'Next Iron Chef': The Finale

The show opens and, you know what? I'm really happy there are only two chefs left. That's fewer people to match dishes to. And, I think—I hope—that this finale will devote as much time to, you know, the cooking process as it will to the judging shenanigans and the plethora of commercials that breaks up those deliberations.

Anyway—exciting: The finalists, Michael Symon and John Besh, will face off in Kitchen Stadium, giving one man a taste of his future and the other a taste of what might have been.

At this point, and I'm typing here at the three-minute mark, I've got to admit to you that I'm pretty sure I know who wins. That is, if the Toronto Star restaurant column that appeared on October 6 is to be believed. (By the way, don't click that link if you don't want any spoilage.)

Speaking of spoilage, it follows, after the jump.

OK. Glad you followed me through.

We get some highlights of the chefs' high and low points and some voiceover from each contestant.

Symon: "I'm ready to tear it up. I'm gonna tear Kitchen Stadium up today" and "John, you know it's been a good run. And I love ya, but it's time to go home."

Besh: "I'm focused on winning today and cooking with all my heart and passion" and "Mike, you're a great guy. Your jokes are hilarious, and I'm sorry that you're gonna have to lose today."

Oooh. Another twist: The Chairman asks current Iron Chefs Bobby Flay, Cat Cora, and Masaharu Morimoto to watch and pass judgment on who might join their team.

And ... the secret ingredient—how appropriate—SWORDFISH!

Get it? A duel? Yeah.

The Chairman: "In the words of my uncle, I say unto you—ALLEZ CUISINE!"

And They're Off!

Damn, that's a hunk of fish, and they're both hacking away, cutting loins, grabbing neck meat. They're both quick on the draw getting sautés and stocks going for who knows what yet.

Not surprising, Besh is going somewhat Cajun, making a court-boullion of shrimp heads, roasted fish bones, and olive oil. And given New Orleans' location on the Gulf of Mexico, you'd think he'd have a natural advantage here, coming from a city with a richer seafood tradition than Cleveland. But, we'll see. He's also got some corn blinis on the grill and some sort of swordfish mousse going on in a food processor.

Symon throws the collar cut of the fish into a Dutch oven with some garlic, jalapeño, chorizo, and littleneck clams. There's also a salsa verde in the works, and he's pressure-cooking beets and lambs' tongues. Uh oh, he brings out the sous vide machine. Judge Donatella Arpaia is "very excited" to see Symon using the "culinary innovative techniques."

Besh has also got some swordfish circles deep-frying as well as some thinly sliced swordfish that he's marinating with olive oil, lemon, and dill. He's also rolling out some pasta. Whatever for? We'll see.

Spoiler Right Here

Host Alton Brown makes the comment that there are a wide range of flavors coming out of Symon's side of the kitchen. And Symon himself says he's stepping away from the Greek and Mediterranean influence he's known for. I think this might be another one of those pointed comments Brown has become known for on the show. Taken together with the fact that Besh is going comfortably Cajun and that he's been dinged for that in past shows, it's looking more and more like that Toronto Sun article was correct when it revealed Symon as the new Iron Chef. (Oh! That hurt, huh? Well, as I'm writing this at the 22-minute mark, I still don't know if that's how it all shakes out. Keep reading.)

And the dishes are starting to come together, with each chef plating at least two dishes.

Alton ask the Iron Chef judges how things are going. Morimoto says he wants to see dessert. Swordfish dessert? Uh oh. I don't think either chef has mentioned dessert. Besh comes up with an idea pronto and gets to it. Doesn't look like Symon's going to do one, though.

And it's one minute to go. Let's wait it out and go to the menus.

Symon's Menu
  • Marinated swordfish with soy-sesame yuzu, sous-vided and finished in warm marinade, served over lamb's tongue, paired with a prosecco cocktail
  • Olive oil–poached swordfish, cooked in the immersion circulator
  • Swordfish ravioli with a truffle-butter sauce
  • Spice-roasted swordfish over roasted pineapple with a pineapple salsa and a coconut and ancho chile sauce
  • Crisp swordfish topped with beets and microgreens
  • Braised swordfish collar with grilled swordfish, along with some chorizo

Damn! Symon cleans up! Five of his six dishes are raves with the Iron Chef judges. The spice-roasted pineapple swordfish dish totally blows all the Iron Chefs away. Besh better come hard with his line-up...

Besh's Menu
  • Cold applewood-smoked swordfish, served with a Louisiana wine, corn blini, fresh mascarpone cheese, and paddlefish roe
  • Swordfish crunchy roll, which is lobster wrapped with marinated swordfish, served over buttermilk dressing, with a spicy salad on top
  • Swordfish brandade agnolotti, stuffed with a swordfish mousse made from the neck meat, lots of garlic, and lots of olive oil
  • "Breaded" swordfish, baked, covered with crab meat and served over hollandaise
  • Blackened swordfish and shrimp, served with roasted shrimp in a little broth
  • Swordfish piccata, sautéed with chanterelle mushrooms and bacon, served over a purée of cauliflower and a reduction of eel stock
  • Swordfish cream in brik pastry, fried and served with berries, cinnamon, and black pepper

Besh's first dish wows the judges ("exceptional," they say), the second is a dud ("not enough swordfish," Flay and Morimoto declare), the third is "fantastic," the fourth is anothe dud, the fifth would have been perfect without the shrimp, the sixth is so-so. Besh gets major props from the Iron Chefs for making dessert. Cora says it's in the "Iron Chef spirit" to do so. And of course Morimoto loves the brown-nosing. Flay is iffy on the dessert, saying it was risky to attempt something on a whim when it's the last thing you're leaving the judges to taste.

Here Come the Judges

OK. Judgment time is upon us. And now the original three judges and the Iron Chefs are weighing the candidates.

Symon started out shaky, but he went on "to excel and excel and excel," Ruhlman says. Besh was solid throughout and steady, they all agree. They also agree that Symon and Besh are neck and neck.

"Michael won four of the battles, but Besh was right under him," Donatella says.

Besh had fewer wows than Symon, they say, but also fewer let-downs.

Great Expectations

Brown asks the Iron Chef judges what they're looking for in their new peer.

You have to be able to think on your feet and go in many directions, Flay says. You have to be a visualist and an entertainer, Cora says. Morimoto simply agrees with them.

Both chefs display the former ability but only Symon was good with the banter in this challenge. Besh was pretty quiet, which doesn't bode well.

And then we're reminded of what the regular judges said they were looking for in the first episode.

Michael Ruhlman: "Good fundamentals."
Donatella: Innovaiton. "I want them to push me and themselves close to the edge."
Andrew Knowlton: He was looking for a "warrior," whatever that means.

OMG! Morimoto has made crazy great little sketches of the chefs' dishes! How cool.

OK. They're voting ...

The Chairman (melodramatic as ever): "The journey of two of the best chefs in America has come to an end. The road has been long and the challenge has been hard. But only one chef will earn the right to be called 'Iron Chef.' I have tasted your food. I have observed your performances in my eight tests. And now the Iron Chefs have voted. The judges have voted. Chef Besh, Chef Simon: The time has come. The next Iron Chef is ...."

And The Chairman dramatically spins and sweeps his arm toward a banner behind him. It falls, and ... Michael Symon's face is up there big as day.

Alton: "What marvels will Iron Chef Symon's reign bring? Only time will tell."

Marvelous.

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