Iron Chef: Gauntlet “Nose to Tail”

For our second round in the Gauntlet to take on Iron Chefs in culinary competition, Alton Brown has the competitors take on the most magical wonderful animal there is.

The return of Iron Chef America last week, or perhaps more properly The Next Iron Chef, in the guise of Iron Chef: Gauntlet was one filled with memories of the original show, and a promise of looking ahead to the future and a new generation of culinary stars. But the world of food is one dominated by men, and white ones at that. That the first chef to pack up their knives and go was the only woman of color in the competition was deeply unfortunate, but sadly unsurprising. One would hope for more from said promised future.

Let’s hope this week is slightly kinder to the cause of diversifying the world of culinary competition, as well as that of Food Network. (Who, to their credit, do work hard to keep a safely diverse line up in their stand and stir shows, especially since that whole Paula Deen episode.) This week, the Alton Brown has brought along one of his favorite ingredients from the Good Eats days (as well as one seen on Iron Chef America before). Our Chairman’s Challenge features: SUCKLING PIG.

I mean, what other animal would we be expecting, in an episode entitled “nose to tail”? Famously the pig is an animal which humans waste no part of in eating. Homer Simpson once called it “wonderful magical animal” for a reason. Said pig on the altar has been divided into six cuts, for the six chefs. Who gets which section? For that we turn to Alton’s version of… the dreaded button bag. To wit!

  • Chef Sawyer: Loin
  • Chef Izard: Belly
  • Chef Grueneberg: Head
  • Chef Dady: Shoulder
  • Chef Gulotta: Shank/Feet/Tail
  • Chef Nakajima: Ham
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Iron Chef Gauntlet: Alton Brown. Image via Food Network/Scripps Network

With 45 minutes to complete their dish, the pressure cookers all pop out on stations, especially for those who have things like “feet” or “loin”, which typically are cooking low and slow for three to four hours. We have our first “this isn’t my strong suit” pre-emptive lowering of expectations whine from a contestant (in this case Nakajima), leading Alton Brown to yell that Iron Chefs have to be able to cook in Battle Cardboard Frickin’ Box and win. (Personally I would be excited for that battle. I assume it would be sponsored by pringles.)

After praying to the pressure cooker gods that their dishes are done, the chefs present their dishes for judging to Alton Brown, who once again determines which Chef will be in the bottom, along with the winning Chef, who gets to pick the challenger said loser will face.

  • Jonathon Sawyer “Pork-O Tonnato” (Pork Loin with Smoked Scallop Sauce) It’s cute name, and a cute setting the plate on fire. Brown is *not* impressed, and called the plate unfocused, though he thinks the flavor is interesting, though the pork is undercooked.
  • Stephanie Izard Twice-Cooked Pork Belly with Silver Needle Noodles A pretty dish. Brown likes the noodles, but her pork is overcooked. He called it so chewy as to be inedible.
  • Jason Dady Pork Shoulder Ragu with Celery Root Ravioli Brown calls it wonderful and well balance–but it’s not a pork dish. It’s a great pasta dish.
  • Shota Nakajima Sesame Ham Salad Brown says it doesn’t look like a pork dish, and everything needs to be turned up–it’s way too bland.
  • Michael Gulotta Pork Trotter & Prawn Dumplings Brown is very pleased the prawn did not run away with the show, and that it was a pork forward tasting dish.
  • Sarah Grueneberg Pig Head Wonton I love the name! Brown loves her plating, but tell her not to tell him how to eat it. He calls it a little dense, but the flavor comes through well.

The winner is Chef Grueneberg! From zero last week to hero this. Meanwhile Chef Nakajima’s lowering of expectations did not help him. He is in the bottom.

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Host Alton Brown watching the chefs prepare their dishes for the Chairman Challenge, as seen on Iron Chef Gauntlet, Season 1.

This means that Grueneberg gets to pick who Nakajima will be going up against. Unlike her competitors, she’s the only one with first hand knowledge of what it is to cook in the Secret Ingredient Showdown. After declaring she wouldn’t wish this on her worst enemy, she is announces she’s picking Chef Sawyer. Guess he’s worse than her worse enemy?

And the Secret Ingredient Showdown Secret Ingredient is: Bananas! (And plantains, as Brown is voice overed in to amend.) Banana blossoms and leaves are fair game as well, apparently. Of all the ingredients, the one that’s most interesting is the blossoms, as they are apparently a bit like the banana growing world’s version of an artichoke.

Nakajima is sad, he was hoping for seafood. Sawyer is not happy either–apparently his “farm to table” ethos means he never cooks with bananas, as they do not grow nearby in the midwest. Like last week, both chefs are making three dishes to present to the guest judges. Alton is very concerned at the lack of bananas on Nakajima’s station throughout the battle, while Sawyer seems to be using them all six ways from Sunday.

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Iron Chef Gauntlet: Jose Garces, Anne Burrell. Image via Food Network/Scripps Network

Speaking of the guest judges, once again we are facing two faces from the network who owe that to Iron Chef America. Our first guest is Next Iron Chef Season 2 winner Jose Garces. The other is Anne Burrell, who was sou chef in charge of pastry and dessert to original Iron Chef Mario Batali.

Jonathon Sawyer Leche de Tigre Ceviche/Banana Blossoms & Artichokes/Boca Negra Chocolate Cake with Banana Garces is very pleased with the ceviche. Burrell thinks it’s a yummy dish, but the plating is ugly. Neither of the judges have eaten a banana blossom, and Burrell is disappointed that the artichoke takes over. At least she loves his dessert. Garces is much less impressed with the cake, but points out making dessert in Kitchen Stadium is dicey at best.

Shota Nakajima Scallops & Prawns in Plantain & Miso Sauce/Nanban with Snapper & Banana/Kuwayaki with Salmon & Banana Both the judges are bowled over by his plating–of the two his plating is far cleaner for all three dishes. They also love his first dish, even though they were quite worried about the flavor combination. The second dish sadly does not strike either of them as a banana dish, but a snapper one, with bananas added in later. Both agree that the third dish has the same problem–at least the bananas stand out, but mixed with the salmon…it’s not marrying well.

Each judge can award up to 20 points to each competitor. Like on Iron Chef America, the categories are taste, appearance and creativity. As Alton breaks it down: Ten for flavor, Five for plating and Five for “originality”.
The final score:

  • Sawyer: 25 (14, 4, 7)
  • Nakajima: 33 (17, 8, 8)

Holy wow! Nakajima beat the living HELL out of Sawyer. That’s a shock, especially after those judges comments, I thought for sure Sawyer was a shoo in to next week. As Grueneberg said  “He *smoked* him.” I wonder if she was counting on that.

Next week: a dish that makes an Iron Chef sick.

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