'The Next Iron Chef': Lead and Inspire

The three remaining contestants are in Paris to determine who moves on to the finals. John Besh, Michael Symon, and Chris Cosentino all stand on the doorstep, but only two of them will step through the door.

Alton greets the chefs under rainy skies, and presents each with an envelope containing €2,000 to buy supplies for a three-course meal for 20 people. All they know is they have to express American cuisine.

They each grab a list of the Chairman's favorite Parisian purveyors and head off for three hours of shopping. It's fun to see the chefs browsing and tasting in a variety of nice markets with a relatively large budget. Besh goes his own way, speaking French and looking natty in his blazer and khakis. On the other side of town, Symon quietly goes about his business while Cosentino seems a little lost. That is, until he spots Symon at the butcher shop and ends up trailing behind him like a kid brother for the rest of the afternoon.

[A spoiler, but not a surprise, after the jump.]

The chefs arrive at their dinner venue and it's the opulent home of the US Ambassador to France. He's hosting a dinner party for a dozen friends, local culinary experts, and the three permanent Next Iron Chef judges—Andrew Knowlton, Donatella Arpaia, and Michael Ruhlman.

After three hours in the kitchen, the competitors (and their randomly assigned sous chefs) each managed to plate three courses and create a display table that tied into their vision of American cuisine. No major blow ups in the cooking or the diorama-making, unfortunately. The highest drama the editors could manage was Symon getting impatient while boiling water. I think we can all sympathize with that one.

In the end, the dishes rolled out of the kitchen thusly:

Besh made a duo of seafood appetizers, a fried oyster and a crabmeat BLT. Then he offered a high-end interpretation of the classic Southern chicken and dumplings. He finished his meal was strawberry shortcake with a side of watermelon sorbet.

Cosentino's appetizer was a lobster roll, garnished with caviar. His main course was a unconstructed Philly cheesesteak, and he closed out with "melons and moonshine," which sounds a lot more American than it actually was—a fruit salad soaked in grappa.

Symon added his own narrative specificity to the American theme, giving the diners upscale versions of the foods he loved as a kid: a lobster hot dog for an appetizer, a veal and duck-liver meatloaf for the main, and a "float" of blueberry-lemon fizz and chevre ice cream with wild strawberries on top.

After Alton led a review of the diners' impressions of each dish, the panel managed to find some minutiae to argue over—the truffles in Symon's mashed potatoes, the mayo on Cosentino's lobster roll. If the decision for this episode had been more difficult, perhaps tempers might have flared, but there was an unusual calm to the deliberations.

The final verdict, which Alton implied was unanimous, was that Cosentino was not quite ready for the big show. He took the news with a resigned smile. Even he didn't seem all that surprised by the result. Surely, Cosentino needed to hit this challenge out of the park to send Symon or Besh home.

While no actual winner was crowned in this episode, it seemed like Symon's dishes were, again, the crowd and judges' favorites. That's not to say that Besh wasn't also consistent. Week after week, he demonstrates impressive technical mastery and offers multiple flashes of genius that inevitably surprise and delight the panel.

Next week, Symon and Besh face off in Kitchen Stadium, and the 30-second teaser for that show may have been the most exciting segment of the show. Or perhaps it was a close second to Knowlton asking Donatella if she knew what she was talking about.

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