I watched the rebooted Japanese version of Iron Chef tonight on Fuji TV, where three American chefs (Frank Ruta, Tony Maws, and Eric Ziebold) squared off against three Japanese ones (Jun Kurogi, Yosuke Suga, Yuji Wakiya) over the theme ingredient – American and Japanese beef.
In case you’re not familiar with it, Iron Chef is a cooking game show that started in Japan in the early 1990s and gained a cult following in the United States and other countries. A select number of leading chefs representing certain cuisines compete against an array of guest challengers, with a panel of distinguished judges selecting the winner. It’s presented like a sporting event on TV – there’s a lead announcer who does the play-by-play commentary, an expert color commentator, and a sideline reporter who provides details from the floor and interviews the contestants during the break. Iron Chef ran until 1999 in Japan but was revived last year with a new group of Iron Chefs.
I remember getting into Iron Chef while I was in college, when it was broadcasted on a local international channel in Japanese with English subtitles. I only saw one episode of the Food Network’s U.S. version, and I thought it just wasn’t as good as the original Japanese version. It didn’t have the charming campiness that made the Japanese Iron Chef so entertaining; it’s a quirkiness that I think only the Japanese could really pull off.
Tonight’s Team USA vs Team Japan battle was presented with all of the pomp, intensity, and international tension of an Olympic showdown, with audience members chanting either “USA” or “Nippon”. Even the current U.S. Ambassador to Japan, John Roos, was present as a judge and commentator.
The Americans won two of the three individual battles that kicked off the show. It was interesting seeing the chefs on both sides using the other country’s ingredients, and I’m not just talking about the beef. For example, one of the American chefs used Japanese bonito flakes in his beef dish, while a Japanese chef stuffed a corn husk for his.
The event then proceeded to a final, fourth quarter group battle with the three chefs on each side tag teaming together. Each team made dishes that were twists on their national cuisines. The Americans did roast beef topped with a potato cake and the Japanese did beef nigiri and maki.
Unfortunately, Team USA lost narrowly in the end. Japan won the group battle, which counted for two points, and ended up winning the entire competition 3-2.
Nonetheless, it was great watching the Japanese version of Iron Chef after so many years, and to do so while living in Japan. Hopefully, the folks back in America will get a chance to see the US vs. Japan battle.