We've often wondered what the hell actually goes on behind the scenes at Iron Chef America. When an invitation to yesterday's taping landed in the Grub Street mailbox, we were quick to accept it. On the set, the air was filled with dry-ice mist and dozens of sharply focused spotlights, giving the aura of an incipient Metallica show.
The duel we had come to see was a rare woman-on-woman battle, with the sternly determined Cat Cora going toe-to-toe with an equally focused, but oddly more relaxed looking Mary Dumont, the chef from a well-respected New Hampshire restaurant. The secret ingredient — which we agreed not to give away — was a neutral one. It appeared in gorgeous dishes complemented by everything from shellfish to fresh ricotta and was boiled, baked, cooked down, and tarted up at the hands of two chefs. Both women finished several minutes before the buzzer sounded, and gave each other a hug of solidarity. We mention all this because the curiousity that vanished when we saw the show go down was quickly replaced in our mind by a question that we'd like to pose to the entire New York chef corps: If that much good food can be invented and cooked in an hour, why do restaurants that have six months to prepare a menu so seldom come up with more than two or three interesting dishes?