The first two episodes of The Next Iron Chef saw a couple of West Coast toques go home, but last night, Gotham took its first hit. For the first challenge, the chefs went to Asian restaurants in L.A. and were given ten minutes to recreate a traditional dish. Robert Trevino made the best Chinese dumplings, Amanda Freitag of the Harrison made the best Thai green curry, Dominique Crenn made the best Vietnamese pho, and Keith McNally’s new man Nate Appleman made the best Korean bibimbap. After a stop at the Kogi Truck (where else?), they were challenged to use Asian flavors in traditionally American dishes. Trevino made meatloaf dumplings, Freitag made a halibut cake inspired by fishballs and Maryland crabcake. Last week’s winner, Seamus Mullen of Boqueria, ended up taking another win with a Korean-style Reuben sandwich made with short rib and an abbreviated version of kimchi. Nate Appleman was upset that his short-rib pot roast lost to a sandwich and a crabcake, and that he wouldn’t be known as the “pressure cooker king” like he wanted to be (though he was dubbed a “magician with meat”).
Actually, Appleman showed Machiavellian cunning by telling the judges his dish was inspired by his mom (“complete lies,” he confessed), and though Jehangir Mehta of Graffiti underwhelmed with a sweet-and-spicy green curry (plus a ginger shake he improvised when his ice-cream maker failed), he got away with it by presenting his dishes in wacky takeout containers (“takeout is very American”, said the chef, though actually we were reminded of Indian tiffins). It seemed Crenn would be sent home thanks to a discombobulated take on breakfast (also a very American thing, she said — like they don’t have it in France?) that included quail egg, an avocado smoothie, and a coffee granita. But no, it was Brad Farmerie of Public whose bland, mushy pierogi with overly vinegary Chinese dipping sauce was the least liked. Too bad — the elimination couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
Appleman thinks it’s a race between himself and Mullen. Freitag is also a top contender (judge Arpaia is clearly in her court, and so are we) but by the looks of next week’s preview, she ends up in the bottom. Anyway, are we all in agreement that this show is what Top Chef Masters wanted to be? Can you imagine anyone leaping over a counter the way Appleman did on that show?