Monday, September 1, 2008

My fascination with Iron Chef

MM-banner20I don't get cable or satellite TV, so when I'm visiting someone who does, I try to watch some of my favorite shows. One of these is Iron Chef.
The original Japanese Iron Chef.

For those of you unfamiliar with the premise, Ill try to briefly explain:
There are these Japanese "Iron Chefs", each of whom is an expert in a specific culinary genre (e.g. Japanese, Chinese, French, Italian). Every episode there is a guest chef who challenges one of the Iron Chefs to a cook-off which lasts for one hour. The program's chairman chooses a theme ingredient that has to be included in every dish the chefs make. There are usually somewhere between 3-6 dishes each chef makes. Then a panel of judges tastes each dish and decides on an overall winner.

The whole program is set in Japan, with Japanese-type ingredients, and almost all Japanese chefs, all speaking Japanese. So there are plenty of subtitles and dubbed-in translators. For me, this is a huge part of the appeal because it feels more exotic. I love seeing the unfamiliar ingredients and customs. The chefs even bow to one another after the competition is over. And the ingredients include things like natto (stringy fermented soybeans which smell like rotten cheese), seaweed, giant eel, and octopus.

The funny thing is that 98% of the resulting recipes are ones I would never ever actually eat.
Imagine things made with lobster brains, sea cucumbers, raw seafood, seaweed, and squid ink. Yes. They've used ALL those things.

The dishes look so beautiful, so artfully prepared, and yet so awful all at once.
I LOVE that.

The episodes aired from 1993 to 1999, so all the episodes you see these days are reruns.
There IS an American version of Iron Chef, with American chefs and more familiar ingredients, all spoken in English. The announcer is Alton Brown, who I adore.
Still, I really don't like the American version of Iron Chef. It's lost all the magic of the original. No foreign languages, no super-bizarre ingredients and foreign customs. It's nothing more than an ordinary cooking show. And that's a shame, because the original Iron Chef was SO much more than that.

Here's the opening music and intro.
Can you feel the culinary excitement?



splummer said...

I never watched this program before. But looks like it was really good. Sorry I missed it!!

Marilyn said...

I've seen it twice and I liked it for all the reasons you mention but Andy detests it. So we end up watching something we both hate or I read Dave Bary out loud and we both enjoy that.

onangelwings said...

Awesome contribution to Iron. Why didn't I think of this?

Mik said...

So that's why the American version has that actor/presenter who does the karate hand moves, because it originated in Japan.

Janna said...

Splummer: It was a good program!

Marilyn: Maybe you could compromise by reading Dave Barry in Japanese.

Onangelwings: I was wondering how many other people would think of it... I thought I couldn't possibly be the only one...

Mik: That's why! :)

lucy said...

It was a great show wasn't it and you did a great take on the theme!

Anonymous said...

the dubbing into English always cracked me up - kinda like Godzilla in the kitchen - a total hoot!