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Is Iron Chef for real?

I am new to the chowhound boards so please excuse me, but I would like to know as lovers of the food and dining realm, what are we actually learning from a show like 'Iron Chef.' How is it possible for the chefs involved not to know what the 'secret ingredient' is in advance. We don't ever see them running down a quick menu with their staffs. (I don't believe it for a second.) How is it possible to maintain such an extraordinary 'mise en place', just about every thing in the food chain and equipment arsenal is available to the participating chefs. And to make a long blog short, why do the chefs involved feel compeled to prepare a dessert dish out of any secret ingredient involved...fish foam brulee, anyone? And some of the judges...please! What happened to those second rate Asian actresses?
I do, however, find the show fine as a form of entertainment, only after the host is finished with his opening bite bit. What is the true mission statement here?

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  1. I don't think I learn much from it - it's pretty much pure entertainment for me, though occasionally some dishes inspire me to try a particular flavor combination.

    1. Welcome to the boards!

      I watched the old iron chef (from 8-9 years ago) the one that had English subtitles, and in the spirit of most things Japanese (I was born there) they do things so insanely over the top for people's enjoyment. Check out some of their crazy game shows!

      Anyway, I think in the continuation of that spirit, it is for viewer's enjoyment, and for the spirit of crazed competition between chefs.

      One of the critics of TV Guide actually thought the Chairman (the original guy) was a real person and went on and on in his column about the insanity of a man rich enough to fund a "kitchen stadium" and why, etc., etc. when there were so many other causes in the world worth helping. What a dingbat.

      My jaw dropped. I couldn't believe this yahoo actually believed it was real. Obviously the chefs are the real deal, but anyone who was a true fan of the show knew that the whole "chairman" thing was just for show, and indeed, the actor that played the chairman was Japan's Jean Valjean of Les Miserables' fame.

      So the old Iron Chef thing was retired, because Chairman was getting older and tired and they didn't realize it would be such a hit in the U.S. So Iron Chef America was born.

      Sorry to digress. I totally agree with MMRuth. Fun to watch with occasional educational bits.


      7 Replies
      1. re: shelleykelly

        That's hilarious - I hadn't heard that before about the TV Guide critic. TV Guide actually published this with no research or confirmation? Why am I not surprised...

        1. re: shelleykelly

          The Japanese version was GREAT with subtitles (Channel 26 in San Francisco), but went downhill when they dubbed the voices. Great entertainment, and in a much different vein than Iron Chef America . . . which I find entertaining, to be sure, but I don't laugh nearly as much.

          1. re: zin1953

            I always found it wildly amusing, though, how they'd give a heavily accented German voiceover, for example, if they had a German chef on the show. Totally tacky and silly, which I guess goes perfectly with the whole idea of Iron Chef.

            I never found that the show taught me much, but it did spark my creativity. I'd find myself pausing each episode five or six times to scribble down ideas I suddenly had for my own dishes at home.

            1. re: vorpal

              In the Japanese version, the young, pretty female judges would always be dubbed a la Marilyn Monroe (soft & breathy) while the older female judges often sounded like Marge Simpson's sisters.

              1. re: gloriousfood

                And the permanent know it all, the cooking school owner is always the very patient older male voice of reason.

                I always like the pretty female judges, there always seem to be some kind of double entendre going on due to their giggling and carrying on while there really isn't, at least in the dubbed version.

                1. re: gloriousfood

                  ...and at the time of reckoning, the young, mini-skirted female judges always stood beside the desk/podium/whatever, while the male and older female judges' "limbs" were hidden from the cameras.

                  1. re: ClaireWalter

                    During the judging, they generally showed a lot of shots of the young-actress-babe judge putting food in her mouth. Other than that, they rarely showed the judges eating, except in the background of a wide shot.

          2. I heard once that the chefs -- at least in the Japanese version -- are given a list of possible ingredients that the "secret ingredient" will be drawn from. Considering what we see in the "quickfire" challenges on Top Chef, I'm not too surprised that an experienced chef with some good helpers and top of the line equipment can turn out a meal like that in an hour.

            The true mission statement is to entertain. Is there some reason to think it is something else?

            1. I've actually spoken w/a chef who was on an episode of Iron Chef America and he said they were given 3 possible choices for the secret ingredient but were not told until they got there which one it was. It makes sense b/c not only do they have to figure out the menu based around the ingredient they also have to make sure everything is done w/in an hour.

              15 Replies
              1. re: gyp7318

                gyp, per the post below, did the chef you talked to get to choose with whom he was to "battle"?

                1. re: alkapal

                  I'm trying to remember, but I think he wasn't able to choose his opponent. Although, he said that he had worked w/Iron Chef Morimoto before on something else and said he was a real ass, so if he was able to choose it definitely wouldn't have been him. :)

                  1. re: gyp7318

                    remember the tv show about morimoto planning to open "morimoto" resto? he seemed "difficult"...(and so incredibly incapable of speaking english?!?!)

                    1. re: alkapal

                      I think the lack of English skills exacerbates the "difficult" image.

                      1. re: Phaedrus

                        actually, Morimoto's English skills are decent. He can communicate with staff and customers in his restaurants pretty well.
                        he has a place in Philadelphia called Morimoto. I believe he has opened a second in NYC, though it may still be in the works

                        1. re: nc213

                          his nyc restaurant has been open since early 2006.

                          1. re: nc213

                            I met Morimot when his NYC restaurant opened. I thought he was incredibly nice. His English is fine. I think they dub over his voice because for some people, any accent makes the person difficult to understand. I've even encountered Americans that have trouble understanding Brits!

                            1. re: SweetPea914

                              the show was about the lead-up to his opening a philly resto.....in that, his english was very bad. maybe he studied or practiced since then....

                              1. re: SweetPea914

                                Yeah....I'm willing to bet some parts of the US were surprised they didn't give subtitles for Jamie Oliver ;)

                          2. re: alkapal

                            I don't think he was difficult, I think it was more a culture gap then a language gap. The investors didn't seem to understand the significance of the giant sushi roll or the sake ceremony, and seemed more worried about the opening itself. Once the restaurant opened they were rolling along just fine.

                          3. re: gyp7318

                            I'd be really surprised if the chefs got to choose their opponents. I imagine the Iron Chefs' schedules are pretty full and have to be given plenty of notice to prepare and fly to NYC if they don't already live there.

                            1. re: ajs228

                              They do get to choose, it's just much in advance of the actual show. You should read one of the articles below that explains how it works.

                              1. re: SweetPea914

                                I did, but I must have missed that part. I still think it's a bit odd. You'd think a TV network wouldn't like giving up that much control over their content. On the other hand, it probably keeps them from throwing Bobby Flay at us every other episode.

                        2. re: gyp7318

                          I've spoken with a chef who appeared on the original (Japanese) Iron Chef. He said he knew the secret ingredient several days before the taping.

                        3. I think the cooking is real, but as others have pointed out, not all of the set-up is real.
                          I think it would be hard to fake "kitchen stadium," with all the equipment and food. Most of the fictions are things that, if you watch the show carefully, you can infer.

                          Some of the fictions include:

                          The chairman is an actor. He's not really the nephew of the original chairman.

                          The challenger doesn't challenge the iron chef right then and there -- it's prearranged, and the challenger probably doesn't get much, if any input into who to battle.

                          As others have mentioned, the contestants get list of possible theme ingredients in advance.

                          There's some fudging with plating. As you may have noticed, in the American version, the chef only has to plate one of each of his courses before the hour is up. They then have some time afterward to plate the rest for the judges.

                          None of these fictions bother me, since it seems obvious to me that there is a large element of spectacle in the show. Worrying about that would be kind of like being upset at a stage actor for using fake blood during a performance.

                          They have actully on a couple of occasions shown Mario Batali running down a quick menu with his assistants. But the fact that we usually don't see this happening doesn't mean that it isn't happening, since they can't show everything.

                          I treat the show as pure entertainment. Still, it's one of the last shows on the Food Network that ever shows any techinically difficult cooking.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: jlafler

                            One of the original Iron Chef Japanese, Rokusaburu Michiba, ised to make a big show of writitng the menu out in Japanese caligraphy before he starts cooking. The original was also more of a goof than anything else with silly starlets making cute little comments as commentators and a know it all color guy who ended up challenging the Iron Chef once. The whole thing had a lot more schtick to it, the American show has more of an inside joke quality to it.

                            Its a goof.

                            1. re: jlafler

                              Let's also point out that Mario's assistants are Mark Lardner, chef of Del Posto and Anne Burrell, chef of Centro Vinoteca .

                            2. This link will answer a bunch of your questions about the show. I hope it helps. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11500312/

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: kprange

                                thanks for the link.

                                two questions:
                                1. how is it that there is 10 hours of footage that is then edited down? is 3/4 of that time re-creating a telegenic food lunge?

                                2. FN staffers really eat food portions leftover from judges' plates???

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  The tasting and judgement portion takes a lot longer than the few minutes we see. Also, ten hours probably counts the footage from the multiple cameras.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    fair enough, Ruth, for multiple cameras. i was surprised about the repeated "takes" for the post-"allez cuisine" frenzy!

                                  2. re: alkapal

                                    I would eat after Jeffrey Steingarten any day of the week. Mostly because I like him so much. However, that loud mouth lady I cannot stand..I cannot think her her name. Carmen, maybe? She always acts very "contrary" to everything.

                                    1. re: stellamystar

                                      karine bakhoum.

                                      lets hope they've retired her as a judge for the new season. she always brings me down.

                                  3. re: kprange

                                    I find it interesting that they get a budget of $500 for their own ingredients. It seems like sometimes Mario Batali shaves about that much worth of white truffel alone onto his various dishes.

                                  4. I too had the same question. I have not spoken to any of the chefs, but spoke to a judge and was told that the winner was not set in advance. The taste, presentation and if the dish was something that was created for the theme ingredient or was it a part of the chef's normal bag of tricks.

                                    The poster that said that all the chefs are given a head's up on three or four ingredient is true for our Iron Chef and for Japanese program.

                                    I love to see the dishes being prepared and look forward to trying to created something like the dishes myself.

                                    1. I can't even believe that America still making ' iron chef (America) '
                                      I remember I was watching this show ( original ) when I was kid .( I was living in japan )
                                      which is ? about more than 10 years ago or so ?

                                      I think ' iron chef ' is enough .even 'america' version.

                                      I think chef morimoto's ' difficult ' look is just very old school Japanese style.
                                      Japanese man who is chef ,they all have quite similar attitude.
                                      and He is from south area of japan.
                                      which is what Japanese call 'kyu u shyu danji '
                                      the most stubborn very very old school Japanese style people.

                                      He look like one of them, & he is.
                                      I don't surprise american people think he has 'difficult look'

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: ymushi

                                        ymushi, thanks for enlightening us on morimoto's "difficult" look! ;-)

                                      2. The current dessert battle (at least I believe it is current) is just another example of the circus going on here...it is sometimes amusing though.

                                        1. Here is another article about the inner workings of Iron chef. I found this article quite entertaining when I read it.


                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: SweetPea914

                                            I thought this (snarky) line was pretty funny:
                                            "...nearly everything coming with a chipotle purée sauce."

                                          2. OP,

                                            Watch PBS if you want some cooking instruction. IC and ICA were/are all about entertainment. Yeah, the chefs are given a short list of possibilities for the "secret" ingredient. Yeah, they try hard to make all courses (including dessert) from that ingredient. Yeah, the Chairman doesn't live in a castle. What could have possibly caused you to think that you should be expecting to learn how to cook?

                                            1. I agree that they have to know the ingredient beforehand...I'm glad someone else thinks that too! I love it anyway though, so theyre obvious about their flaws...oh well :)

                                              1. Perhaps it's just part of the circus atmosphere but I was taken back by the match between Oliver and Batali last night on Iron Chef...Apparently Oliver's assistant is some sort of a clown with bad hygiene...why would I want to see him remove sweat from his forehead with his knife in the midst of cooking then lay it back down on the counter? There were overturned garbage containers, throwing of ingredients and splattering all over the place...By the way, the episode itself combined the talents of two of the worst dressers on 'food tv'...Not very appetizing at all in my opinion...Am I missing something here?

                                                7 Replies
                                                1. re: gutreactions

                                                  Oliver's sous-chef did wipe his brow with the kitchen knife, and at least wiped it off on a cloth before continuing, but yeah it was still kind of gross. Still nothing compared to what goes on in the kitchens of real restaurants.

                                                  As for dress, part of what the chefs wear is costume/wardrobe provided by the Food Network. Mario's crocs were originally designed for chefs before all the kiddies started buying them.

                                                  1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                                                    Ralphie, as a fine point...don't know if 'Crocs' are safe footwear in a commercial kitchen or shorts for that matter...he should know better.

                                                    1. re: gutreactions

                                                      I remember reading (on another message board, so yeah, consider the source) a while ago before Crocs were popular, that they were designed for chefs because of their good traction, and the smaller holes in the top (smaller skin exposure than open sandals) meant less likelihood of hot splatters hitting the top of the feet.

                                                      As for the shorts...longer apron is in order I guess!

                                                      1. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                                                        Thanks Ralphie...I think you have it right...although the culinary world has become more fashionable, safety should still be the biggest concern...

                                                        1. re: gutreactions

                                                          Clogs - or crocs have been worn in the cooking industry for a very long time. They are made especially for industries such and cooking and nursing. They are much more comfortable and better for your feet than regular shoes. I have known chefs to wear clogs for years and I am sure with the advent of crocs that some of them have switched to them.

                                                    2. re: Ralphie_in_Boston

                                                      He wiped it off on a towel, then put it in a bus tray and reached for another knife.

                                                      I thought he was entertaining. It is TV, after all. Remember they used an ostrich egg "just for a laugh."

                                                    3. re: gutreactions

                                                      He discarded the sweat knife and began using a new, clean knife.

                                                    4. Recently I caught an episode that was basically 'inside iron chef', hosted by Alton Brown. I wasn't taking notes or paying all that much attention, but what I caught about what 'really' goes on was interesting. I believe the episode was done nearly 4 years ago, but it was shown fairly recently and will most likely air again. The episode number was IANS05.

                                                      1. I've never watched this show before and I have a quick question/comment. If the chefs get a list of three possible secret ingredients ahead of time, wouldn't they cook trial meals? I thought Jamie Oliver looked genuinely taken aback by the fish. He also said that he'd never cooked with it before. I find it hard to believe that he'd lie. Am I naive?

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: Glencora

                                                          I've seen Iron Chef specials where they show challengers cooking trial meals and going as far as setting up their kitchens to look like the ICA set. I think Jamie was just playing along with the trope that the ingredient is really a 'secret'.

                                                          1. re: Glencora

                                                            My guess is that he practiced with fillets and was surprised to see whole fish.

                                                          2. i worked for a chef who did the iron chef battle and they knew the 3 possible secret ingredients about a month in advance. they did all kinds of practice runs. they were also allowed to bring in certain ingredients of their own that would've been impossible to make in one hour, like stocks, as well as order the supporting ingredients to be stocked in the pantry.

                                                            the iron chefs are also guaranteed a certain percentage of wins, like bobby flay gets to win 92% of the time or something like that. it's in their contracts. cat cora gets the least guaranteed wins. it's kind of funny, if you pay really close attention to the editing sometimes you can tell they cut off some of the judges gushing about the contender's food so the iron chefs look better.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: tastycakes

                                                              "the iron chefs are also guaranteed a certain percentage of wins, like bobby flay gets to win 92% of the time or something like that. it's in their contracts. "

                                                              OK, now that just sucks, IMO. Guaranteed wins? Give me a break! If they're so good, they should put their stuff out there and allow their food to be judged for real. But I guess that wouldn't help their restaurants' bottom lines or TFN's merchandising deal(s) if they were beaten by more challengers.

                                                              1. re: tastycakes

                                                                I'm skeptical.

                                                                First off, Flay has only won 64% of his battles.

                                                                Second, if such guarantees existed, you would think Morimoto would have won the majority of his battles. He currently stands at 43%

                                                              2. I heard from a chef who did the Iron Chef battle that while the challenger has a list of 3 possible secret ingredients, the Iron Chef is told ahead of time exactly what the "secret" ingredient is going to be.