The Next Iron Chef 2011 premiered October 30 on The Food Network. The newest installment of the competitive cooking show featured 10 well-known celebrity super chefs as they engaged in the season's first round of head to head kitchen warfare.
Iron Chef wanna-bes Anne Burrell, Michael Chiarello, Elizabeth Falkner, Alex Guarnaschelli, Chuck Hughes, Robert Irvine, Beau MacMillan, Spike Mendelsohn, Marcus Samuelsson and Geoffrey Zakarian kicked off the show with a string of interconnected introductions.
After the intros finished, the group was greeted by Next Iron Chef Super Chefs host Alton Brown, who almost immediately deferred to a video clip by the Chairman, Mark Dacascos. The colorful character encouraged the competitors to keep their focus on creating "the extraordinary" out of "the ordinary."
Alton then revealed that the rules of the competition had been tweaked for the "elevated skill sets" of the hopefuls. Not only would each week's round of competition include a Chairman's Challenge, but a sudden death cook-off between the two chefs deemed "least successful" in the challenge would determine each week's big loser. The hopefuls, particularly Anne, were less than thrilled with the prospect of getting the boot in such dramatic fashion.
With the details out of the way, Alton had each contestant draw a single matchstick from a jar. The single red-tipped match went to Chef Spike, who was called forward to "light the first fire" of the day. As the special match-holder, Spike was given the right to choose his partner for a team competition, as well as the strategic responsibility of pairing up his competitors. After selecting Chef Marcus as his cohort, he paired the others up as follows: Chef Robert with Chef Anne, Chef Alex with Chef Elizabeth, Chef Michael with Chef Chuck, and Chef Beau with Chef Geoffrey. Alton revealed that the week's theme was resourcefulness, and then cryptically said, "I'll see you in the wilderness," striking fear into the heart of Chef Alex.
Later, the group trekked toward a lovely lakeside scene. Chef Robert was pleased with the rustic setting, noting that it was just like his show Dinner: Impossible. Alton revealed that each team would receive the elements needed to meld "heat and meat," namely a pile of firewood and a whole pig each, as well as access to a pantry of ingredients.
With 90 minutes on the clock, the five teams got to work, ready to create two dishes for the judges and avoid the bottom two showdown. While some of the pairs--including usual adversaries Chef Anne and Chef Robert--got to work quickly and effectively, Chef Alex suffered an early oops when she inadvertently burnt an entire leg of pork. Chef Beau was pleased with the dishes he and Chef Geoffrey created, calling them "out of the box" while Chef Marcus stressed over getting the flavoring of his stew and salad correct.
After time expired, the Next Iron Chef 2011 contestants met the season's judges, Iron Chef Michael Symon, food writer and Iron Chef UK competitor Judy Joo (who said she expected to experience "no fewer than 12 foodgasms" while on the show), and food writer Simon Majumdar.
First up to face judgment was the confident duo of Chef Robert and Chef Anne. Chef Michael said their pork belly and cheek were "cooked perfect," but Chef Judy wished the pork skin in their porchetta had been crispier. Chef Marcus and Chef Spike faced the music next. Chef Michael appreciated that they'd used every bit of the pig in their stew, but wished it'd had a more acidic component. Chef Judy called their ribs "anorexic" and Simon joked that they were "supermodel" in quality. Michael found the process of eating them to be frustrating.
Chef Geoffrey and Chef Beau followed with their pork shoulder, which Chef Michael praised as having "great balance," and a spit-roasted pork leg, which Chef Judy enjoyed but criticized for a lack of crispy skin. The pair scored great praise overall for their impressive cooking techniques. Fourth to present were Chef Michael and Chef Chuck. Chef Judy called their pig's ear salad "beautifully presented" but Simon knocked them for not including enough pig ear. Their second dish, a grilled pork chop, was deemed "a great dish" by Chef Michael, and although Simon said his piece was a bit too rare for his taste, he appreciated the resourcefulness employed.
Last to face the judges were Chef Alex and Chef Elizabeth, who presented their pigs four ways offering. After cautioning the duo against presenting such a complicated dish on Iron Chef, he surprised Chef Alex by calling it his favorite dish of the day. Their pork belly and leg was less of a hit; Simon called it "flat" and knocked it as lacking in "zing."
When the contestants faced the Next Iron Chef 2011 judges for their first judgment of the season, they looked visibly nervous. Alton quickly deemed Chef Geoffrey and Chef Beau and Chef Michael and Chef Chuck the top spot holders of the day's challenge, with Chefs Geoffrey and Beau walking away with the win and a future advantage. Alton sent the two teams away, safe to cook again next week.
Chef Anne and Chef Robert were declared safe to cook again, despite their failure to use more of the pig in their dishes, leaving just two pairs to face the music. On the merit of their universally appreciated pork four ways, Chef Alex and Chef Elizabeth were saved to cook again, leaving Chef Marcus and Chef Spike the least successful hopefuls of the week.
The two endangered chefs joined Alton in the kitchen for the first Secret Ingredient Showdown. Just to make the competition more gut-wrenching, Alton explained that in homage to Halloween, the Chairman had decided to employ a trick or treat theme to the event, and referenced two covered dishes on the counter. One ingredient was a "treat" to work with while the other would be more of a "trick." The pair got lucky and selected the treat ingredient: Diver sea scallops. The two were given 30 minutes to prepare a single dish for the judges.
The safe Iron Chef Super Chefs contestants watched breathlessly as their fellow competitors duked it out Iron Chef-style. Up first to face tasting judgment was Chef Spike, who thought he'd cooked his scallop "perfectly." Chef Judy appreciated the "charred" quality of the scallop, but wished for a "kiss of fresh lemon" to brighten it up. Simon called it "a very successful dish" and appreciated that Chef Spike had successfully made the scallop "the star." Second to face the judges was Chef Marcus with his duo of scallop, a miso soup, and a seared scallop. Chef Michael thought both dishes were "hits" and Chef Judy found them "very sophisticated." Simon called his technique "flawless" but didn't care for his presentation.
So which super chef was the first booted from the competition? When the judges passed down their verdict, Chef Spike Mendelsohn found himself the odd man out. When he emerged from the judgment room, Chef Spike earned a round of applause from his competitors and was pleased to have earned "respect" from his peers.
What will happen next week on The Next Iron Chef? Watch the Food Network on November 6 at 9 PM to find out.