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Bams' review of
Iron Chef
3BC

IC

Iron Chef (1993-1999)
Not Rated; running time 60 minutes (series)
Studio: Fuji Television Network Inc.
US Network: Food Network (Japanese language with English subtitles and dubbing)
Genre: Cooking/Contest
Official Site: http://www.foodtv.com/tvshows/ (US)
Unofficial site: http://www.ironchef.com/
IMDB Listing: http://us.imdb.com/Details?0220265
Cast: Takeshi Kaga, Rokusabaro Michiba, Hiroyuki Sakai, Chen Kenichi, Masaharu Morimoto, Masahiko Kobe, Kenji Fukui, Yukio Hattori, Shinichiro Ota, Koumei Nakamura, Yutake Ishinabe

Bammer's list of Favorite Iron Chef Shows (So Far)

Review Copyright Rose Cooper, 2002


(click here to skip to this show's rating)


So...why am I - The Original Anti-Jemima - reviewing a "discontinued" hybrid cooking/battle/game show? That's easy: pound-for-pound, I think it's the best thing on TV, most nights. Just think of Iron Chef as the Japanese culinary version of West Side Story, with cooking knifes instead of toe shoes.


THE STORY
Chairman Kaga (Takeshi Kaga, an actor after Liberace's cold dead heart) rules over the Gourmet Academy with an iron cape, summoning his three - er, make that four...or more, if you're counting - Iron Chefs, usually one at a time, to do fierce battle within his well-appointed Kitchen Stadium against all manner of men (and a few women), each of whom have A Story Of Their Own.

The currently-featured Iron Chefs are: Iron Chef Japanese Rokusabaro Michiba, the elder statesman known for his "Broth Of Vigor"; Iron Chef French Hiroyuki Sakai, "the Delacroix of French cuisine"; Iron Chef Chinese Chen Kenichi, "the Szechuan Sage"; Iron Chef Japanese Masaharu Morimoto, the renegade of the group who gets a lot of lip from visiting chefs and staffers for his Western approach to Japanese cooking and for his photogenic nature; and the little-seen young gun, Iron Chef Italian Masahiko Kobe. (There are a couple other Iron Chefs; they don't seem to be available on the episodes shown on Food Network: retired Iron Chef French Yutake Ishinabe, and retired Iron Chef Japanese Koumei Nakamura).

The Chairman assigns a single theme ingredient to both the Iron Chef and his challenger, with both chefs being judged on the way he or she utilizes that item in the best, most creative - and most importantly, best tasting - courses possible, within a 60-minute period. Throughout the intense battle, judges, "play-by-play" commentators, and special guests offer continuous commentary on the proceedings, culminating in a taste-off to see whose cuisine reigns supreme. Allez Cuisine!


THE UPSHOT
Iron Chef (aka "Ryori no tetsujin": "Sage of Cooking") is a little bit country, a little bit rock-n-roll. Its lead actor-slash-Chairman is the epitome of camp, dresses like a fop, and only shows up at the beginning and end of each show; its main attractions wear colorful outfits that belie their seriously Mad Kitchen Skillz; its announcers and "guest stars" often play their roles as if they were in an otherworldly soap opera...and I love it all.

What makes Iron Chef work, contrary to the beliefs of critics who Just Don't Get It, is that it is simultaneously completely sincere in its approach to the strange (to gaijin like me) variety of very expensive food stuffs it serves up, and at the same time, fully aware of the humor of its grandiosity. You hear it in Takeshi Kaga's punny lines (much of the impact of which is missed in the translation), and in the pitch of the competitions themselves - most notably the series of rasslin'-like battles between the marvelously hammy Toshiro Kandagawa and the Otha Faction, and Kaga's Boys.

Unlike the completely misguided "remake" of this show (which I'll get to later), the folks behind Iron Chef don't want us to laugh at Kaga and crew, they want us to laugh with them. And along the way, maybe even learn a little something we didn't know before, from chefs who may look like they've taken a page from the WWF, but are the real deal. The Chairman may be campy theater, but make no mistake: the Iron Chefs, and their challengers, are creative, vastly skilled culinary artisans. And hey, where else but on Iron Chef can you find a non-Black chef like Morimoto, giving props to the "soul food" made in Harlem?

A common criticism of the show that makes me titter is that it is supposedly "badly dubbed". Poppycock, I say. While the weird voice that sometimes dubs Kaga's lines does get on my nerves (Kaga-san should never be dubbed. It Just Isn't Right.), part of this show's charm is the way its English voice-dub actors try to capture each of the players, from the Iron Chefs and their challengers, to Dr. Hattori, the regular tasting judges (shoutout to the Rosanjin Scholar!), and the frequent female guest testers the folks on the fun-filled Iron Chef newsgroup fondly refer to as the "Bimbo Du Jour". Indeed, the exchanges that hooked me on this show were between the dubbed announcer, Kenji Fukui, and Roving Reporter Shinichiro Ota, which typically goes like this:

[Roving Reporter Shinichiro Ota]: "Fukui-san...?"
[Announcer Kenji Fukui]: "Go, Ota!"
[Ota]: "Let me tell you what Morimoto has cooking on the grill: you remember how he rolled up the conger eel innards in grape leaves and vinegared rice? Well, to that, he added natto, truffles, hot bean paste, cod roe, sea urchin roe - and exo sauce."
[BDJ]: "Ahhh...grilled conger eel innards in grape leaves with cod roe and exo sauce...tee hee, I can't wait! Did I tell you about the time I..."
[Fukui]: "We'll talk later. Uh, Doc, what's he gonna do with this dish?"
[Color-commentator Dr. Hatori]: "hmm...I think he'll grill it some more, then put it in a stew. Anyway, that's what I'd do."
[Fukui]: "Man, it's smellin' good from here!"

There's so much to Iron Chef that I can only scratch the surface in this small space; an examination of the Pomp And Circumstance surrounding the proceedings alone, would take a whole new review to do full justice. I've learned a ton about this show in lurking at the alt.tv.iron-chef newsgroup, and from perusing the unofficial website (the FoodTV version is less helpful, and the truly official FujiTV website is no longer available). All that's left now is to buy the Official Iron Chef book, go visit Morimoto's restaurant in Philly, and start buying all the IC merchandise. Hey, is there room in this world for Iron Chef Anti-Jemima?


BAMMER'S BOTTOM LINE
To keep an already excruciatingly long review from becoming any longer, I've created a separate list of Favorite Iron Chef Shows (So Far), linked here. But before I go, an apology to the true Iron Chefs: on behalf of the 220 million-and-counting inhabitants of the entire United States and its sovereignties, I sincerely apologize for Bobby Flay (who I'd call a jackass, but that would besmirch the name of honorable mules everywhere) and for the foul atrocity known as "Iron Chef USA". Then again, I wouldn't mind witnessing a battle between Chairman Kaga and William "A Walking Parody Of Myself" Shatner. I bet Kaga would kick Shatner's unholy ass straight into Michiba's steamer. Hmm...

[Roving Reporter Shinichiro Ota]: "Fukui-san...?"
[Announcer Kenji Fukui]: "Take it!"
[Ota]: "Let me tell you what the Iron Chef has in the crock pot you're looking at: into his Broth Of Vigor, he's added sake, sweet cooking sake, masatake mushrooms, foie gras, Steamed William Shatner's Ass, cod roe, sea urchin roe - and exo sauce..."


IRON CHEF:   green

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And that's the way I see it.

Rose "Bams" Cooper
3BlackChicks Review™
Copyright Rose Cooper, 2002
EMAIL: bams@3blackchicks.com    ICQ: 7760005
http://www.3blackchicks.com/

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