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'Next Iron Chef': Resources

The chefs enter and spy items such as nasturtium leaves, blueberries, blackberries, snails, and flowers. They're "wild" in the truest sense. And to hammer the wildness home, the chefs will be cooking without a kitchen. No water, no gas, no electricity. This episode is about resourcefulness, and to test it, the contestants will cook outdoors on Weber kettle grills in the C.I.A.'s herb garden. Oh, more torture: They don't get to use the herbs growing around them—only the "pantry" of ingredients on a common table.

Oh, and it's also a double elimination. Two chefs will get cut. See, the chairman feels the winning chefs have been squandering their advantage and being too nice to each other. So here, the winner from last week, Chris Cosentino, pairs them up to "shop" for each other. Each pair member must pick the special ingredients for the other—one protein and a handful of greens, nuts, and fruit. They can be as nice or as nasty with the selections as they wanna be, and for the most part, they all take the low road with their selections, loading them into a cooler and sealing it with tape to be opened later by their victims. [Warning: Spoilage ahead.]

The chefs have 60 minutes to prepare two dishes, and the proceedings happen pretty quickly. It's difficult to follow what's going on, but Besh gets his fire going quickly, even before opening his cooler to find out what he's stuck with. Aarón Sanchez has trouble getting his fire going, but Gavin Kaysen helps him out, giving him some coals. (I think Kaysen was trying to make up for having screwed Sanchez with snails during the "shopping" session.) Cosentino and John Besh are doing something cool—putting sauté pans directly on the grill to cook in, and Besh is even deep-frying in his.

Something funny happens that I hadn't noticed on earlier episodes: Every time Morou speaks, subtitles appear. Come on, Food Network. Is his accent really that hard to understand? I don't think so.

Anyway, the only thing that's unclear to me is what's going on, what with all the frenetic editing and cuts going on, so let's just go to the judges' reactions, which seem to retroactively illuminate the cookery.

Gavin Kaysen | frog legs and raspberries
Grilled frogleg lollipops, marinated in olive oil, crush red bell peppers, red onions, touch of garlic, on a bed of buttered leeks. Paired with a salad of bitter greens topped with quail eggs. Oh, man, the judges do not like the salad. And Ruhlman does not like the frog legs. They're underseasoned, he says.

Michael Symon | quail, mushrooms, berries
He's going the extra mile, kissing up to the judges, laying out his philosophy of outdoor entertaining—it requires a beverage, he says, so he provides them with some fresh berries muddled with sugar and water. His first dish is a polenta (made from the pantry's corn meal, which he noticed no one was using) topped with crisp wild mushrooms and cooked, innovatively, using his chimney charcoal starter as a stove. His second dish is family-style quail topped with salad of grilled onions and berries. He felt he was taking a chance with the family-style thing, but it goes over well in the outdoor environment. And his drink worked. It was hot, the judges said, and they appreciated the courtesy. The stove-cooked polenta showed resourcefulness in both use of pantry item and cooking method.

John Besh | rabbit and sassafras
Besh makes a grilled rabbit saddle, wrapped in sassafras leaf and served over blackberry gastrique, paired with a chicken-fried rabbit leg. Second dish was a rabbit salad with a poppy-flower vinaigrette. The judges liked his fried rabbit leg. "Frying in hot oil over open flame is cool," Ruhlman says, but he's getting dinged on the mushy texture of his rabbit loin. "Like eating a wet tissue," judge Andrew Knowlton says.

Chris Cosentino | squab breast, juniper, and dandelion greens
Costentino goes for a first dish of juniper-smoked squab breast marinated in sherry vinegar. Second dish: squab and dandelion-green salad with red onion, blackberries, and toasted black walnuts. Donatella loves the salad. But, uh oh, Ruhlman's givin' Cosentino the stink-eye over a few uncut salad greens. Oh, come on. Big deal. Knowlton is underwhelmed with the squab breast and says that sautéed mushrooms with butter, well, that's just not resourceful. Ruhlman agrees, saying the second dish is a "pro forma restaurant dish." They all say that Cosentino seems to be in a pattern—one dish is good, the other is so-so.

Aarón Sanchez | escargot and mixed greens
Grilled escargot on garlic-scape skewers for a first dish. He's hoping the garlic scapes impart some of their flavor to the snails. A little walnut pesto on top. The judges seem impressed. Second dish is a warm mushroom salad—smoked mushrooms. Knowlton is again "underwhelmed." Donatella liked the grilled lily salad but wonders why Sanchez didn't use the escargot in both dishes. They all think he was a bit lazy in not doing so. Ruhlman likes the escargot dish. Knowlton "credits the farm in Burgundy for that," and Ruhlman is now giving Knowlton the stink eye. Knowlton: "He's disappointed me every time, and now I feel like giving up on him."

Morou Ouattara | venison and assorted fruits and greens
Morou seems to have been treated nicely by Besh during the shopping bit. He gets venison. His first dish is grilled venison with a wildflower vinaigrette and some day lilies on the side. Second dish is venison tenderloin medallions with walnut pesto. With some blueberry barbecue sauce. (Wha?) The judges don't dig Morou's plating. "Why's everything separate?" they ask. "Everything is constantly in little piles," Donatella Arpaia says. Knowlton feels Morou's the most creative in doing so much more with only a few ingredients. The marinated venison was the best dish of the challenge, they say, but the plating was monotonous. "Could you make five distinct-looking dishes in an Iron Chef competition?"

Anyway, after the initial round of tasting, they cut to the Q&A session where the judges probe for motivations and ask telling questions about what they've eaten. And with six chefs left, they send the best three back into the Iron Kitchen to cook another day:

Cosentino survives, even though his food was "uneven."

Besh survives, even though the judges are tiring of his "gosh-darn I'm from the South" cookery—the chicken-fried rabbit leg here being this episode's example.

Symon survives. What's more, he's the challenge winner. Even though the judges don't feel he's been listening to their suggestions or advice overall. Today, though, he brings his A game with the beverage, the family-style quail, and the explanation of his outdoor-entertaining philosophy.

Congrats, gentlemen. I'll look forward to watching you next week.

That leaves Morou, Sanchez, and Kaysen. Alton calls for a private pow-wow with the judges to figure out which two get the axe. Both Kaysen and Sanchez did not use the protein in a second dish, Knowlton points out. Kaysen's getting flak for the underseasoning of the frog legs

Things get a little heated between Ruhlman and Knowlton. Arpaia tries to diffuse the tension. Then Alton asks them each to write down the name of the Iron Chef who gets to stay on a piece of paper and pass them down to him. What if they each write down a different chef?

They don't, of course. Kaysen's out unanimously for his light touch with the salt shaker, but when it comes to Morou and Sanchez there's some dissent amoung the judges. They like Morou for his well-cooked, beautiful food, but his "unwillingness to bring the food together shows a lack of ability to tie up a dish into a whole."

Sanchez has shown flashes of brilliance to the judges, but an uneveness, and perhaps a lack of passion, mars his work.

Morou gets canned (and so too the show's subtitler, I suspect).

But Sanchez shouldn't be too relieved. The only reason he's still standing, Alton says, is that Kaysen didn't season properly. Sometimes a little salt makes all the difference indeed.

Related Reading

Judge Michael Ruhlman on the episode
Adam "The Amateur Gourmet" Roberts's take on the shenanigans

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