It was clear from the very first taste of Chef Freitag’s Lusty Lemon Chicken that she was going to be the first rival chef to reach Kitchen Stadium. It really was that good. But deciding who would be joining her would prove to be much more difficult.
I very much liked Chef Appleman’s use of haddock (chosen by me because of my love for fish and chips) in his chowder, but agreed with my colleagues that it lacked the advertised smoked element. Similarly, while we all thought that Chef Guarnaschelli’s dish of sea urchin was elegant, it definitely lacked the acidity that it needed to bring out the depth of flavor of the seafood. It was close, but in the end Chef Guarnaschelli took the second spot in Kitchen Stadium.
Both these chefs deserved their places in the finale, and to make sure that the long-standing Iron Chefs had their say in the final decision, Bobby Flay, Michael Symon and Masaharu Morimoto helped swell the ranks at the judges’ table. In honor of the Iron Chefs, the Chairman revealed the Secret Ingredients on the altar, which represented each of them and the cuisines they specialize in.
The four remaining chefs were asked to transform the much-maligned Las Vegas buffet into something worthy of Kitchen Stadium Sunday night.
After legendary magician David Copperfield pronounced that bacon was to be the main ingredient, Chef Freitag paired herself with Chef Appleman to face off against the decidedly odd couple of Chef Guarnaschelli and Chef Vigneron.
The end results brought some real highs and some very definite lows on both sides. I thought that Chefs Freitag and Appleman’s salad lacked any of the announced lime and jalapeno dressing, leaving it bland and tasteless. Their dessert called “The Elvis,” however, still ranks as one of the very best tastes of the whole competition.
Chefs Guarnaschelli and Vigneron produced two triumphant dishes in the form of bacon-wrapped bacon and sublime roast chicken. But they let themselves down by presenting undercooked leeks and a chocolate mousse that was grainy and unpalatable. It was enough to send them both to the Secret Ingredient Showdown to battle it out for a spot in the finale.
Keep reading and get an extended preview of the finale
Creating coherent dishes out of unlikely ingredients can be one of the biggest tests of any chef’s skill. Asking them to do so with the marriage-made-in-hell offerings paired by Alton Brown was the perfect challenge to determine which of the five remaining competitors really did have what it takes to become the Next Iron Chef.
Chef Freitag’s ability to combine calamari and marshmallows so splendidly was as brilliant as it was unlikely and meant she unanimously earned her second win of the competition. Chef Vigneron’s creation of blue cheese ice cream with peanut butter brittle was a close second and proved beyond a doubt that he had become a very serious challenger for the title.
Chef Guarnaschelli’s insistence on playing it safe could have seen her relegated to her first Secret Ingredient Showdown. She was saved by Chef Appleman’s undercooked pasta in an oil-slick sauce, however, and Chef Mehta’s preparation of bone marrow did little to hide his contempt for the candy element of his pairing.
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