'Iron Chef America' offers new show flavor

"Allez cuisine!"

If you're not already familiar with this phrase, you're about to be.

First popularized by a Japanese cooking show that pits celebrity chefs against each other in a timed cook-off, the saying (which translates very roughly as "Go food!") has come to epitomize the theatrics and hyperbole that fuel the show.

"Iron Chef," produced by Fuji TV from 1993-2000 and syndicated on Food Network in the United States, enjoys something of a cult following. Hundreds of fan Web sites and Internet blogs are devoted to the chefs, their recipes, their restaurants -- even their personal grooming habits.

"Iron Chef America," airing April 23-25, brings two of the original Japanese "Iron Chefs" to America and the Food Network to battle some of the biggest names in American cuisine: Bobby Flay, Mario Batali and Wolfgang Puck. Flay is the only American who heretofore has dared to take on the Japanese masters on their own domain, and this competition offers him a chance to prove his worth on his own turf.

Diehard fans may be surprised by the outcomes, but the show itself does a good job at conforming to the traditions of the original "Iron Chef" while making the battle distinctly American.

"Iron Chef" aficionados will feel right at home with the saber-rattling, gladiator music and play-by-play descriptions by floor reporter Kevin Brauch (host of Fine Living TV Network's "Thirsty Traveler") and commentator Alton Brown (host of Food Network's "Good Eats").

True to the original

As in the original series, each battle's secret ingredient is revealed with Houdini-like flair, just seconds before each chef must run to his side of the "Kitchen Stadium" and create several courses incorporating this ingredient in exactly 60 minutes. A pantry stocked with just about every imaginable spice, food and cooking contraption -- even an ice-cream machine and a charcoal grill -- is at each chef's disposal. Three judges rate the final meal on taste, originality and design.

Brown believes that the difference between Japanese judges' palates and those of the Americans might play a deciding factor in whose cuisine can reign supreme.

"It's so easy to forget the level of mastery that these people have," Brown says of the Japanese and American chefs. "I hope this will showcase that more than any other show has."

American-style competition

At its heart, the chef face-off pairs elements of an American sports competition, complete with instant replays ("Look at that dexterity! Kids, don't try this at home!") and "reports" on each team's strategy with the cooking-show-meets-pro-wrestling philosophy of the original.

The judges include celebrities as well as several nationally known food critics.

The first face-off is April 23 and pits "Iron Chef" French-style cook Hiroyuki Sakai against Flay. Battle No. 2, premiering April 24, features Iron Chef Japanese-style cook Masaharu Morimoto vs. Batali. Puck takes on Morimoto in an April 25 contest.

A special tag-team finale (Morimoto-Flay vs. Sakai-Batali) airs April 25.


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