Monday, February 8, 2010

Iron Chef Recap Monday!

Iron Chef America
Season Four Episode One
Iron Chef: Mario Batali
Challenger: Chris Cosentino
Battle Garlic

In his introduction, AB says that Chris Cosentino is head chef at Incanto (making his specialty Italian food) in San Francisco, and participates in endurance bike racing in his spare time. Sounds…fun?

Heh, awesome. When asked which Iron Chef Chef Cosentino wanted to use to “test his skills”, Chef Cosentino responded, “The dude in the shorts and orange clogs.” Love it!

Now, there’s one thing that I hate about the secret ingredients, and that’s that they always seem fairly stacked toward one chef or the other. And they just do that – like giving Bobby Flay blue corn, or giving Morimoto, who is a specialist in a cuisine that doesn’t use chilies, chilies. They just stack the secret ingredients. And I actually don’t think they did that here. Batali claims his specialty as “Italian” and Cosentino claims his as “Rustic Italian”, and there’s probably not anyplace Garlic would go better then with two guys who cook Italian food, right? Fairly matched ingredient, Food Network Food Buyers. Nicely done.

That was kind of a rad trick. Both of Chef Batali’s sous Chefs, Anne Burrell and Mark Laudner broke up the garlic heads by shaking the daylights out of them. There’s no really nice way to describe how to do this, but roughly break the head, then put it in a bowl with a lid (they both used another bowl as a lid), and shake the bowl. The peels will come off the garlic, and you’ll be left with just the cloves. Nice trick!

I’m a little perplexed by Chef Cosentino – he just put massive amounts of garlic into the deep fryer. Skins and all. AB says that he did it likely to infuse the oil with the garlic, which is nice, but how much flavor is there in garlic skin? I’m sure it was a time saving measure and I’m making too much of it, but just the same, right?

Chef Cosentino is hanging with those garlic skins – they just went into a pot. Garlic, garlic skins and everything. Are we all missing out, not cooking with garlic skins? I’m starting to wonder!

Time for the introduction of the judges! First judge up, Ted Allen. Ted is introduced as the author of “The Food You Want to Eat”, which as a completely unbiased observer, if you don’t own his book yet, get it. No cookbook collection is complete without it!

Next up is Donatella Arpaia, who used to be an attorney and now owns many successful restaurants. She also never hesitates to come running when Food Network calls, which is something they don’t point out. But really –s he’s on this show A LOT.

Lastly, you know him; you may or may not love him. Jeffrey Steingarten. The author of “The man who ate everything”, and evidentially no one has appeared more times in Kitchen Stadium then Jeffrey. So evidentially, he never hesitates to come running when Food Network calls either. Something that’s always perplexed me about Jeffrey is how he’s always in the last chair during the introductions and the first chair during judging. Think about it. It’s true!

Smooooth, AB. We just went back to the talking head judges segment, and AB says he’s going to give everyone a quote. For whatever reason. The one he unleashes on Jeffrey Steingarten is “There is no such thing as a little garlic”, and then he asks Jeffrey’s opinion. Jeffrey responds that that’s silly, and he wishes AB hadn’t said that. Nice!

Ted and Donatella don’t come right out and say it, but I get the feeling that they wanted to respond the same as Jeffrey. Ted’s quote was “Garlic is the ketchup of intellectuals”. To which his response was “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. Garlic is a really unique flavor, and it’ll be interesting to see what the chefs do with it today.” That’s about as “I’m avoiding your question!” as it goes, isn’t it?

Chef Batali is making a green garlic emulsion. For those keeping score at home, an emulsion is a combination of two liquids that wouldn’t normally go together. In the case of the green garlic, it’s olive oil and egg yolk. Thanks AB!

For those keeping score at home, Chef Cosentino is currently working with a caramel pine nut sauce, and squab liver. No guesses on whether they will go together, but we’ll see. There’s also some hullabaloo over the squab heads. And I’m amused that the spell checker has alerted me to every use of “Cosentino” or “Batali”, but says hullabaloo is OK.

Chef Cosentino is making snail flakes. They blanched snails, froze them, and they are now using the deli slicer to slice them. Really. It looks like a bowl of corn flakes, but their black and snail-y. Delicious?

Chef Cosentino has opened the pressure cooker, and produced pork belly and honeycomb tripe. File this in your “I didn’t need to know that!” file – honeycomb tripe is from the second of the four cow stomachs. So keep that in mind. If you ever see tripe on the menu, and you’re not a particular adventurous eater, pass it by. It’s stomach.

No worries, the snails and the caramel pine nut sauce didn’t go together. Actually, I don’t recall the caramel pine nut sauce going into anything, but he does have a garlic brittle, so maybe that’s where the sauce went.

Ok, now we’re up to the judging, so this part of the recap will take some time. I want to make sure I get this all right, in terms of the dishes presented and all that.

First dish up for Chef Cosentino is a Cheese Crostini with ricotta and baby rapini. The bread is rubbed with raw garlic and garlic infused olive oil is drizzled over the top. Ted Allen makes the comment that the judges will not be making out after the battle. Donatella looks a little nervous.

Second up is a sea scallop crudo with sizzled garlic. The “sizzled garlic” appears to come at the hand of some fresh out of the frying pan olive oil. I can’t help but wonder if he plated it this way because it looks a hot mess. Don’t get me wrong, the dish is nicely done. But when you place some nicely done, impeccably seasoned scallops on a plate, and glop some olive oil over the top of each one, it takes away from the effect. So I can’t help but wonder if the table side oiling of the scallops wasn’t to preserve some plating points – because his beauty shot of the dish had the oil already on.

In the judging of the second dish, Donatella puts her hand on Jeffrey Steingartens arm, and he retorts “Don’t touch me.” To which she calmly responded “You know, I don’t really hear that from men.” Oh, you two!

Third up, we have our appearance with the shaved snails. Chef Cosentino made a garlic egg yolk pasta and sautéed the snails in butter and garlic and tossed them over the top. He calls it a “play” on esc argot.

Fourth dish is a garlic roasted squab with garlic flan. This dish has become something of a legend in the world of Iron Chef since the original airing of this episode. And jeeze a lou, Chef Cosentino looks petrified to be presenting this dish. It’s squab sautéed in butter. He’s got the squab talon holding a clove of garlic, and the squab heads, cut so the brains can be eaten. He also made Sauce Royalle, which he makes a point to break down the contents. Since he did, I will too – garlic, cream, squab liver, bread, onion and squab stock. This dish prompts Ted Allen to go “You Chef people ain’t right!”

The tripe is back! Chef Cosentinos fifth dish is the “Eighty Garlic Clove Braised Pork Belly and Tripe”. It looks pretty delicious for being…you know, stomach. Although in foodie circles, Chef Cosentino is pretty legendary for his love of the organ meats, so it shouldn’t be nearly as surprising as it is, I think.

Everybody loves the tripe! He managed to pull one over on Jeffrey Steingarten even, who says he’s never had tripe done in the style of a potato chip. Maybe that’s a clue in to what it tastes like? Aah, forget it. I’ll just eat potato chips!

The sixth dish – yes, sixth – is a garlic infused honey mousse with garlic pine nut brittle, which means this is where the caramel pine nut sauce turned up. I won’t like – I’m so curious of the taste of pine nut brittle, that I almost want to try it.

The garlic mousse apparently has honey vinegar in it, which has to be something Chef Cosentino made himself, because I’ve been to lots of grocery stores, and never seen anything like that. But everybody is generally enjoying the brittle, except Jeffrey who says he thinks that the combination is a little too savory and that you lose the garlic a little bit, which doesn’t make any sense, honestly.

At any rate, Chef Cosentino has presented, and looks generally pleased with his work.

Mario Batali is so weird. I know that part of the schtick of Iron Chef is that you have to play along, with the bowing, and the “Chairman”, and the whole bit, but even still, he takes it one step beyond. The “Chairman” just said it was an honor to watch him cook, and he responded “It’s a luxury to be here.” What on earth does that mean? A “Thank you” would have sufficed!

First up from Camp Batali is a Garlic Bruschetta with Lomo. Ooh, I stand corrected – this is a trio. Garlic Bruschetta with Lomo, Tortilla Espanola (which looks like a teeny omlette), and a Brandade Stuffed Piquillo Pepper. The Brandade is made with potato, and the Tortilla Espanola, which normally requires potato, is made with a 50/50 mixture of potato and garlic, just to infuse extra garlic. Ted Allen comments that he’s fascinated with the tortilla, because adding the garlic seems to have made it sweeter, which he wouldn’t have expected.

Next up is a garlic stuffed shrimp with spicy potatoes. And their taking “shrimp” generously, because during the battle, they were calling them langostines, and freaking out on how langostines and shrimp aren’t the same thing. So go figure.

Third (or fifth, if you count the trio as three individual dishes) is Cod with Green Garlic Emulsion. The judges don’t seem that enthused with this one. Like, they seem like they like it all OK, but they aren’t estatic. Donatella points out that the peppers enhance the flavor of the dish. You don’t say that about a dish that your estatic over, do you?

Fourth up to the plate is a Hot And Cold Garlic Soup dish. This actually seems interesting, but I don’t know that I’d want two bowls of soup. He introduces the cold “gazpacho style” soup as being made with garlic, almond, water and orange melon. Does that mean it was water melon AND orange melon? Or does that mean he blended garlic, almond, orange melon and water? I’m not really sure.

The hot soup is a Sopa De Ajo, which is garlic, pimentone (which I’m certain I butchered the spelling of, but it’s evidentally a chili flake of some sort), water and bread. Topped with a quail egg ravoli. That soup actually sounds really good, doesn’t it?

The judges agree that the hot soup is twice as successful because of the pairing of the cold soup, but Jeffrey points out that he’d be just as happy with the cold soup as a stand alone item.

Fifth dish out of the gate is a Lamb Chop with Escalavida and Garlic Mosto. The lamb was served something like a lamb lollypop – a clean bone, with a small portion of lamb at the end. They cut to Jeffrey, who is holding it sort of like you would a lollypop – this length of bone, and nibbling carefully on the lamb. I don’t know why that makes me laugh, but it does. The judges seem to enjoy the zucchini blossom almost more then the rest of the dish.

Well that seems to be a pretty even match. Interesting. Verdict, party of one!

The winner is, perhaps little surprise to anyone, the Iron Chef. Aww, Chef Cosentino looks kind of disappointed. At the end of the episode, if you watch for it, you see the breakdown of possible points. Each judge has 10 points available for taste, 5 points for plating, and 5 for originality. Meaning a 30 is a perfect score for taste, a 15 is perfect for plating, and a 15 is perfect for originality. A 60 overall is a perfect score.

Chef Batali had a total score of 25 for taste, 13 for plating, and 8 for originality. Which to be read, means that his dishes tasted good, were plated great, but weren’t terribly original.

Chef Cosentino had a total score of 24 for taste, 7 for plating, and 13 for originality. So his dishes tasted good, were extremely original, but the plates didn’t look that great. Which furthers my theory that the sizzling oil was a bad idea. But really? For serving squab brains, he should have gotten originality bonus points!