The New Iron Chef

January 17, 2005

Here's why: the judges were:

1). That guy who played J.Peterman on Seinfeld. (White, American)

2). Some silly starlet from the O.C. (White, American)

3). An actual chef who looked pretty hip. (White, American)

4). The "chairman" --the dude who announces the secret ingredient and the winner. This guy spends most of the show doing kung fu, wearing mandarin collared shirts, and spouts cheesy platitudes. Don't even get me started on this guy. (Mark Dacascos)

Here's the thing: when I was in Japan, I conducted my own informal survey about flavor. No, seriously. Because every single Japanese person I've ever met (from Japan, not JAs) has talked about "delicious rice". As in, they can taste a difference between koshihikari rice from Nagano Prefecture and Menkoina rice from Akita Prefecture. They can tell the difference between rice that is just-harvested and rice that's a few months old. I'm not talking about obvious differences, like wild vs. basmati vs. jasmine, I'm talking short-grain white and sticky vs. short-grain white and sticky.

Furthermore, I learned that Japanese people can tell the difference between kinds of salt. So we're sitting there eating nigiri (rice balls) and my friend Kimiko says, "This is delicious. This is really good salt."

Salt! Salt is salt! I protested. Oh no, it is commonly understood (not just at the snobby chef/connoisseur level, as it is here) that different salts have different flavors. I saw a whole section of a department store devoted to foods made with a special pink salt crystal, much higher in minerals and stuff and MUCH more expensive. And everyone I asked, from housewives to photographers to students, said, "of course different salts taste different."

"If Japanese people are so sensitive to flavors that we Americans almost never think about," I said, "you probably think our food tastes pretty bad. I'm mean, we're not paying that close of attention."

"Americans think British food tastes bad, don't they?" my friend asked. "That's kind of the image Japanese people have of American food. It's not thought of as delicious."

I never knew that American food is to the Japanese as British food is to the Americans. But for a country where burgers are the no. 1 food for men and no. 2 for women, why should I be surprised?

My point? J. Peterman and Ms. O.C. don't have the properly trained taste buds to properly appreciate the Japanese food. There's probably stuff going on at a level beyond their comprehension, in the same way we couldn't hear a tune played by dog whistles.

I'm not saying the producers of Iron Chef America are racist, just ignorant. (Don't you love the hubris of blogs?) If they really want to enlighten American understanding of cuisine, they should start by explaining some of the principles of their international challengers.

They can start with salt.




Is this really new? Because I remember about a year ago watching an Iron Chef battle where Bobby Flay, Mario Batali and Wolfgang Puck battled the Iron Chefs before. I can't remember the ingredients, but I remember the US "Iron Chefs" were pretty bad about showing modesty after being declared winners of the matches they won. Especially Bobby Flay.Morimoto still rules all! But I admit Batali is a great opponent.
Yes, this is a new series. It premiered Sunday, Jan. 16, 2005.You may have seen the special, "Iron Chef, Battle of the Masters" is not the same thing as the series.
i watched part of it. i forgot what the secret ingredient was--it was that engaging. it seemed more about the celebs than the food. i rubbed me the wrong way when i first heard they were making an american version of iron chef to start with.