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THE NEXT IRON CHEF: Viva Las Vegas! aka "Inspiration" (Season 3, Episode 6) [Spoilers]

Caswell is going home.

Chef Canora is the winner of the Chairman's Challenge.

Onto the recap.

We're in Vegas this week and the theme is "Inspiration" (Wouldn't "Secrecy" be better? Y'know, along the lines of "What goes on in Vegas, stays in Vegas"?)

Secret Ingredient Challenge: Chocolate
Winner: Chef Tsai

First up is the Secret Ingredient Challenge where we find the Chefs at the pastry kitchen of Pastry Chef Jean Philippe in the new City Center. They are tasked to make to a pastry for a wedding party, using the secret ingredient Chocolate. World renowned pastry Chef Jean Philippe is the guest chef. 2 hours to make the pastry. Everyone is sort of flummoxed because, y'know, they are chefs, not pastry chefs.

Tsai: Croquembouche with a pate choux ... generally positive comments
Canora: Croquembouche with raspberry and creme puffs ... major fail
Caswell: Croquembouche with chocolate mouse ... main complaint was not enough chocolate and "dense"
Forgioni: Peanut Butter Chocolate Parfait ... not sophisticated enough and presentation was not good
Tio: (Plated 3 desserts) Chocolate mouse and [blank] and [blank] ... no one was impressed, thought plated dessert was too simple

Chairman's Challenge: Modern classic interpretation of the Las Vegas Buffet
Guest Judge: Shawn McClain, executive chef of Sage Restaurant
Winner: Canora
Loser: Caswell

For the Chairman's Challenge the chefs find themselves at the Sage Restaurant at the Aria Hotel, where they are told it is a double-elimination challenge. They are tasked to interpret the Las Vegas Buffet and give it an "inspired" modern take. They have 3 hours and prepare 3 hot and 2 cold dishes. Chef Tsai as the previous winner of the Mystery Ingredient Challenge gets a head start on the ingredients selection.

Some comments and highlights of the prep ...

Tsai's coconut milk explodes and destroyes the cryovac machine, which really pisses off Canora but later says that Tsai "did the right thing" by cleaning up the machine.

The chefs generally are having a bit of a problem (or is it lack of inspiration?) with the pressure cooker, esp. Forgione who is using it to make prime rib of all things.

Tio is making Gnudi of all things as one of her dishes ... did she take inspiration from Caswell's last dish?

Canora is having a problem coming up with a 3rd hot dish.

Caswell seems ahead of the game (time-wise) because he is setting up before anyone else is done with their food.

Tsai is yelling and running around looking for his PVC tubes.

Comments from the judges:

Forgione ...
Symon was impressed with his cold vegetable soup
Veal cheek with coconut milk and star anise was too salty said Donatella
The prime rib was "fatty" in a good way said Simon

Tsai ...
Tea smoked salmon was "fantastic" said Symon
Donatella said his lemongrass dish was a bit overpowering
The lobster and dirty rice (which was supposed to be spicy) and Simon said it was executed "perfectly"
The ribeye pho (which was butter poached) was found to be too heavy and in need of acid.
Simon said pineapple and pork was always a no-no

Caswell
Shrimp was mushy said Donatella
Beef and grapes not a good combo
BBQ cracked crab was not a good dish according to Simon
All in all a bad day for Caswell

Tio
Donatella really liked the cauliflower soup
The Gnudi was "gummy" and had too much flour
The salmon was delicious said Symon
The Asian cured duck according to Simon was "confused" but he liked the lobster alot

Canora
Seafood carpaccio worked very well said Simon
Eggplant parmesan was really good according to Donatella
Veal Cheek had "deep" flavors
Stuffed pork loin was delicious said Donatella
Compressed fruit salad had really good pineapple according to Simon

Symon said that Canora had the best execution, although not the best inspiration

Symon said Caswell was very mediocre, a flat-line and middle-of-the-pack

Simon really liked Tio's lobster but Donatella said all she tasted was "butter"

Forgione's leg of lamb was overbearing said Simon, but Symon liked it.

Chef's Tsai one bad dish was the pho, but Simon really took offense to Tsai's combo of pork and pineapple.

There's a hung jury between Tio, Forgione and Tsai as to last place so all three "survive" but next time Alton Brown promises that it will be a double-elimination.

Have at it ...

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  1. <sigh> I have no Food Network. ATT&T and Scripps Network are behaving badly and FTV has taken their toys and gone home because AT&T wouldn't pay the price to play with the toys. All of which is to say that I'm going to have to live vicariously through everyone's comments since I won't be able to see NIC anytime soon :-(

    2 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        Thanks for the update. I can catch this episode on one of the repeats later this week

    1. my Cliff Notes reaction:
      - breathing a HUGE sigh of relief that those salty veal cheeks didn't send Forgione home.
      - really bummed to see Caswell eliminated, but based on his performance in this particular challenge, i have to admit that he deserved it.
      - wish Canora had been the one to go. i just. don't. like. him.
      - definitely thought Tsai had the most cohesive vision and clean, attractive presentation [finally!] with one exception - Forgione's salmon was pretty damn cool.
      - Donatella seemed to be channeling Akiko Katayama with all the complaints about too much butter :)

      31 Replies
      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        Can you check your Cooking Bible, ghg, and check where it says that pork and pineapple is like Adam taking a bite of the apple and complaining that he wanted a Fuji instead of a Red Delicious?

        1. re: ipsedixit

          wait, what?

          i assume you're talking about the pineapple making the pork mushy. it's funny, when Simon first commented about never wanting to see pineapple with pork, i thought he was going to say it was because it's such a dated & uninspired pairing - i immediately had a vision of a teriyaki-glazed pork loin garnished with grilled pineapple rings from some bad fast-casual chain restaurant :)

          in terms of texture...sure, the papain helps tenderize and break down meat, but it doesn't *instantly* turn meat to mush. i think that was a bit dramatic.

          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            That's exactly what I was referring to.

            Simon seemed almost personally offended by it ... as if Tsai was making the dish as a personal affront to all of Simon's sensibilities. Sort of like someone saying, they really don't enjoy chocolate with fruit, and then plating them a big plate of chocolate dipped strawberries for dessert.

            I've just never heard that pork and pineapple should never be paired. Does that mean all those Hawaiian pizzas with pineapple and Canadian bacon are verboten and against the laws of food nature?

            1. re: ipsedixit

              "I've just never heard that pork and pineapple should never be paired."
              ~~~~~~~~
              that's because it's Simon's own personal issue, and not even remotely a hard-and-fast culinary rule :)

              he can hate it all he wants, but the historical popularity of dishes like sweet & sour pork, Cuban pork with pineapple mojo, and grilled pork loin with pineapple should serve as sufficient proof that Tsai didn't commit some sort of cardinal cooking sin.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Seems the judges made their feelings known with Dusty on the desert island episode.

                1. re: Shrinkrap

                  That's what I was thinking - Tsai must not have been paying attention to the pork and pineapple critique on the earlier episode.

                  1. re: jeanmarieok

                    i totally missed that in the resourcefulness episode.

                      1. re: junescook

                        ^junescook , I don't see where the pineapple gets added in that recipe; With the "vegetables"?

                        1. re: Shrinkrap

                          Actually, if you look at the photo you will see it. Apparently at the point at which he places the pork and vegetable into the roasting pan and simmers until tender.

                  2. re: Shrinkrap

                    With Duskie on the desert island episode, Alton Brown seemed to back Simon up on the "pineapple makes pork mushy" thing. This time, he didn't. I don't know if that was just editing or what OR if it's just a personal taste thing with Simon (similar to his personal issue with anything but plain lamb as Donatella pointed out in this "Inspiration" episode.)

                    If it's a matter of personal taste, then I'm glad neither Duskie nor Ming were sent home over it.

                    ~TDQ

                  3. re: ipsedixit

                    Simon's British. Shouldn't he prefer his meat gray and overcooked with no sauce? :-)

                    1. re: jmckee

                      Simon is still bitter over the war that they lost ... The Revolutionary War.

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        looking at his surname - that's Simon Majumdar - I'm going to guess his people are from India so . . . readjust little jibes if that's what you really want to talk about

                        1. re: pitu

                          He was born in the North of England.

                  4. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    I like pork w pineapple habanero a lot, sorry English guy. But generally I like how he rounds out this judging panel. His weird personal issues are more manageable than Donatella's.

                  5. re: ipsedixit

                    In this pork and pineapple thing really was some kind of culinary rule, wouldn't they want an iron chef that is willing to challenge these kinds of ideas?

                    Count me in for the group that is tired of donnatella appearing on my tv

                  6. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    My thoughts exactly. I liked Caswell and wish he has stayed but he did deserve to go home. Canora is unlikeable to me. He needs to learn deep yoga breathing or something. And, was it Caswell who said Canora redefines the challenge so that only he can win?

                    I would also like to see some of the judges voted off.

                    On the quick fire challenge, they talked about Ming Tsai opening the door and how it could ruin the pastry--but was that his only choice? Were there multiple ovens available? And, if it did ruin the pastry, wouldn't that also have happened to his? Canora's pate a choux just was too runny to begin with, as Forgioneor Caswell said.

                    1. re: chowser

                      "And, was it Caswell who said Canora redefines the challenge so that only he can win? "
                      ~~~~~~~
                      yes, and he was absolutely right! every week, Canora finds a way to justify his dish in the Special Ingredient Challenge as the only one that met the requirements, and searches for a reason why everyone else's didn't. when he was insisting that Ming Tsai's *solid* steak made of steak sauce didn't show transformation of the ingredient, i wanted to smack him.

                      re: the pastry, that was just editing drama. Caswell did point out that the raw pate a choux wasn't the right consistency, oven door action had nothing to do with Canora's failed product.

                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        Yes, and he was so picky about the potatoes last week, like his using MORE potatoes somehow showed potatoes more respect than using them creatively. Next time, baked potatoes all around w/ no seasoning so you only taste potato and nothing else?

                        The editing drama this time was more extreme, from the profiteroles to the exploding vacuum seal. I'm sure Ming Tsai wasn't happy that his bag broke either and he did clean it up, as Canora said. I thought Chef Tio was a riot when she said there was on chef running around like a bull in a china shop and wasn't going to name names but it starts with a "C" and ends with a "onora."

                        1. re: chowser

                          I love how they kept showing Canora giving Tsai the "evil eye" during the judging of the Secret Ingredient challenge, esp. when Tsai said he was lucky he was the last one to put his profiteroles in the oven ...

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Chef Canora's eyes scare me. I want them off.

                            1. re: ramenbound

                              lol ramenbound
                              I really want to see Donatella outta there as well. She just gets more annoying!

                              Canora is suuuuuch a big baby about everything, whining and bitching and moaning and trying to spin the cheftestant judging his way <-- I really hope he doesn't get the ICA gig. ANYONE but him!
                              (He can cook, which is nice of course)

                              They are all super star chefs. I'd like to see Tio v Tsai in the showdown, but I really like Forgione's mellow too. Too bad about Caswell.

                              1. re: pitu

                                I'd be happy losing Canora, Simon, Donatella, and Alton Brown. Bring back Garces and Ted Allen to judge. I'm happy with Tio or Tsai or Forgione winning.

                                I can't imagine watching an actual episode of ICA with Canora. He's like the Tonya Harding of the kitchen - something is always wrong and it's never his fault.

                                At least nobody got caught in those stupid giant garage doors.

                                1. re: 512window

                                  "I can't imagine watching an actual episode of ICA with Canora. He's like the Tonya Harding of the kitchen - something is always wrong and it's never his fault."
                                  ~~~~~~~
                                  best line of the day...i just hope he doesn't hire someone to kneecap Ming Tsai as he's walking through the kitchen.

                                2. re: pitu

                                  Donatella is the most annoying "judge" on this type of FN show since Karine.

                                3. re: ramenbound

                                  I think the biggest barrier to him being the winner is that he is just SO damned unlikeable. We've already got one preternaturally grumpy IC (Flay), and we don't need another. Canora constantly rolls his eyes, and looks heavenward with a "poor me" look on his face.

                                4. re: ipsedixit

                                  I'm not 100% convinced that it was Tsai's fault that Canora profiteroles didn't turn out. Caswell said that his batter was totally wrong. It ran out "like sand" he said.

                                  ~TDQ

                                5. re: chowser

                                  I wish they'd shown more or Tio's sense of humor on the show. When she was channeling Daria Morgandorffer with the 'Oh joy, a buffet.' deadpan, it cracked me up.

                                6. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                  Totally agree, ghg, that Caswell said it in this episode, and Ming said something similar last episode, that Canora tries to "define" the challenge so it advantages him.

                                  And I agree that Canora's failed profiteroles were possibly a result of his runny batter, as Caswell pointed out.

                                  ~TDQ

                            2. Maybe they could just give Donatella a big bowl of plain white rice and she won't complain it has too much seasoning. I am getting so sick of hearing that from her. She's a terrible judge. And Simon with the pork and pineapple is getting VERY old.

                              1 Reply
                              1. They need Anya. Hands down the best judge.

                                1. Personality-wise, Canora could take some classes; true. However, I believe the record will show that from the beginning, I've said he is the chef to beat. And he is.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: whiner

                                    I wonder if he can be "The Iron Chef we Love to Hate" or if that would get old. He's so frantic and accusatory in the kitchen.

                                    ~TDQ

                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      it's already old. if he's TNIC, i won't be watching any of his battles.