Allez Cuisine!

June 14, 2008 at 2:41 am

Originally posted on Edible TV (edibletv.net) on June 12, 2008.

Iron Chef America Reviews:

Sunday before last Iron Chef Mario Batali took on old friend and protege Paul Bartolotta, a Milwaukee native, who runs the acclaimed Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare at the Wynn in Las Vegas.

I gage who I think will win by how many times the panel is unified in their appreciation of a dish. I call these home runs – with dishes that totally overwhelm the judges being of course grand slams.

Bartolotta took the approach of giving the judges a tour of arborio rice including several variations on risotto. Batali countered with a trip around the world on a rice junkette. Bartolotta’s offerings all carried with them the same description, “Perfecto.” As the episode went to commercial I was really thinking, wow, the guy brought his “A” game then I thought back to the judge’s comments. Bartolotta had met every one of the judge’s expectation. But he did not surpass them.

Batali did. Fried Paella croquettes, Korean Bibim Bap, and an inventive risotto. It was close but Batali proved to still be the master as he edged out his old pal by one point in each category. A great battle, by my score Bartolotta had five home runs but the Iron chef had five grand slams.

This week Bobby Flay took on a truly remarkable chef in the form of Marcus Samuelsson.  Born in Africa, Samuelsson has also worked in Switzerland and Austria but now is the executive chef and co-owner of Aquavit restaurant in New York City, all this by the age of 24.  He was also the youngest chef to ever receive a three-star restaurant review from The New York Times. In 2003 he was named “Best Chef: New York City” by the James Beard Foundation.  He is also the host of “Inner Chef” on Discovery Home Channel and is an adjunct professor in meal sciences at Sweden’s Umeå University.

Very impressive credentials indeed, but Bobby Flay brings himself to the table.  The culinary demi-gods smiled on Flay as the theme ingredient was unvailed, corn.  Judge Jeffrey Steingarten said it best when he stated something along the lines of Bobby Flay has used corn beautifully in every dish he has ever cooked.

Speaking of Steingarten he was the epitome of himself during the battle, whimsically annoying. For those of you who do not know Jeffrey Steingarten, he was a self-professed picky eater who had to learn to eat everything after leaving the law profession to become the food critic for Vogue magazine in 1989. He documented his transformation from finicky to gourmand in his 1998 James Beard Award winning book The Man Who Ate Everything (Vintage, 1998).

Samuelsson put together an amazing menu, unfortunately Steingarten was the only judge who got it.  By my count Samuelsson had one home run, a nice job considering he was using an alien ingredient and only one judge got his approach. Of course Flay had three home runs with his corn waffle with Bourbon caramel syrup being a grand slam.

When the secret ingredient is unveiled each week I rack my brain trying to think what I would prepare if I were the challenger. I am sure I am not the only one who does this. I cannot believe that neither chef did fish and grits – grits (made from corn), fried catfish (dredged in cornmeal), and hush puppies (a fried cornbread). But maybe that is my Alabama showing through.

The final score was lopsided with Flay taking a huge lead from the taste portion of judging. Samuelsson is an amazing chef with a truly international background that I would like to see more of; a rematch perhaps?

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Stuart Reb Donald

Stuart is a celebrity chef and award winning food writer. Donald performs live cooking demonstrations and penned the cookbook Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor."

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