Jena Wolfe of The Today Show gives a behind the scenes glimpse of Iron Chef America.  She did her story during one episode I happened to be judging, along with my fellow haircut (who in fact makes a very good literary point in this 3-minute story). I was glad to see the show’s producer, Stephen Kroopnick, interviewed, and of course Alton being Alton. I was also glad that Lester Holt pointed out that the cooking takes place in real time.  But I’d very much like to know why Symon thinks he doesn’t need to put a top on his Vita-Prep.

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30 Wonderful responses to “Behind the Scenes of Iron Chef”

  • Stephen

    “a friend saw Bobby hiding a prep list among his wax beans. I thought that was cheating?”

    Tell that to Michiba – after all, he wrote out a full menu before starting every battle. :)

    (which was always smart of him, as he had the assistants doing all the prep so he could jump straight into the actual cooking.)

    ICA isn’t about how to cook the food, it’s about the competition, the sport. That’s why it really screwed up Food Network when it first showed up (… in 1998…?) – rather than drawing what was then FN’s core audience of mid-40s homemakers, it was suddenly being watched on university campuses and younger people. There was a massive disconnect between what FN was selling and what people were watching; my old tapes of the show still have ads aimed at seniors, who clearly weren’t the IC audience. ICA’s moderated that a bit, going for more of an all-ages approach, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    Two things I don’t necessarily like about ICA:

    1. The lack of judge-by-judge scoring. Heck, the scoring system in general; I presume that you have to award a clean “win” in every category rather than just making sure you name a winner on the final score out of 20 (which was, I believe, the original scoring system. It’d be nice to see patterns in judging from more frequent judges like Steingarten.

    2. The lack of Overtime. I know the chefs hated it, but of the five best battles from the original IC four of them were OT battles. For anyone complaining about the lack of true improv cooking, look no further than those; no one knew the OT ingredients going in.

    Oh, and Morimoto’s record STILL hasn’t been fixed. :(

  • Kanani

    The long haired dude makes a very good point. Though we use them while talking (or even quick and dirty blogging) words like delicious, lovely, beautiful, grand, and tempting only describe an emotional response. They’re nonspecific, and in writing or judging you have to articulate more than an overall feeling.

  • Robert

    On the recent Bean battle between Flay and Tinsley, a friend saw Bobby hiding a prep list among his wax beans. I thought that was cheating?

  • cybercita

    i canNOT believe she asked bobby flay if he thought he was a good cook.

  • luis

    I find ICA a bit showy and thouroughly confusing. For one thing there is no recipe trail to follow and for another they spare no expense. This is why I don’t bother with the food net anymore.
    The internet and Pbs will eat fn’s lunch, are eating fn’s lunch. But if you put on a different hat there is drama and they put on an entertaining show. I am very happy Michael gets to judge from time to time and everything is good…
    As a home cook I am building my flavor profile one ingredient at a time. I am not so much worried about techniques anymore. I can muddle through fine. Like Michael said in the clip, seasoning is key. First you need to experience and understand flavors and herbs and spices etc… they you need to play with them for a while and then you need to build something of a flavor profile from all that.
    ICA is just fluff to me.
    There was an interchange in pbs between Jacques Pepin and some hot shot violinist virtuoso hot shot and it all came down to how faithfully can a musician reproduce a note or a cook produce a pure flavor..s0mething like that. How pure, how simple a note is produced..or a flavor.
    They both agreed that this type of effort is FAR MORE difficult than anything else. Imagine Isolate a note or an ingredient and drill down so deep into it as to reproduce it in its purest clearest most insanelly beautiful form.

  • Feisty Bourbon Girl

    Ruhlman, *love* how you say “my fellow haircut” lol! That guy may have made his first (his only?) good literary point here. God, I dunno, every time I see him as a judge he rubs me the wrong way. Is it just me? He always come across as a precocious little git.

  • Ricky

    Was this really her first time on? They must have had her back or something cuz I just saw her with Steingarten and Joe Bastianich judging Flay vs. Sabrina Tinsley.

    Steingarten was clowning the hell out of her.

  • MIke

    I see the issue of non-foodie judges on ICA as an interesting twist on the process. Its not as though the average person coming into an establishment is a Ruhllman or Knowlton. I would contend that truly great food will appeal broadly even to the relatively unrefined palate. I would agree though, that sometimes it would be best for them to not voice their opinions (not always so articulate) and merely rate the food on paper.

  • Vincent Mack

    Okeedokee – first and foremost…jena wolfe is by far the hottest woman on ICA. Well, except for Louisa Chu – but smarts and looks be different. Anyway – nice hair… I guess?

    Symon didnt have a top on his vita because heat creates suction in a blender ruhlman – a spill is better than a burn with your staff. I think its actually in one of your books but I cant remember which one. hot liquid in a blender needs air and a slow initial blend.

    he still looked like a dork with it spilling all over the place, but you can see the steam and heat obviously.

  • HappyHoarfrost

    Three inscrutable little words:
    Lou. Diamond. Philips.
    How much leg-room is under that judges’ table, exactly? Because when I win the inevitable guest viewer judge-spot, I want to find some space between the mastadon-limbs of Michael Ruhlman & Anthony Bourdain and pray the secret ingredient is caribou.
    That would be like the interior of a drunk, caustic clown car for sure.

  • Bob

    Hmm… friend (sous?) of chellenger chef (not yet broadcast) was bitching how the Iron Chef (cough… flay… cough) was dictating to the challenger about which dishes he (or she?) could or couldn’t do… which begs to ask did the Iron Chef know ahead of time? Did they both? Seems fishy to me… Or is said Iron Chef just a total tool…?

  • Kent Bunn

    I went to a book signing w/ Alton Brown a couple years ago, and he said the same thing as Rob, pretty much.

    They get a list of possible candidates. And prior to the unveiling, there’s only a handful of people that know what is hiding under the dome.

    He also said that was ostensibly the way it was done in Japan as well. But there, the contestants were given a list made it obvious which of the possible ingredients it was really going to be

  • Derek

    I have forgotten the chef’s name, but he had written an article about his experiences on ICA (he took on Bobby Flay). As I recall, when the chefs are given the possible “secret ingredients” (I believe I remember reading some time ago on Flay’s site that the number was three), the chefs put together a shopping list for each of the ingredients. And thus, by seeing what winds up in the pantry, they can certainly make an educated guess as to what the actual secret ingredient is going to end up being.

  • Earl Schiffke

    Maybe Bobby Flay can explain the workings of the inner sanctum of ICA on his new XM/Sirius radio show.

    Apparently Bobby fancies himself a lifestyle expert and will dispense all sorts of manly stuff to those that tune in. This I have to see.

    Some of thes FN people really think they are something uh ?

  • Karl Shea

    KGP0429:

    From MSNBC article:

    A Food Network spokesperson tells us that the chefs are given a list of five ingredients in advance, knowing only that the secret ingredient will be taken from that list. We’re told that this was the practice on the original “Iron Chef” as well as “Iron Chef America.”

  • KGP0429

    The chefs must know beforehand what the secret ingredient is to figure out their complicated dishes. If not, why don’t they show the teams brainstorming their ideas before they start cooking?

  • Ray

    If it’s anything like the original Iron Chef, they’re given a range of ingredients that might be the secret ingredient and then given vague clues as to what it will be. So an astute chef will figure out beforehand what he’ll need to prep for but it’s not always a 100% surefire guess.

  • Dick Black

    I wonder why some judges are chosen for ICA. It’s obvious you know a thing or two about the culinary world but I have to wonder about some of the other choices.

    In many cases, an incompetent judge can really tarnish an episode and denigrate a chef’s hard work simply because they have no idea of what they are doing.

  • Rob

    The Chicago Tribune had a story a year or two ago when a Chicago chef competed on ICA. It said that the competitors get a list of six possible secret ingredients that could be used on the show, with the one actually used revealed on the show before the chefs and everyone.

    A behind-the-scenes look at the chefs brainstorming beforehand could be interesting.

  • Laura

    I feel for Symon…I’ve imitated that little blender move on more than one occasion. And that doesn’t even include all of the times I’ve sprayed my kitchen while blending hot liquids and not holding my towel over the hole in the lid tightly enough.

  • carri

    I wanna be the sandwich meat between those two guys…how do I get that job? (just don’t put that Steingarten dude in there)

  • Nick

    Food Network should have a competition, even if it is just via the website or something, where the winner gets to be a judge on Iron Chef.

    That would be amazing.

    Thanks for the video.
    Nick
    Macheesmo

  • JoP in Omaha

    Thanks for posting the link…fun. I laughed at Symon’s blender mishap, as I did before. He’s a bright light–I love to watch him cook, and he always makes me laugh. Yea to the FN for giving him lots of airtime. One day, I’ll get to Lola’s–on a day he’s there, I hope.

    As for ICA, I continue to find it interesting, entertaining, and instructive about ingredients and techniques. Tidbits of info can always be found there.

    Happy new year to all.