There is rarely a time when the large bowl in my kitchen is not filled with whatever fruity delights are in season. And when I’m worn out by my travels, it’s a delicious piece of fruit that I crave more than anything else to restore my good humor.
Of the many different types of fruit I love, it is the appearance of sweet, juicy plums at my local farmers’ market that excites me the most. This is not only because they are so good when eaten raw, but also because I love to cook with them.
I definitely picked up some new ideas for my kitchen from Iron Chef Symon and his recent challenger, Chef Tio, and I hope they will inspire you too to make even more of the huge variety of plums available today.
What are plums?
Plums, or prunus domestica, are part of the family of drupe fruits. This is a genus of plant where the seed is protected by a hard shell and, just like plums, includes peaches, cherries and almonds.
Simon breaks down the Secret Ingredient
As a very proud Englishman, I know that it is tea rather than blood that flows through my veins and that it’s a very rare day indeed when I don’t pop the kettle on the stove for a nice strong “cuppa” to fortify me through a long day of work.
Although I was disappointed not to be asked to judge this particular battle in Kitchen Stadium, I was just as keen as everyone else to see what magic Iron Chef Forgione and his challenger, Chef Kittichai could come up with to give inspiration on new ways to use one of my own kitchen essentials.
Here are 10 interesting facts that you might not know about tea:
1. The word tea comes from the Chinese T’e, which was the word in the Amoy dialect for the plant from which tea leaves came. In Mandarin, the word was ch’a, which is where the words char and chai are derived from.
Last night’s Iron Chef America battle between Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian and Michael Chiarello brought one of my favorite tipples to the forefront: Scotch whisky. Instead of breaking down the ingredient like I usually do, here are 10 interesting facts that you may not know about this Secret Ingredient:
1. The term “whisky” is actually derived from the Gaelic words uisage beatha, which in turn came from the Latin Acqua Vitae or “water of life.” It’s thought that the name refers to the fact that these spirits were first used by monks for medicinal purposes.
2. The oldest reference to the production of whisky is not in fact in Scotland, but in Ireland, where it is believed that monks began distilling spirits as far back as the fifth century. The first reference from Scotland is found in the Exchequer rolls, the accounting records for the royal finances in 1494, where an allowance was made for “eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae.”
Keep reading for more facts
I was thrilled to be asked to judge a Kitchen Stadium battle between Bobby Flay and Viet Pham, as they are two of my favorite chefs in the country. I was even more thrilled when the Chairman revealed that the Secret Ingredient for the challenge was to be ground meat. It may seem like an ingredient that is hard to elevate to Iron Chef levels, but I was certain that in the hands of these two accomplished chefs, my fellow judges and I were in for a real treat. I was right.
What is ground meat?
As the name suggests, ground meat is animal flesh that has been minced, once or twice depending on the use, and then mixed with onions, spices or herbs. It can then be shaped into such things as hamburgers or meatballs, cooked “loose” in meat sauces or even eaten raw (with caution). The most popular ground meat used in the United States is of course beef, but chicken, pork and turkey are also commonly available as are some more exotic meats such as venison, elk and even bison. Traditionally, grinding was a way of making tougher, cheaper cuts of meat easier to prepare, and while this is still generally the case, you can now find many butchers and restaurants grinding expensive parts of the animal for more premium dishes.
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There are no easy tests in Kitchen Stadium. The first battle for any newly crowned Iron Chef, however, is perhaps the toughest of all. The glory of winning The Next Iron Chef competition is all but forgotten and the winner now has to prove themselves worthy in the world’s toughest culinary arena.
It also doesn’t make any difference that Iron Chef Guarnaschelli has become familiar with Kitchen Stadium over the last year, as Iron Chef Zakarian’s sous chef. This time around, she was master, not servant, and any defeat would be associated directly with her name.
It was ironic that her first opponent would be Judy Joo, who — along with Iron Chef Michael Symon and I — was responsible for eliminating her in Season 4 of The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs. She not only battled to win, but also had a very definite point to prove.
The Secret Ingredient was mortadella (something her fellow rival chef, Chef Nate Appleman, is now very familiar with) and both chefs managed to get their first dish in front of the judges within the 20-minute time frame. Neither was declared a great success, but Iron Chef Guarnaschelli came away with a slender lead of two points to take into the rest of the battle.
So many people tell me that they wish they could see what happens behind-the-scenes as we film The Next Iron Chef. So here’s just a little insight into what a regular day might be like as I play my part in helping to decide who is going be the newest addition to the culinary pantheon (read the winner’s interview here).
6:30 a.m. — I head to the gym. A body this lovely doesn’t keep itself (no sniggering at the back).
9:00 a.m. — Being bald has its benefits. I have not visited a barber or bought shampoo in the last 15 years. Best of all, it means that during the filming of The Next Iron Chef each season, I have the latest call time of any member of the cast.
As Chef Guarnaschelli dons her jacket and prepares for her first battle this Sunday as a fully fledged Iron Chef, I now have a chance to look back over the last eight weeks and select my highlights from the nearly 100 dishes that were placed in front of the judges during the competition.
It’s certainly no easy task, as I genuinely believe that the level of cooking this year was even higher than in previous seasons. But I’ve come up with my list of the top 10 tastes from The Next Iron Chef: Redemption.
10. Clam Chowder: Chef Estes (Road to Redemption Web Series, Battle Potato)
Chef Estes never really showed her considerable skill to the best effect this season. The clam chowder (pictured above) she prepared in the cook-off competition against Chef Wong, however, was evidence that she deserved her place in the final 10. If you’re going to serve chowder to the judges, it had better be the best you’ve made. I suspect this was pretty close and it received rave reviews from Alton Brown, Iron Chef Jose Garces and me.
Find out which dish made Simon’s top spot
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.
There’s no question that this season of The Next Iron Chef: Redemption has been one of Food Network’s most-intense culinary competitions to date. After all, 10 superstar chefs have put their personal and professional reputations on the line — for a second time — in the hopes of making gastronomical history by claiming the only title that matters: that of The Next Iron Chef. Week after week rivals fall and their hopes at achieving redemption become crushed in an instant.
Despite the anxious, pressure cooker-like challenges and Showdowns in which the chefs inevitably find themselves, judge Simon Majumdar has managed to interject a host of witty, well-timed reactions and one-liners that delivered some of the smartest and flat-out funniest moments of the show. Among his best instances of constructive and comedic criticism have been his reaction to Chef Spike Mendelsohn’s use of an apparently juvenile melon baller — he quipped that “We are talking about becoming The Next Iron Chef, not The Next Home Dinner Party Cook” — and his judgment of Alex Guarnaschelli’s too-green spiced ham ravioli, which he deemed reminiscent of “Kermit in a blender.” These sharp, entertaining remarks have provided some of the most LOL-worthy moments of the season to date, and what makes them perhaps even more hilarious is that they’re coming from Simon, a notoriously no-nonsense judge with little tolerance for less than perfection.
Get the best one-liners
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