret ingredient and the one hour time frame were enough. FN, stop scrwing around and get back to what worked.

  9. rachel says:

    change it back to the way it was!! be a good network and listen to your viewers. I no longer want to watch the cooking portion of the show (the best part in the old format)…now I change the channel and come back for the tasting portion. I am sure you and your sponsors do not want to lose viewers for a majority of the episode. If i want to watch a game show Ill watch a game show. i want to watch two extremely talented chefs head off against each other in a battle of pure skill and creativity without gimmicks.

  10. Shezogie says:

    I also do not like the new format. Please change it back to the way it was.

    • Rosalie says:

      I really really do not like the new format. The 20 minute challenge is silly as is the curve ball. The chefs spend 20 minutes on one dish and only have 40 to prepare four other dishes–good grief! As for the curve ball–a melon cutter-really? With only a few minutes left of the contest ?

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