Last night’s episode of The Next Iron Chef found a New York favorite and one of the Food Network’s own stars going home. The episode started with the final four jetting to Tokyo, where the Iron Chef commissioner introduced the initial challenge (make five yakitori skewers using umami-rich sauces) and their judge, Iron Chef Morimoto. After a frantic 30 minutes of flailing behind the grills (“this kitchen is not made for a large German white woman,” said Freitag), Jehangir Mehta came out on top. He got his choice of bento box in the main challenge, which involved making five small bites using rice, each of them representing one of the five tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami).
The chefs had trouble getting adjusted to the kitchen of Yukio, “Doc” Hattori’s prestigious cooking school (Hattori, who is the culinary commentator for the Japanese Iron Chef, was also judging the challenge). There were only so many sardines — Seamus Mullen was rebuffed when he asked Jose Garces to give one of his back (“I’m here to win,” explained Garces). Freitag couldn’t find a can opener (she wanted to make sticky rice with coconut milk) and instead of going samurai on it, she simply switched to a blend of heavy cream and condensed milk, promptly burning it. There was also some ice-cream-maker tension between Mullen, who made yuzu ice cream rolled in toasted rice crackers (the judges dug it), and Mehta, who went for sour by topping oysters with yuzu sherbet (“a bit much,” thought Judge Arpaia).
Initially, it seemed like Mehta might go home (in addition to the oyster being more sweet than sour, Hattori didn’t taste the umami in his shrimp and fried-rice ball, and Judge Fernald thought his braised pork tasted burnt). Garces also seemed to be at risk, since his rice cakes and seaweed suffered from an “excess of salt,” and Steingarten found his slow-braised pork belly familiar (on the other hand, Hattori thought it was a nice melding of the Western and Eastern styles of umami). Freitag seemed safe, and thought as much: “I’m feeling like I just ran a marathon, but I’m going to be okay.” The judges said her poached fish was “perfectly cooked,” the dish was “amazing,” and her black sticky-rice dessert was “delicious.” She faltered with a marinated Kobe-beef dish (the seared shiitake was raw inside, and Hattori thought she could’ve gotten more umami out of dried mushrooms) and a tempura radicchio that Arpaia thought was more sweet than bitter. In the end, Hattori praised her for using a variety of rice ingredients, which seemed to be the point of the challenge.
However, Mullen and Freitag ended up being the bottom two. Mullen was saved by his interpretation of bibimbap (sticky rice made with Kobe-beef fat and sesame oil, topped with the yolk of a guinea hen and slices of raw Kobe), and Freitag was damned by her rice balls and tempura. So after Nate Appleman’s loss last week, another New York chef hits the road, and Freitag will now be a bit more humble as a judge of Chopped. Hopefully next week’s episode isn’t as close a call, and there’s drama beyond the search for a can opener. The problem with this episode was that the chefs were cooking at such a high level, and the editing was so misleading, that it almost seemed as if the judges picked the loser’s name out of a hat.