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Jul 25, 2008 10:20 AM

ABC reveals secrets of Iron chef America (potential spoilers)

I knew most of the stuff they reveal, but didn't know about the secret ingredient thing.

Alton Brown likens the american version to a sporting event, while the original iron chef is more like a "Godzilla movie" in terms of its theatrics compared to the American version. He describes an episode of IC: Japan where a guy nails a live eels head to a board and skins the thing alive. Wow, and you say you like the American version better?!

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  1. I went to a class taught by Kent Rathburn who competed on Iron Chef with his brother Kevin. Kent told us about the 3 ingredients and said they spent about 2~3 weeks working each one. I can only recall two of the 3, one was Elk and I think the other was peaches. What a broad spectrum. They won Battle Elk against Bobby Flay.

    Kevin and Kent were assisted by Tre Wilcox from Top Chef fame and former employee of Kent.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MarcusB

      I've also heard that only the challenger get 3 possible ingredients, the Iron Chefs are told outright what the "secret" ingredient is.

    2. OK, obviously this woman has never watched the original Iron Chef or she would know that Morimoto was the Iron Chef and Flay the challenger when he and Flay had the dust up over the cutting board. She apparently didn't bother watching the show before doing the story either. I guess that is the standards of journalism in America these days.

      Batali, and Fly were well known before they got thrown into ICA.

      I wonder which judge Cat Cora was talking about when she said she just wants tostrangle some of them. Jeffrey Steingarten? The large woman with the big mouth that I can't stand? Not Ted Allen!

      14 Replies
      1. re: Phaedrus

        "I guess that is the standards of journalism in America these days."

        ouch! venom!

        I really wouldn't consider a article like this real "journalism"

        And ye, she probably was talking about Steingerten, even I want to sometimes strangle him!

        1. re: Phaedrus

          I vote for Knowlton. I think he's the most annoying of the regular judges. He always acts so superior. Think is when Steingarten does it, he has the aire of knowledge that he brings. When Knowlton does it it just seems arrogant to me.

          Thee most annoying -- even though I sincerely can understand her tastebuds are different based on her background -- is that Japanese woman who every time she samples a Western dish would say "it's greasy, it's oily" over and over again.

          And just for the "pendulum swing" on the other extreme was when they had the guy from Sopranos on the first season who kept saying "I don't eat uncooked meat. I don't eat raw fish. I can't touch this stuff. Anyone got a plate of pasta?"

          Think that just shows not everyone can make a good all-around judge.

          1. re: HarryK

            The Japanese food writer is Akiko Katayama, and she does represent a Japanese palate - which is completely different from Americans.

            Note that Morimoto is only doing 50% (6W/6L) on ICA, where he had a much better record on the original show - about 70%. I cringe when he cooks on ICA, as he is brilliant, but is obviously cooking for the Japanese palate. He is at an immediate disadvantage, even with Katayama on the panel.

            1. re: applehome

              Morimoto is supposed to cook Japanese food, right? If the judges can't tell what is good and what is bad Japanese food, they have no right to be judges, imo.

              1. re: Ericandblueboy

                How many Americans know the Japanese palate. If you go eat American foods in Japan, China, HK, or Singapore, it will definitely taste different. The way they season and the way they go about preparing the food is very different because the palate if very different.

                1. re: Phaedrus

                  well, a bit ot for this sub-thread ot, but wasn't morimoto always weaing the big ole' american flag on his back? ironic.....

                  but to the bigger pic, japanese food "sensibilities" and "nuances" are really site-(and i'm talking japan-) specific.those are really not going to cut it here in america -- "fusion america." (like garlic,. big time, bold fish bouillon, you can go on....) those go well. in the original ic, i loved sakai. but, otoh, chen kenichi didn't do fusion; he did chinese, right? he was great, too. sakai and chen kenichi. yeah!

                  1. re: alkapal

                    Kenichi was my favorite! Loved his expressions. Seemed like such a cutie pie.

                    Loved Sakai's presentations. I was always in awe as I watched him work. I didn't really get that "ladies' man" vibe from him with his granny glasses though.

                    1. re: alkapal

                      Morimoto might have been the American, Japanese chef in terms of the Japanese audience, but he was nevertheless cooking for Japanese judges. When I saw him using the fish innards in a recent contest, I knew he had lost. This would have been a winning move in Japan, where palates appreciate bitter along with the other tastes - alas, not here.

                      I actually think that he's not that ignorant - not after so many years here. I think he does it on purpose - win or lose, he's been doing IC for the longest time, and he's way beyond being a young chef trying to establish himself any more - he's just beyond playing to the judges. He'd rather just be himself and express his own tastes, and if these young whippersnapper editors of magazines don't get it, too bad.

                      Well - that's just my conjecture - it's what I'd do. He would never be so ungracious as to actually say these things to anyone. But nobody believes he did fish guts without knowing what would happen, do they?

                      1. re: applehome

                        Speaking of innards ... one thing I don't get with the guest chefs. Innards. There are two ways for a guess judge to lose on ICA.

                        One is to make the main ingredient a supporting player in the dish and overwhelm the flavor. The second is using innards.

                        I know a lot of chefs love to use the entire animal. Symon is one. Morimotto another among the Iron Chefs. Symon knows though if he uses a kidney, a liver, something else beyond the normal "filet" there better be something more "representive" of the animal's "normal" taste on that plate.

                        Any time I see a guest chef go for a fish or elk or chicken liver or kidney there they go, they've lost the battle already -- if that's the only part of the main ingredient on that single plate. Why? It doesn't "taste" like the animal, therefore they lose. I saw that happening recently when Paul Ford was on.

                        Regarding the second point, saw that happen recently when Samuelson on and he brought out beef and something else strong to put on a plate with the a mild main ingredient. And meanwhile you saw on the other side, Flay bringing out something blander like lobster and scallops to accompany his. You just knew Marcus had killed himself half way through the battle.

                        1. re: applehome

                          I used to watch the original IC sometimes in Japan when it first ran. It was on broadcast television, prime time, on a Sunday night. Any time there was a foreign competitor, usually Italian or French, they seemed to lose. You could always tell by the Japanese judge's comments, which were very subtle, indirect, but nevertheless constructed with a cultural slant to them. Not all the judges were Japanese though. Anyway, I used to discuss this with Japanese friends. Chalk it up as Japanese sensibilities.

                          When they launched the U.S. version, I kind of got a culturally- reverse kick out of seeing Morimoto succumb to American sensibilities on occasion. I suppose this would be the same anywhere.

                          I always thought Akiko Katayama represented the Japanese palate. I can't give specific examples, but I recall watching a chef prepare some particular dish, with an element that you might find in Japanese cooking or something close to their sensibility, and I knew she was going to praise the dish. I agree though, she does tend to call dishes too oily and greasy pretty often. It can get kind of annoying.

                2. re: HarryK

                  I HATE when they have celebrities on. I DETEST when have bonecrusher on. It's such an insult to the chefs, like pandering to an audience.

                  Obviously they have to make food in their restaurant for a variety of palates, but they are making 'their' food, and they don't have to tweak it to someone who only eats ribs and sweets.

                  One challenge bonecrusher announced he only felt like eating dessert that night...what an insult.

                3. re: Phaedrus

                  Karine Bakoum, thats the woman I can not stand. I can even handle Miss "Too Greasy" over her.

                  1. re: Phaedrus

                    Is she the one who once said about an ingredient used - "this always gives me diarrhea." or something to that effect... Since then I never watch a challenge where she is judging - it's sad but she really ruins the entire episode.

                    She is incompentence defined (or was that incontinence...)

                    Anyway, she's been pretty much discredited at this point as a judge, right? Although you never know with TFN.

                  2. re: Phaedrus

                    I bet it is Jeffrey Steingarten. At a recent book signing I asked Ted Allen about judging with Steingarten, and he said that Steingarten was funny, an amazing writer, and "has forgotten more about food than most people will ever know." But he also said Jeffrey can be frustrating to work with, like when he criticizes fellow judges personally, as opposed to simply disagreeing with them. He also said that Jeffrey says some things about the contestants' food that are so bad they never makes it to TV, and that he can be particularly harsh to Cat Cora.

                  3. Thanks for the link. Totally knew the "chairman" was the real chairman's nephew...and that they had an inkling what the secret ingredient was beforehand. Pshh..

                    Iron Chef Japan is so much better!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Chew on That

                      While I agree that IC Japan was way better, especially the early Fuji TV broadcasts with engrish subtiltles, ehy also were tipped off in advance that it might be any of three ingredients.

                      BTW, chairman Kaga was the lead in JC Superstar and Grease on stage over there before his IC gig.

                      1. re: Scrapironchef

                        I think I read that in IC Japan, they knew that it would be any of 5 secret ingredients.

                      1. re: alkapal

                        Speaking of which, her's my fav behind the scenes article yet, from the Village Voice earlier this year: "Iron Chef Boyardee"


                        1. re: HarryK

                          That's an interesting piece, thank you for sharing. But, I'm puzzled by his description of the premise of ICA as having only three IC's. Even in the pre-Michael Symon era there were always at least four, no? It sounds like he's missing Cat Cora, right?

                          Also, I'm surprised at how apparently boring and slow he thinks the pace is.. I guess it's a triumph of editing that makes everything seem so urgent when watching the show on air rather than seeing it live.


                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            It could be a very early article. ICA originally started off with just three chefs. Cat Cora came in later as the much celebrated first female iron chef.

                            1. re: spellweaver16

                              Ah, okay. Well, the piece is dated Feb 2008 and says this all took place "about a year ago"--maybe he wrote longer ago than that and it just took him awhile to sell it. He says in the piece that he had to wait until the shower aired in order to not get in trouble with the food network.


                      2. Yeah, I agree about the AB comment. I lost a little more respect for Alton Brown with that comment. He seems like a nice enough guy but he's proving himself to be a bit of a culinary xenophobe about the eel and Godizilla movie comment..or a poser.

                        The original smokes ICA because as goofy as it was, it played things straight and honest keeping any dramatic tension in tact even if it's half set-up. It also somehow understood it's own dopiness and thus its charm.

                        OTOH, ICA has the vague snark of a dull hipster and the greasy undertone of phoniness and/or an odd arrogance. It sort of like the teenage kid that's too self conscious to have fun but has a weird attitude. Also the non-culinary judges are just awful and clueless. They're idiots.

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: ML8000

                          There were plenty of airhead niko-niko actresses on the original - although in typical Japanese fashion, some actually turned out to be very knowledgeable and had great palates, but had to do the hello kitty thing cause.. well, cause that's what they do.

                          OTOH, we are so lucky as to have Mo Rocca - who has to do the clown thing, cause he actually is clueless.

                          1. re: applehome

                            Yes there were air head judges on the original, I remember an actress named Oi Shi whose name generated a lot of ridicule from my then GF. But as you mentioned, a lot of them ended up knowing their stuff very well.

                            Even those that were not the sharpest could converse about flavor, sensation, etc...or understood the point and could roll. I think it's the general level of food knowledge in Japan that raises the bar.

                            Conversely some of the ICA judges look very, very uncomfortable and seem to have very little knowledge. Heck, some appear that they don't really want to be there and just aren't into food. When I see that, I think it's about being seen not about food and then I have no interest.

                            p.s. oi shi roughtly translates to "tastes good" or tasty

                            1. re: ML8000

                              We always called the giggling young female judges on the original show "the actress babe judge." My favorite judge was Tenmei Kanoh, the acerbic photographer.

                              1. re: jlafler

                                I always get tickled, and it always gets said at least once per show:" Oh, this dish is so sophisticated!" Usually by the ingénue/pseudo blonde/giggly girl.

                                I like Kanoh too, but I always wondered whether it was he who was acerbic or was it his translator? Kept me up a few nights.

                                I also like it when they get the clueless jock on there, usually some baseball player or manager who is trying to get it on with the ingénue.

                                1. re: jlafler

                                  I always like Asako Kishi aka "The East German" judge, the professional critic. She balanced out the rest of the riff raff. The other guy I liked was the writer with the long face that pointed with his untensil..we called him the pointer. He'd look pretty non-involved then he'd get animated and eyes big when he liked something and explained. I think that's what I miss the most between IC and ICA...the US judges are too into coming off cool and hip...except the comics, who sometimes come across as bitter. Oh well.

                                  1. re: ML8000

                                    I get her confused with the professional psychic. Are they one and same? or am I just nuts?

                                    1. re: Phaedrus

                                      Different lady -- you're thinking of Kazuko Hosoki (sp?). I loved it when she hated a dish -- her face screwed up in the best unpleasant expression ever.

                                      1. re: operagirl

                                        Yep! I think the reason Phaedrus may be confused is that you never saw Hosoki and Kishi on the same show. They always had to have a line-up with an older woman and man and a couple of youngsters, and Hosoki was one of Kishi's stand-ins. But other than being approximately the same age, they don't look much alike, IMO.

                                        1. re: jlafler

                                          It just seemed that they both brought the curmudgeonly Oba-san point of view to the proceedings.

                                          1. re: Phaedrus

                                            I always liked the elderly women food critic and the politician on the original IC.

                                            1. re: Amidahidan

                                              yes, the astrologer with all the bling, and the politico who took to wearing his be-ribboned gourmand medal. ;-).