HIEEE. So, last week I was lucky enough to attend a taping of Iron Chef America…I’d been waiting months for the moment where I can profess my love to Bobby Flay and tell him he needs to dump that Law & Order SVU District Attorney. Alas, he must have thought I was going to be there on another day because someone else was the chosen Iron Chef. Now, to be very clear about this I cannot reveal anything about who was on the show, the secret ingredient and what was cooked/who won. So, without revealing any of those things, I present you my account of watching an Iron Chef battle (not a taping, a “battle”).
Iron Chef tapes at the Food Network, located in Chelsea Market (how apropos). Since I was backstage until the moment the battle began, I was lucky enough to run into the Iron Chef and the Challenger several times along with their sous chefs and the judges (PS: everyone wears a little make-up to decrease the look of sweat and shine on tv). Everyone was calm, cool and collected probably because they already knew that the secret ingredient was one of five ingredients they were given earlier and had already prepped menus for. Essentially, when the secret ingredient is revealed the Chefs and their Sous Chefs already have a menu that they are going to execute against. This is nothing new.
As I entered the studio the first thing that I noticed was that it was a lot smaller than what one would imagine. Not only that, but there were pots on the stove with boiling water presumably so that when the battle begins the chefs are kinda halfway there. Another thing I noticed was the heat. It was hot in there. The first 40 minutes was spent doing pick-ups with Alton Brown, Kevin Brauch, The Chairman and the Challenger. They do about 2 takes of each shot with Alton sometimes needing one – the man is a perfectionist and although he’s slightly a tool you can’t deny that he has a black belt in the culinary arts.
The battle began with a reveal of the secret ingredient…then for 60 minutes the chefs work at a very fast pace to deliver 5 dishes, each of which must contain the secret ingredient. The battle is exactly how it’s shown on Teev. Not one bit is faked or edited to look otherwise. The frantic pace is real and the drama is true. What I found interesting is that they have on-set culinary assistants so if anything is needed, the chefs calls for “culinary” and one assistant pops in and bring the chef what is needed. They call them “culinary”, I call them “men”.
Another thing/person I found very interesting is the Chairman. He’s super intense and does ariels (a cartwheel with no hands for the audience during breaks. Thuper!
After the 60 minute battle is over (note: we’re about 2.5 hours into taping), the crew preps the set for the tasting portion of Iron Chef. Each chef is given 35 minutes to present and let the judges taste their 4 dishes. This is the part which can get a tad trying as an audience member. The food smells absolutely incredible and after being there since my call time of 7:30am (it was now about 12pm) and not having much to eat, I had to fight every urge to run up to the table and sample the fare myself. The smells coming from the kitchen area were unreal – to die for.
After each chef presented their 5 dishes each (judges would take 2-3 bites out of each dish). There was a small break for the judges to discuss who the winner was. Remember, these chefs win nothing but their pride. Not once dollar, nothing free. Nothing at all. It’s a pretty big deal to be on Iron Chef and when the winner is announced, they are genuinely ecstatic (tho the Iron Chefs are probably used to the emotions).
Once the winner is announced, the taping ends and we were escorted down the elevator to exit the studio. It was an interesting, incredible experience and I was glad to see that nothing is faked and the chefs do take this battle very seriously.