Last night, Incanto’s Chris Cosentino took on the esteemed Mario Batali in "Iron Chef: America." In honor of the San Francisco chef’s appearance in the national spotlight, we decided to keep a running diary of the big night. We even abandoned the royal "we" for an evening. What follows are our live, (mostly) unedited thoughts. Enjoy.
9:03: Chris Cosentino is sporting the Billyburg hipster look, complete with black wristbands. He looks like someone I’d expect to see hanging out in the Mission at a burrito joint in the wee hours of the morning. Either that or the fourth member of Green Day. Anyway, the Chairman is getting ready to announce the secret ingredient. And it’s Battle …. Garlic! Batali’s reaction is pretty disconcerting; he did this creepy little thing with his fingers, kind of the same thing I imagine Humbert Humbert did often. Looking at the loads of garlic, I never knew there were so many types of it. I guess some type of offal would have been too obvious for the two offal masters.
9:05: Offal sighting #1: Cosentino starts slicing some tripe. As Alton Brown points out, it’ll be interesting to see how CC uses it, since tripe takes a notoriously long time to tenderize and is thus a rarity in Kitchen Stadium.
9:06: The chitarra gets busted out on the challenger’s side. Looks like he’s going to make some garlic-infused pasta. Batali starts hacking up a big fish, soon identified as cod.
9:10: Pork belly, deep fried garlic and the tripe go into CC’s pressure cooker, while scallops are shelled and sliced.
9:14: Alton sporting the black jacket with a brown shirt? For shame.
9:15: The judges are good; no dumb celebrities or wannabes here. Ted Allen knows his stuff. Donatella’s sitting in the middle, looking good. Why isn’t she up there more often? Steingarten’s up there too; I wonder if he’s bitter about not being the first food writer to win a Pulitzer. Well, I guess he’s always bitter, but you know what I mean.
9:16: Offal sighting #2: Batali’s wrapping langoustines—“the love child of lobster and shrimp"—in a fatty intestine lining.
9:18: Offal sighting #3: Cosentino is chopping up some squab, separating the livers. The talons and brains are put aside while the livers get tossed in a pan. Yum.
9:19: Batali looks to be all about the Spanish stuff. Rumor has it he just returned from a Spanish vacation/research trip. He’s making a pimento sauce-thing, as well as a green garlic emulsion. Gotta emulsify that green garlic, Mario.
9:20: Caramel and pine nuts are bubbling on CC’s stove. Perhaps the beginning of a dessert? Looks like garlic ice cream won’t be making any appearances.
9:22: Food TV probably has the worst commercials of any cable channel. Ruby Sirloin’s triple prime burger: it eats like steak and cuts like butter. "Depression is hard when you’re trying to be a wife but you’re always sad … Cymbalta can help … Fainting may occur upon standing." And am I the only one who doesn’t “get” that Kia Spectra commercial where everyone’s looking for a parking space?
9:24: Arugula garlic pesto sounds and looks delicious on Batali’s s side. A raviolo is revealed to be in the works on the Iron Chef’s side as well, possibly in a soup dish.
9:25: Oh wow. Frozen snail flakes on Cosentino’s kitchen. He’s the man. Who brings a bag of frozen snails and then cuts them in a deli slicer? I like his chances; it looks like he’s being daring. Let’s hope his gambles pay off.
9:25: 20 minutes to go. Uh-oh a pasta problem. Cosentino’s garlic pasta accidently went in the pork stock accidentally. Yikes.
9:26: Batali deep fries garlic. It was only a matter of time before some got deep fried. Batali’s also whistling.
9:27: The squab … parts … are going into the pan. It looks like the head and talons. Batali plates his first dish—a seemingly traditional tapas-style tortilla—with plenty of time to spare.
More details on Batali’s aforementioned ravioli: stuffed with garlic, quail egg and ricotta.
Some type of cod potato mixture (I think?) is in Mario’s piping bag and getting squeezed into piquillo peppers. I don’t know why, but I just thought of the whole Batali-Courtney Love thing. That’s one of the things you can’t unthink. It’s seared into my memory. Yuck.
9:34: 7.5 minutes to go. The pressure cooker opens up to reveal the tripe and pork belly. Will 50 minutes or so in the pressure cooker be enough to tenderize the tripe?
9:36: Batali keeps on plating: two soups: (cold melon soup and a sopa de ajo), the garlic-topped langoustine and then a piece of cod w/ green garlic emulsion. Yikes. Cosentino only has the scallop dish plated with three minutes left while Batali’s just about done. The challenger kitchen looks panicked and frantic.
9:38: Three minutes left. Batali’s double-soup plate looks good. He’s got a lot of seafood dishes though. On Cosentino’s side, the garlic flavored brittle with honey foam in a shot glass looks promising.
9:39: It’s over! Cosentino plated everything, just barely. Let’s see what the judges think.
9:44: Cosentino’s dishes in front of the judges:
Cheese crostini of ricotta w/ garlic bread: much too much garlic seems to be the consensus by all judges. I guess there had to be at least one overpowering garlic dish. Too bad it was the first one.
Sea scallop crudo with pickled and raw garlic: Again, Donatella thought it was too strong on first bite but then she said it balances out. Steingarten keeps complaining about the first dish, saying it killed his palate
Garlic pasta with snails: egg yolk chitarra with sliced snails. Allen likes the garlic-infused pasta and the "funky" snails, not to mention the clever play on escargot. Well done.
Garlic roasted squab holding a clove in its talon: Cosentino advises to eat the brains by sucking through the beak. It’s a beautiful dish and I’d guess that garlic clove in the talon will be the last image of this battle. Thumbs up all the way around from the judges.
Eighty garlic clove braised pork belly & tripe: More thumbs up all the way around. Steingarten likes the “tripe chips.”
Garlic infused honey mousse and pine nut brittle: "[The garlic] enhances what’s happening" says Dona. But Steingarten says the other savory flavors take away from the garlic.
9:50: Batali’s turn. He reveals that he stuck to traditional Spanish dishes from his recent trip to Spain.
Tapas: garlic bruschetta with lomo, garlic-potato tortilla, brandade stuff piquillo pepper
Gambas al ajillo: Spicy works; garlic chips are great too. The most delicious langoustine Allen has ever tasted.
Cod with green garlic emulsion: Steingarten sums up most of Batali’s dishes thus far: very good but pretty traditional. Echoing JS, Donatella has nothing bad to say.
Cold gazpacho soup (garlic, almonds, melon) &; sopa de ajo with the quail egg ricotta ravioli: A nice combo
Lamb chop with escalivada: Thumbs up, zucchini blossoms done perfectly.
Thoughts before hearing the verdict: Cosentino had more misses, but Batali was a little boring. Let’s see if the judges reward CC’s hits.
9:58: And the verdict: it’s Batali!
Batali and his traditional Spanish dishes were rightly penalized for the lack of originality, but I don’t quite understand the plating disparity. If anything, I would think that Cosentino’s use of the talon would boost his score above a seven. Can anyone explain this?