Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Next Iron Chef: Storytelling and a Small Token that Snuck In

On Sunday evenings at 9:00 p.m. sharp, I am tuned in to the television to watch The Next Iron Chef. I used to watch the Iron Chef back when they had dubbed voices for the Japanese-speaking judges. It was actually quite comical. You could tell that the judges were having a good time, laughing a lot in between their comments as they watched the chefs cook off for a win. At some point in the years, the judges changed and the show was no longer dubbed. I stopped watching on a regular basis and became an intermittent watcher. I had never watched how one became an Iron Chef, but when I saw a few weeks back that The Next Iron Chef would be airing, I knew I would be glued to the TV for an hour each Sunday.

It’s all about the secret ingredient and how successfully you incorporate it into your dish. Several Sunday’s ago stands out to me as one of the most challenging competitions: The Concessions Challenge. The chefs would have one of several concessions items: root beer, malted chocolate balls, and sour candy, to name a few. The chefs would have to create a masterpiece in an hour showcasing the secret ingredient in their dish. Can you imagine? It’s exciting to watch the chefs, as they figure out quickly what they will cook as they set to work, concocting, tasting, plating. It’s a culinary whirlwind.

This past Sunday’s show was my favorite so far: Storytelling. The chefs were presented with six postcards featuring six iconic New York City locations: Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Broadway, Central Park, Times Square, and the Empire State Building. Wow! Food and storytelling—this would be a dream episode to savor. I started to think about food in general and the story that it does tell. I thought of memorable meals that I have experienced and if I were to cook from a perspective of telling a story, what would I cook and what story would I want to tell.

Back in Kitchen Stadium, each chef would pick a number from one to six and be matched up with a post card. The chef with the advantage from the last competition would go last and have the option of keeping their postcard or swapping for one of the five in hand. All of the chefs seemed pleased with their offerings. As usual, I watch in anticipation and excitement at the creativity and passion that these chefs exhibit as they set out for a win. The clock ticks down. Time goes fast. Time’s up: Step away. Judging time.

Two stood out to me for different reasons.

What I recall about Chef Alex Guarnaschelli’s presentation is that she wanted to evoke the smell of New York, of walking the streets and being hit with that NYC smell. Her creativity is what got me. Along with her meal, she had a small brown paper bag that was meant only for smelling and in it were the burnt roasted peanuts to bring the judges there to NYC. Her overall meal was not that exciting and she did have some bumps, but her creativity got me.

Chef Anne Burrell was the clear winner in her story, food presentation, and delivery of her own memories tied to Central Park and what it represents to her. She personalized it and made it universal. It was as though from the moment she got her postcard, she knew exactly where she was headed. She recounted how most may think of her as a city girl, but she was actually raised in a country setting and it was this feeling that she received from sitting in Central Park, with the pigeons, trees, grass, and birds.

And how could I not think of Red Room member, Mary Wilkinson (m), in all the stories—stories that she has served up with food and words. It made me reflect for a moment upon her blogs, especially the food blogs and the wonderful stories that come out of her kitchen. And for the lucky passerby in her cozy area, they could probably catch the mouth-watering smells that sneak from her kitchen windows. I imagine her on her culinary journey and how she gets to do what these great chefs do in this one particular episode of telling stories with food. I guess this last part is a small token of appreciation to, m, all the way in Ireland: An ode to her and an ode to all the chefs and aspiring chefs of the wordly and culinary world.


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