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Maybe Iron Chef America ISN'T as staged as we thought?

I believe this episode aired for the first time last Sunday, so if you haven't seen it and want to be surprised when you do, read no further!


Anyway, Bobby Flay went up against Todd Stein for battle mussels. Right after the secret ingredient was announced and the chefs gathered with their crews, Bobby asked his sous chefs something to the effect of, "What should we do for the next dish? Do you have any ideas?" One of the girls responded with, "You should do a cioppino" and Bobby said okay and went for it.

Based on all of the behind the scenes type articles I've read about ICA, the chefs supposedly know what the ingredients are the weekend before, and have two days to practice and make a game plan. (Other articles say the chefs are given a list of three possible ingredients a few weeks before the show, and they practice three sets of dishes and find out which ones they'll be cooking during taping.) Could Bobby's comment be proof that this isn't actually the case, and that the cooking on ICA is actually as spontaneous and hectic as we are lead to believe? Or do you feel that this was a comment purposely filmed to give an air of uncertainty, and that the chefs really do have a road map prior to filming?

Just wondering what your thoughts are, because I am always intrigued about what we don't see on shows like this! Also, Laura Calder is a judge this episode, and she is her lovely but sassy self! And Julie Chen's false eyelashes were ridiculous to the point of distraction. :)

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  1. Not sure if anything changed but that episode was all about the sous chefs.

    Bobby had Christine Sanchez (his sous chef at Bolo) who always seems to be confused and out of her element on ICA, and was she really asking Bobby if she was cooking grits correctly?

    Todd Stein had Russell Kook who some might remember as the runner up on the most recent season of Hell's Kitchen (he lost to Nona in the final). Russell was one of the most arrogant contestants ever and it seems like he's still the same. I liked how Todd asked him about how much mussel stock there was and he responded with some smarmy "there's a lot" response, and, when he was removing cooked mussels out of the shell he was popping every other mussel into his mouth and munching away. A true professional and comedy gold.

    1. How do you know that exchange with Bobby and his sous chef isn't staged?

      1 Reply
      1. re: ipsedixit

        I don't. That's why I brought the possibility up in my post: "Or do you feel that this was a comment purposely filmed to give an air of uncertainty, and that the chefs really do have a road map prior to filming?" ;)

      2. I thought I saw on a behind the scenes program, they learned the secret ingredient in the morning, when they were setting up, and put the ingredient onstage. I figure they do the brainstorming then.

        1. everything i've heard is as you say, they are given a list of possible ingredients, but not which it will be

          3 Replies
          1. re: thew

            I thought I'd read that the IC knows the ingredient while the challenger has a list of possible ingredients.

            1. re: chicgail

              no way would they give different knowledge to both sides

              1. re: thew

                <<no way would they give different knowledge to both sides>>

                ... because the competition is so Fair and Balanced?

          2. Here's a recent interview with Stein


            "EChi: There's a lot going on in the hour. Do they give you any prep time before learning the secret ingredient?
            TS: You get a little time to get some stuff done—basics, but you can't do any knife work. You can get stocks on, but you can't start the actual cooking. The hour is real."

            Lot more ICA coverage on Eater
            "And you find out which particular ingredient you'll be cooking with 45 minutes or so ahead of the taping and it's usually between three to four particular ingredients, so you have time to plan menus for each and request ingredients for your pantry;...."

            5 Replies
            1. re: paulj

              I'd still like to see blind judging on ICA.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                ID, I could not agree with you more.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  I can picture the judges standing around a table with 10 identical (except for numbers) styrofoam trays, discussing the color and texture of each! That works for an occasional special on chili or ribs. I don't think it would be as good television for fancy dining like this.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    +1 on blind judging!! (I was glad to see they have blind judging at the Quickfire challenge of Top Chef Masters... maybe the idea will catch on!)

                2. when i started reading your post i thought it was going to be more about the fact that Christine Sanchez was such a scattered train wreck...and i was ready to tell you she's *always* like that and i don't understand why Bobby continues to bring her to battles.

                  those "game plan" conversations between the competitors and their sous are staged, and a relatively new development that i personally don't much care for. i guess the producers thought it would be nice for the viewers to get a sneak peek at what the chefs are planning, but to me, much of the fun of watching the show came from trying to guess - along with Alton - what they were making as the dishes and their components progressed. knowing the menu ahead of time kills it for me.

                  oh, and to clarify, both competitors do get a list of 3 possible ingredients several weeks before the competition, so they arrive with a lineup of dishes they plan to make for each one, and go with the dishes they've planned/practiced for whichever ingredient is revealed.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    IC Japan liked to focus on the menu that some of the chefs (Michiba?) wrote at the start of cooking.

                    1. re: paulj

                      back in the early days of FN when i used to watch ICJ i was *much* less knowledgeable about cooking...so i was content to just watch all the techniques and absorb new info :)

                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        They had a special about the making of ICA - Alton said the chef's know the secret ingrediant 15 minutes prior to the battle. Alton thought the secret ingrediant was a lot less important than the pantry ingrediants which vary per battle and season.

                        Also, after they get their intial plating done (hands down walk away) they get another 15 minutes to plate up the rest for the judges.

                        1. re: sparky403

                          i saw the special, and i've read all the articles...as well as interviews with chefs who have competed. the actual ingredient is revealed right before the battle, but they get a list of 3 possibilities several weeks before so they can be somewhat prepared. basically they prepare for three, and find out which *one* it is just before taping.

                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            And they know it a little before what was said on that special, IIRC, because they should be able to tell what the ingredient is based on how the pantry is stocked (ie, which of their 3 lists of ingredients was stocked).

                            1. re: LurkerDan

                              I've seen conflicting information about whether the pantry stock would give a clue as to the secret ingredient. The Eater article I linked above claims that the pantry is stocked with all requested items, not just those for a specific secret ingredient. Plus the time between coming to the studio and starting to cook may not be the best for planning or thinking about the menu.

                              1. re: paulj

                                I am going off of what I learned here: http://www.lohud.com/article/20070528...

                                He says that "Although the secret ingredient isn’t officially unveiled until we start taping, it’s easy to figure it out about an hour beforehand. The ingredients are laid out behind the scenes, in the prep kitchen. Once you see which of your shopping lists has been purchased, you know everything. At about 7:40, when we’re finally let in, that sinking feeling returns: The ingredients say it’s going to be cowboy steak."

                                It's a good read.

                                1. re: LurkerDan

                                  OH! Those EYELASHES!!!! I was waiting for one to fly off into her plate.