TV Friday – The Next Iron Chefs Power Ranking
We here at Choosy Beggars are always good for a cooking competition show. We have re-runs of The Iron Chef on our PVR that date back to when Alton Brown was fat and not yet a crank, while still being appropriately mean to Kevin Brauch, and nobody had their own uniforms yet. We still watch Chopped with some vague hope that the female contestants won’t get cut immediately. We will not instantaneously turn off shows about cupcakes, even, such is my enjoyment of watching people cook creatively and Tina’s delight at second-guessing them at every turn.
So when we found out that there a new season of The Next Iron Chef starting up this week, and that it was going to be aired at the same time as the United States (generally an impossibility for cable programming, largely because the Canadian counterparts to the Food Network or Comedy channel are run out of an electrical closet somewhere), we were basically beside ourselves. Famous people! Cooking competitively! Doing some really interesting stuff because they have no choice! Pretending that getting a spot on the cast of Iron Chef is really important to them, and maybe quietly actually being sincere about it! Trying hard anyway! Probably failing! Being forced to fail!
Oh, so much to be excited about, and in a format that isn’t the now-ubiquitous Top Chef mold. Heaven!
Thankfully, the first episode validated everything we were hoping to see out of the show. The format was straightforward enough, with one team-based challenge and one head-to-head elimination. The themes weren’t too hokey and the conflicts didn’t feel especially scripted — for instance, frequent head-butters Robert Irvine and Anne Burrell were convincingly exasperated by each other, and yet engaged in zero theatrics while they were actually competing. There were some genuine surprises in who ended up on top and who was fighting to stay on the show, and a few flashes of some genuine emotion that made the whole thing feel about as real as it could… Spike Mendelsohn muttering that it’d be more helpful if “the peanut gallery had muzzles” was, to be specific, gold.
At 90 minutes, we weren’t exactly sure that the show needed to be quite so very long, but if that just gave us more show with famous people getting surprisingly involved in whomping each other, then all the better for us!
This pleasant discovery has also spawned a healthy amount of debate around the household, centered mainly around who we think is going to last the longest, and which we feel will have to endure Michael Symon telling them how great — but uninspired — they were. So with that in mind, we are laying out for the record our Power Rankings from the first episode, as a
basis for violent argument reference point to guide our bitter conflict future enjoyment of the show.
Guarnaschelli is actually one of our favorite people on Chopped, which is why it was kind of a bummer to see her suffer so visibly through the course of the first episode. It’s possible that it was merely the product of over-exposure (as she got a lot of airtime rhapsodizing about how badly she wanted to win) or the producers attempting to find a story when Irvine and Burrell refused to punch each other out — but whatever the case, nothing could hide the fact that she was genuinely struggling under the stress.
Even taking into account the editorial fake-out of watching Guarnaschelli and Falkner flounder, only to produce food that was actually pretty good, it was obvious that Chef Alex was not doing well at all.
Hey, remember when you were in high school and you’d get assigned to group work? And no matter what, you’d always get one guy whose contribution you could never actually pinpoint, but who’d end up thanking you afterwards for all your help in helping him get everything done?
We’re not saying that Beau MacMillan is the dude who keeps a Playboy in his desk, but you get the feeling that Zakarian would’ve traded him for a bottle of white wine if he could.
Oh, we like Elizabeth Falkner, we really do. And while she didn’t end up doing as spectacularly well as she might have hoped, we have to give her a lot of credit for accomplishing what she did. By that we mean, of course, keeping herself from pushing Alex Guarnaschelli into the open firepit after being scolded about how her presentation looked sloppy. Even so, her start was not altogether the most auspicious, and far too many of her brief appearances on camera were to discuss how nobody knew who she was and she’d have to fight to overcome that.
Still, she didn’t kill her panicky partner when many of us would’ve considered it. So high fives to you, Chef Falkner!
Aw, we like Chuck Hughes. Is it because he’s French-Canadian? Is it because we like Chuck’s Day Off? Is it because he seems like one of the most genuine people on the show? It’s hard to say, but the fact that he was one of the more successful teams in the first show gives us hope. As one of the lesser-known (at least to Americans) chefs on the show, we still worry that he may be considered grist for the bigger names to grind up, though.
Color us pleasantly surprised by Chiarello’s performance! Having only ever seen his party-entertaining show, whose central guidance to the viewers is all about starting your cooking up to two days before your guests show up, we weren’t altogether sure what to expect from him in a time-trial. But instead of just soldiering through, here is a man who picked up a bowl and literally hauled ass into the hills to gather wild mustard and fresh herbs.
That is hardcore, and put Samuelsson’s cute maneuver of using lakewater as a “local ingredient” to appropriate shame.
We do not rank Chef Irvine this highly for his gourmet acumen, nor particularly as a result of Tina’s unhealthy fondness for every moment that he is on camera. Rather, it is for the fact that out of all the competitors on the show, Irvine is actually the most practiced at time-based cooking challenges. While the others have all competed in some form or another, Irvine has arguably had more success in this arena than in his real-life restaurant ventures. He’s just really good at being a competitive TV chef, and this first episode was no different.
The only person who may be better, though, is Anne Burrell. The woman was part of Mario Batali’s team on Iron Chef for a good long time, and thus not only has a load of experience in the cooking game show world, but the exact cooking came show she’s auditioning for. Plus, like many of our favorites, her personality is boisterous and energetic enough that she makes for really good TV, which absolutely factors into how this will all shake out.
The Next Iron Chef centers all of their challenges around a skill-based theme, and in the case of the first episode it was resourcefulness. We get the feeling that as long as all future challenges are similarly technical, then he’ll continue to flourish; however, if Zakarian is at any point forced to, you know, have feelings about something, then it may put him at a significant disadvantage. His food is amazing, and winning the very first challenge certainly proves that, but the man is seriously going to quietly shiv someone before the show is over.
We honestly thought Marcus Samuelsson was going to throw up when he ended up on the bottom two. Here is a guy whose presence actively terrifies people who are cooking for him, cooking against him or just cooking near him, because he is so accomplished. That he also happens to be genuinely pleasant and by all evidence great to work with only makes it more intimidating, and thus we wonder whether his food would have been judged so harshly if it had come from, say, Beau MacMillan.
Not that we would imply that Samuelsson, surely one of the favorites to win, would find himself facing elimination simply by the cruel whim of the producers, but… okay, that’s sort of what we’re saying. And even if he was aware of that fact, this is not the type of person who will permit even the appearance of being a loser again any time soon. We do not expect to see Chef Samuelsson fighting for survival again for a while.
The Next Iron Chef truly does have us hooked, and we are absolutely fixated on seeing how closely our power rankings align with what comes next. And if you have zero interest in the show, don’t worry! We’re only a few days away from Chicago, where our itinerary is — no lie — planned entirely around what we can fit in between breakfast, lunch and dinner. So if we don’t see you for the next episode of Iron Chef, we’ll see you from the Windy City!
The Next Iron Chef airs Sundays on The Food Network and Mondays on Food Network Canada