The Next Iron Chef: A Caswell-less seduction springs a few surprises
Alright, ladies, I'm going to call a spade a spade: An episode of The Next Iron Chef entitled "seduction" and missing that sexy linebacker ballerina Bryan Caswell is a sad thing indeed.
Am I supposed to get worked up over Marco Canora's incessant whining? Ming Tsai's headband? I think not. But Caswell or no, I am in this thing until the end — you know, as in next week.
Luckily for some of us, things got a little sexier when the mixologist challenge judge was introduced as Charlotte Voisey. I met Voisey a few months ago when she was showing off her skills at III Forks and I can vouch that she is even more lovely, charming and talented in person.
So lovely, in fact, that I won't even hold her choice of Canora as the winner against her. Canora's play on the Aviation with gin, lavender, mint and lime squeaks by over Tio's gin with elderflower liqueur when she refuses on principle to vote for herself and Voisey picks Canora and counts as the tie-breaker. Well-behaved women rarely make history, Celina!
I was intruigued by Forgione's mezcal with a champagne float, but Tsai's weak lychee margarita? Meh.
If the last elimination was all about old Vegas with the buffets, this one was about new Vegas — sleek, luxurious and expensive. Chefs picked numbered doors that held their secret ingredients — super-premium meats and fish like Maine lobster, Hawaiian moi fish, and Wagyu beef.
As the winner, Canora took the Wagyu from Tsai, leaving Tsai with the final mystery ingredient, mangalitsa pork. Hey, in this game, there are no losers. Not yet.
But it's clear Canora sees Tsai as his primary competition, from his beef theft to his decision to head to the Japanese restaurant first and snap up Tsai-like ingredients. In some ways it's smart, but as Tsai pointed out, Canora was so single-mindedly focused he missed opportunities, like the black truffle sitting in front of him.
The cooking segment is uneventful and shorter than ever — perhaps to mimic how fast all the chefs felt it went. And just like that, it's on to judging.
Tio presents first with her Hawaiian moi fish, starting with a Chinese-style moi sashimi, olive oil poached moi with English peach puree, Iberico ham and black truffle, and a crispy seared moi with braised daikon. The judges don't rave but no one offers any serious critisism and it seems like Tio might have raised her game to make it to Kitchen Stadium.
Next is Tsai, opening with his mangalitsa pork and prawn shumai in a hot and sour broth which earned raves, a slow-poached thyme lardo with grilled cepes that the judges describes as having an unappealing texture, and a grilled mangalitsa pork loin with bordelaise sauce.
Canora does well with his dishes, first the wagyu beef tartare with osetra caviar and yuzu, then a wagyu wrapped asparagus with beef broth which he poured tableside, and culmianting with a minute steak of wagyu beef with wild mushrooms served family-style.
Forgione serves up the menu I would most like to dine on, starting with Maine lobster sashimi with avocado mousse and osetra caviar, following with a surf and turf of lobster tail with osso buco — the judges noted appreciatively that he was making up for his disastrous oversalted pork loin from last week, and praised how perfectly cooked both proteins were — and ended with a disappointing sweet corn risotto and lobster polenta ravioli, which the judges knocked for a pasta that was too thick.
It's hard to read the judges since most dishes were considered successful. But we can be reasonably confident that Canora, who seems to do no wrong in the judges' eyes, is in, and that Tsai with the mst criticized dish of the night in his pork lardo, is going home. The wild cards are Tio and Forgione — can Forgione overcome an imperfect dish on the strength of two great ones, or can Tio, whose dishes all got mostly positive feedback but didn't induce any raves, eke out a trip to the finals?
And our instincts are right — Canora gets the win.
And to my surprise, the first chef packing is Celina Tio. Brown tells her she had her best day cooking yet, but was outdone by two other chefs.
The voiceovers for Tsai and Forgione are typical — Forgione humble, sounding defeated, Tsai invoking again his destiny to be an Iron Chef. It's almost as if the editors want us to be surprised. And yet it's Tsai that gets the bad news, and Forgione makes it to the finals.
I like that Forgione kid — he's got spunk. With Caswell out, he gets my backing.
So CultureMappers, the last two chefs are both Italian and both New Yorkers. Is this an inside job? Is Iron Chef looking to replace Batali? Were you surprised by the finalists? And who are you rooting for?