Monday, November 13, 2006

Last Night's Iron Chef America

After reading this article about an upcoming episode of Iron Chef America, I was intrigued enough by the contestants to give the show a try. For you non-Food Network types, here's the gist: Rachael Ray, culinary everyman, would be crossing spatulas with Giada De Laurentiis, the pedigreed host of Everyday Italian.

First of all, I think women competing for anything makes for good television: money, fame, Flavor Flav, it matters not. The nature of the matchup was also appealing. According to her Food Network profile, Ray does not have any fancy-schmancy training. She basically markets herself (or is marketed) as the anti-Martha Stewart: practical, frugal, and approachable. She hosts "ordinary gal" shows like 30-Minute Meals and $40 a Day, in which viewers learn how to dine out in their favorite cities for--you guessed it--$40 a day. Giada De Laurentiis, however, has quite a resume, having trained at Le Cordon Bleu and worked at the Ritz Carlton and Spago, in addition to running her own L.A. catering operation. To make matters worse, Giada is a knockout, while Rachael Ray looks as though she does more than sample her own cooking (I know, "meow," but it was worth mentioning). This was set up as a definite David vs. Goliath scenario ("only this time, David's gonna win!").

The show itself was actually pretty entertaining. As a special twist, or more likely as a way to even the playing field, each contestant was paired with a seasoned (get it!) Iron Chef. Giada got paired with Bobby Flay, who I only recognized from a morning show; Rachael got Mario Batali, who I had never heard of. For those not familiar with the show's concept, the chefs have to make 5 courses based around a single random ingredient. This week the ingredient was the cranberry. Yuck. I did not envy those ladies. It was funny watching the competitors scramble around, getting in the way of their respective partners and assistants. While the spotlight should have been on the two lady chefs, I found Mario Batali to be the most entertaining. No flies on that man, to be sure. He even had the time and boldness to serve cranberry-flavored drinks to the three faux-lebrity judges. After doing a little research, I realized that Mario is the chef at a trendy restaurant called Babbo, and both he and the restaurant were mentioned on a recent episode of Ugly Betty. Mario officially rocks, people.

The other folks were less entertaining. Whenever the host tried asking Bobby Flay questions, Flay responded with grumpy gestures and facial expressions. They may tolerate that nonsense on The Early Show, but don't sell that behavior here. Giada was good-natured but dull, and Rachael alternated between sweating and being insecure about her non-chef status.
Don't even get me started on the judges. First up, there was Mo Rocca, occasional panelist and low-level HITG. My brother-in-law Justin once said, after watching the millionth VH1 show involving Henry Rollins, that Rollins must hang out in the VH1 offices begging for work. The same could be said of Rocca and any TV network. There was also a random editor of Entertainment Weekly and David Evangelista, hairdresser "to the stars." Didn't this guy do Rosie O'Donnell's hair when she had her own talk show? Congratulations on a job...done. I'm sure there's some rationale for using so-called entertainment personalities, but do Hollywood types really know about food? I always assumed eating was frowned upon in those circles.

Anyway, the results were creative and, I can only assume, delicious. The best-looking dish was the Zuppa Inglese with cranberries. Like Miss Entertainment Weekly, I normally don't bother with non-chocolate desserts, but this looked incredible. Ultimately, Rachael Ray was declared the winner, and by a significant margin. A blank-faced Giada did not seem to expect this outcome. Not to be uncharitable, but most of the really cool dishes seemed to be Mario's doing, but oh well. Rachael still gets bragging rights. That's Ordinary Gals: 1, Perfect Hotties: 3,457,922.