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      Iron Chef
    Sushi surprise

    World-class "Iron Chefs" do battle each week armed with the ingredient of the week — from yogurt to live octopus — and a sharp cleaver.


    "Iron Chef" is a kind of TV show that it seems that only the Japanese can cook up. With an odd combination of kitsch, culture and Japanese stoicism, it defies comparison to any cooking show from Martha Stewart or her ilk.

    In Japanese, dubbed in English in some versions with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site | SF Weekly article
    The Food Network Fri. and Sat. nights, 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. Fujisankei (Japanese leased-access on WMBC in New York) Fri. and Sat. 10 p.m. (sporadic)

    This hour-long cooking showdown has been variously described as "Julia Child meets 'Dark Shadows' crossed with 'World Wrestling Federation,'" or a culinary "American Gladiators." Each week, two battling chefs are served up on a bed of melodrama with a side of frenzy. The emcee, Takeshi Kaga, otherwise known in Japan for his theatrical performances as Tony in "West Side Story," Jesus in "Jesus Christ Superstar," and Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables," grandly announces each battle in flamboyant, overly dramatic costumes adorned liberally with frills and sequins. There are two commentators, who discuss the chefs' technique, choice of ingredients, and other gastronomic subtleties with a style reminiscent of American sports commentators, as well as many cameramen who run around behind the chefs, ready for a seaweed-broth close-up or an instant replay of an especially skillful fish-gutting.

      Kaga Takeshi in Iron Chef
      Kaga Takeshi
    The four Iron Chefs, identified by their colors and cooking styles, are the top Japanese chefs in their cuisines. The Japanese Iron Chef is Masaharu Morimoto, best known as the head chef of Robert DeNiro's trendy TriBeCa restaurant Nobu, and his style is often a surprising fusion of Japanese and American cuisines. The other Iron Chefs represent Chinese, French, and Italian cuisines, and have restaurants in Tokyo.

    Each week, a challenger arrives in Kitchen Stadium and picks the Iron Chef against whom he will compete. Then, the theme ingredient is unveiled. This can be anything from abalone to yogurt, covering Japanese and non-Japanese specialties as well as such unusual ingredients as octopus, bananas, thousand-year-old egg, or pork bellies. An added thrill (or gross-out, depending) is when the theme ingredient is presented alive, as in the case of Battle Octopus, where the theme ingredient was trying to crawl out of the pot.

    Kishi Asako in Iron Chef  
    Kishi Asako
    The Iron Chef and the challenger have an hour to prepare and serve a multi-course meal, all courses of which must use the theme ingredient. This is often accomplished in what can best be described as an unusual manner, with desserts being the most creative in their use of the main ingredient in some form of ice cream, especially if it is some sort of seafood. Entrails are also a favorite, and "Iron Chef" aficionados are always alert to the use of unusual or flamboyant techniques, such as the use of a blowtorch. When a chef throws out a dish or a preparation, it is also a signal moment.

    This is not usually a show for those on diets, as the generous use of caviar, truffles and foie gras, in addition to the main ingredients, tends to make the viewer hungry.

    OCTOBER 1, 1999

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