Iron Christians?
January 5 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Iron Christians? | Friday, Jan. 5, 2001

Friday, Jan. 5, 2001

Iron Christians?

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor There is little that really interests me on TV these days aside from the news and an occasional ACC basketball game. The lone program that keeps me tuning in weekly is Food Network's "Iron Chef," which I find entertaining for several reasons: It contains enough camp humor to be hilarious, it features a fast-paced cooking competition that produces staggering culinary creations, and it's Japanese. I've been fascinated with Japan since I learned about the country in Royal Ambassadors and wrote the Foreign Mission Board to volunteer. The premise of "Iron Chef" is that a wealthy medieval noble (with loads of modern kitchen appliances) has run out of fun things to do, so he fashions a weekly gourmet cooking competition to explore new gastronomic frontiers. He recruits the four best chefs in Japan to serve as his knights, doing battle against challengers from around the world.

The competition takes place in plush "Kitchen Stadium," putative home of Takeshi Kaga, who plays the role of an eccentric millionaire with flamboyant relish.

Favorite challengers uphold traditional Japanese cuisine, while the Iron Chefs are known for nouveau, creative cooking. The challenger always enters first (usually clad in traditional white, sometimes with a kamikaze headband), and the Iron Chefs ascend theatrically on hydraulic lifts. Iron Chef French (Hiroyuki Sakai) wears a red satin uniform and holds a pear, while Iron Chef Chinese (Chen Kenichi) is clad in shining yellow and grips a meat cleaver. Masaharu Morimoto, the heroic Iron Chef Japanese, wears silver togs with bright red epaulettes and a trademark scowl. Italian cuisine is covered by Masahiko Kobe, the most recent addition. He wears a colorful uniform of red, white and green, with a tall, horizontally striped hat that seems inspired by Dr. Seuss.

Kaga begins each program by striding into the stadium in glitzy garments that would make Liberace jealous and a hairstyle that James Brown would envy. "The Chairman," as he is called, then chomps into a large, yellow bell pepper that apparently sends him to heights of ecstasy.

After introducing the challenger, Kaga allows him or her to choose an Iron Chef to battle. Kaga then dramatically snaps up a heavy drape and stage smoke boils from a table containing the week's secret theme ingredient, which may be anything from hermaphroditic salmon to suckling pigs, from scallions to noodles.

The two chefs have one hour to prepare four or five creative dishes, each one featuring the theme ingredient. Hand-held cameras follow the frenetic action while a commentator named Fukui, a color analyst (called "Doc") and a floor reporter named Otah explain what is happening.

Fast-talking Otah is constantly breaking into the commentator's patter. "Fukui-san! The Iron Chef has just added sea urchin brains to the mixture of soy sauce, Chinese herbs and angler fish liver, and he is pouring it into the ice cream machine!"

"Fukui-san! The challenger is stewing the split fish heads in bonito broth with red chili peppers, scallions and bean curd!"

A panel including Kaga and four judges tastes the artistic dishes. The celebrity judges generally include two men, usually photographers, politicians or actors. A pretty, young actress or singer inevitably sits second from the left, and the fourth seat usually rotates between two older women, a food critic and a fortune teller.

The judges marvel at the subtle flavors, attractive presentations and the sheer genius of the chefs. Their comments almost always include the phrase "enhances the natural flavor of the" pig snout, bok choy, cod roe or whatever the theme ingredient happens to be.

The whole affair is a setup, of course. Kaga is a popular Japanese stage star known for playing Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables." Kitchen Stadium is a $400,000 set in Fuji-TV's largest studio.

Still, the chefs are real, their enthusiasm is infectious and the imaginative results of their frantic efforts are astonishing. Chen Kenichi can make a pig's ear look more desirable than filet mignon. Masahiko Kobe can do things with tomatoes I never dreamed of. I would try flounder foie gras sorbet with squid sucker sprinkles if Masaharu Morimoto worked his magic on it.

"Chairman" Kaga is no Jesus (though he played the role in the first Japanese version of "Jesus Christ Superstar") and the colorful Iron Chefs are no disciples, but Christians could learn something from their passion, their creativity and their appealing results.

"Fukui-san! The Iron Christian has just mixed fresh compassion with seasoned courage from the pressure cooker and is taking it to the street!"

Now, that would be a popular program.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
1/5/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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