April 26, 2004

If memory serves me right...

The Mrs. Frinklin and I are devotees of the Food Network. I’m not quite sure how it happened though. For a long time I thought about food on TV like Jerry Seinfeld did: Can’t smell it, can’t taste it, what’s the point? I converted through the power of Iron Chef. For those of you who have not seen the Iron Chef, a quick explanation: Two accomplished chefs meet in a one-hour cookoff, using a special ingrediant neither of them know what is beforehand.

My lovely wife was of course the reason behind this; she was fan long before me. At first, I was hesitant; a badly dubbed Japanese cooking show hosted by seemingly insane James Bond villain? Sorry hun, it’s not really my thing. I relented though, and we spent a Saturday night at home watching a 2-hour special. The first featured Iron Chef Kenichi, as reserved a fellow wearing bright yellow satin pajamas can be, challenged by a slightly insane chef who seemed to think he was a medieval samurai. This was followed by a rematch between the American Bobby Flay (who seemed like a great big jerk) versus Iron Chef Morimoto, who seemed cool. Iron Chef hooked me by about halfway through the first hour. It’s still a favorite. Not a show you seek out, but one of the basic-cable standbys that seem to be on whenever you need it. Everyone who has cable has these shows. For me it is Iron Chef, Unwrapped (another Food Network addiction) Sportscenter, The Planet’s Funniest Animals, and Modern Marvels. No matter what time it is, day or night, at least one of those shows is on. If none of them is, then I might have to think. No one wants that.

Therefore, the Mrs. Frinklin and I were anxiously awaiting Iron Chef America: Battle of the Masters. It isn’t the first American version of Iron Chef. There was a short-lived Iron Chef America on UPN a couple years ago hosted by William Shatner, but it slipped by unnoticed, even by us. This new one, this could be good. It was on The Food Network, where it belongs. Its Iron Chefs were American culinary royalty; Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, and the aforementioned great big jerk Bobby Flay. To top it off, this version would import two Japanese Iron Chefs: Miramoto and Sakai. Sakai was always my favorite: a French specialist who never loses his cool and usually wins. Now, all four episodes are in, and the Frinklin Household reaction:


It was okay. It was not great. I really began to wonder if the show would ever translate, that one of its best points is its essential Japanese weirdness. The American version seemed to slick, too streamlined. Instead of Liberace outfits, the new “chairman” wore an understated black suit. Instead of the bizarre, medieval theme running though Kitchen Stadium, everything was muted; more Pottery Barn-ish. Instead of the classic Day-Glo satin outfits, our Iron Chefs wore light blue smocks, almost what you would expect the cooks about the starship Enterprise would wear. Alton Brown was overworked as both the play-by-play and color guy, and the “field reporter” was so bland I can’t remember his face let alone his name. For the most part, they got the judges right, the same mix of food people and D-level celebrities. I did miss the politician though; almost inevitably, the Japanese version would have a Lower House Member on it. Wouldn’t you love to see Tom DeLay or Jane Harmon attempt to explain why they don’t like sashimi? One thing: if you’re going to have a Japanese chefs on, don’t have a judge who “don’t like it uncooked.” C’mon, embrace diversity Mr. Used-to-be-Big-Pussy.

Despite the missing kitsch factor, the show was enjoyable, if just for the dazzling creations. It was disheartening to see neither of the Japanese chefs win. I think Sakai had a very good chance until he came up with trout flavored ice cream. I guess some things are too weird for Iron Chef America.

Posted by Frinklin at April 26, 2004 07:31 PM

Found your blog on BlogSnob... Just wanted to say that I had exactly the same reaction to IronChef America as you did. I was still drooling over the food, but everything else... ehhh. I read some of the reactions over at the IronChef America forums, and it look like a lot of people weren't impressed. But they seemed to think that the judging was the worst part, whereas I agree with you that the problems were mostly due to the presentation of the show itself. Hopefully, it'll improve with time...

Posted by: seadragon at April 26, 2004 09:48 PM

The judging was okay, save for the Sopranos guys and the nitwit food critic from Vogue. His self-importance just repelled me. No, the problem with Iron Chef America was the overly-slick and wierdness free presentation.

Posted by: frinklin at April 27, 2004 09:56 PM

Iron Chef kicks ass... did you see the Futurama episode where Bender competed on the Iron Chef type cooking show with his secret ingredient (water) and the host of the show was Elzar (a knock off off Emeril)... funny stuff.

Posted by: Madfish Willie at April 28, 2004 09:58 AM
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