Iron Chef Gauntlet: “Sweet and Savory”

This week, Iron Chef Gauntlet runs the gamut of flavors for your mouth, as the chefs battle it out over sweet and savory.

Last week! Iron Chef Gauntlet ran their contestants through the grinder and stuffed them into sausage in a mini Battle Pig. This week, Alton Brown brings the show back to something a little more familiar, with a battle based on the idea of “Adaptability.” This is the sort of challenges we saw during Next Iron Chef, the predecessor to Gauntlet, where each battle was less about the mood and more a lesson in the mindset one must have to successfully compete.

Said concept of adaptability has set Brown to create a Chairman’s Challenge based on the idea of sweet and savory flavors. With five contestants left, he has five ingredients on the altar–all of which are less than friendly. This is no Battle Chocolate! These are items like “black beans”, “fish sauce” and “beets.” Nor is there a button bag this week for the contestants to have their ingredients randomly assigned. Nope, it’s a run at the Altar free for all.

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Iron Chef Gauntlet: Photo by Eddie Chen. Image via Food Network/Scripps Network

So not only who is the more adaptable, but who is the most competitive and willing to get their elbows thrown around. Let’s see who wound up with what.

  • Chef Izard: Black Beans
  • Chef Grueneberg: Beets
  • Chef Dady: Sesame Seeds
  • Chef Gulotta: Blue Cheese
  • Chef Nakajima: Fish Sauce

As hardcore Iron Chef America fans will recall, desserts started falling by the wayside in the later seasons of the show. After all, there’s only so many times Alton Brown and Kevin Braush could scream “ICE CREAM MACHINE” in unison and have it be effective. Therefore, this is not billed as a practice Battle Dessert. But personally, I find the bizarre desserts to be one of the more fun concepts Iron Chef used to deliver. So anything that trains these guys to make hilarious dessert creations is fine by me.

Of the five, Gulotta is the one who has it the easiest–Blue Cheese Ice Cream is basically a no brainer. Nakajima deliberately went with fish sauce, so I’m curious what his ideas are. Izard was the slowest, and is the one “stuck” with an ingredient, black beans, she wouldn’t have chosen. She not only has to think fast, but get over her sulks that she has no idea what to do with them.

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Iron Chef Gauntlet: Photo by Patrick Wymore. Image via Food Network/Scripps Network
  • Sarah Grueneberg Fried Beet Schnitzel/Red Beet Panna Cotta Alton Brown is blown over by the fried beet in panko, demanding to know where this dish has been all his life. Dessert is less successful, though he does praise it as “beet forward.”
  • Stephanie Izard Black Bean Chaat with Tomato Chutney/Black Bean Ice Cream Brown calls her savory dish “sour” and not bean-centric enough. Brown loves the flavor of her ice cream, but dings her hard for impractical plating.
  • Shota Nakajima Braised Shellfish with Fish Sauce/Yogurt with Berries and Fish Sauce The savory dish gets poor reviews. Brown whispers “It’s really salty” looking like he’s very sad about it. As for dessert? Brown: “I love this.”
  • Jason Dady Soba Noodles with Black and White Sesame Sauces/White Sesame Cheesecake with Black Sesame Coulis Brown likes the Black Sesame sauce in the savory dish, but not the white one, which gives him an opportunity to remind the contestants that when you make two dishes instead of one, you’re competing against yourself and it often backfires. As for the cheesecake, he once again does not like the white sesame seeds, and calls the whole dish “too coconut forward.”
  • Michael Gulotta Caramelized Blue Cheese with Crab Meat Salad/Blue Cheese & Cardamom Ice Cream Alton calls the savory dish far too greasy, even though he likes the flavor combo. His ice cream is declared brilliant, but the rest of it is too salty.

With reviews like that, it seems like our first contestant sent to the Secret Ingredient Showdown will be Chef Dady. But Brown surprises me by picking Gulotta for his too greasy/too salty combos. Our winner, for a second week in a row is Chef Grueneberg. Her choice to join Gulotta–after her usual “picking someone makes me sad and sick” performance–is Nakajima, which surprises no one.

She claims it’s about his salty clams, but that’s nonsense. Nakajima’s performance last week in the Secret Ingredient Showdown was remarkable, and Grueneberg is clearly checking to see if that is a fluke, or if the kid is really that good. If it was a fluke, he’ll be eliminated, and they’ll be rid of him. If not, he’ll knock Gulotta out for her.

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Iron Chef Gauntlet: Photo by Patrick Wymore. Image via Food Network/Scripps Network

And the Secret Ingredient Showdown Secret Ingredient is: RELEASE THE KRAKEN! Yes, this is Battle Octopi! Nakajima was hoping for seafood last week, so you know he’s excited. Gulotta is also experienced with these succulent cephalopods, so he refuses to feel intimidated.

Nakajima is trying to intimidate too. He beats his baby octopus with a sake bottle for panache and flair. Gulotta is hitting the pressure cooker, since they only have an hour to cook these creatures down–and as Brown reminds us, octopus is one of those things that has to be cooking in 30 seconds, or hours and hours. There is no in between.

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Iron Chef Gauntlet: Photo by Patrick Wymore. Image via Food Network/Scripps Network

This week’s judges once again feature an Next Iron Chef winner–this week it’s Season 3 winner Marc Forgione. His partner in tasting is our first non-Iron Chef-centric Food Network personality, Giada De Laurentiis. She only competed on Iron Chef America once, and she was paired with Bobby Flay since it was assumed she couldn’t do it by herself. Her real qualifications for this is that she is a permanent judge on the network’s long running (and very successful) reality competition show Food Network Star.

Michael Gulotta Octopus Salad with Fresh Tomato Curry/Grilled Baby Octopus with Cuttlefish Ink Aioli/Paella Nigra with Octopus and Shellfish. Forgione says the salad more a gazpacho than a curry, but he’s quibbling. His real issue is the octopus “seems to just have fallen into” the dish. Giada likes the kick it has, but agrees. The second dish makes both of them sit up and say wow, but Forgione calls him out for leaving the octopus beak in. Giada likes the idea of the last dish, but she wanted more octopus. Forgione agrees.

Shota Nakajima Tempura Fried Octopus & Shimeji Mushrooms/Fried Octopus Suckers with Pickled Cucumbers/Braised Octopus with Turnips. Nakajima screws up by telling them to put lemon on their first dish and then saying they shouldn’t have done that. Giada is not happy, saying she ruined her dish by following his directions. They call his second dish “fun to eat.” Forgione loves that he turned the octopus into a pickle. The third dish he apologizes for not having time for doing the dish as he wanted, and Forgione scolds him to never ever do that–tell us what you made, not what you wish you’d made.

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:

  • Gulotta: 27 (14, 7, 6)
  • Nakajima: 32 (15, 8, 9)

Brown notes that the judges were in a split decision, and that each argued for one to go home. He seems slightly relieved that the numbers exist to be the deciding factor. My guess is Giada wanted Nakajima to go, and assumed (like on FNS) that she could simply argue for this, and wasn’t quick thinking enough to score him low enough to get her way. Alton seems to confirm this by stating that his elimination is more about luck than having a bad day.

Next week: classic combos!

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