The original Iron Chef Japan is back on the air in the US
Fans of the original Japanese Iron Chef (ryouri no tetsujin 料理の鉄人) in the U.S. have cause for celebration, because the series is back on the air starting tonight at 11pm Eastern on the Fine Living channel. I think it's been off the air on the Food Network for a while now. In my opinion, while the American version is fine, there's nothing to match the sheer craziness and fun of the original.
Ryouri no tetsujin, which actually means The Iron People (Men) of Cooking, first aired on Fuji TV in Japan from 1993 to 1999. Fuji TV aired a couple of hours of Japanese television aimed at the expat community in Japan in the U.S., where Iron Chef became a bit hit. (I watched it on WNYC in New York in the early '90s. I still remember that the first episode I ever saw - Battle Salmon!) Somehow, it caught the eye of a Food Network exec and was dubbed...and was discovered by the general English speaking audience.
The Iron Chefs, and the chefs who went against them in the Kitchen Stadium, were doing some pretty extreme cooking. It was theatrical, creative and exciting. I sometimes wonder if any of the Iron Chef craziness influenced any young chefs.
There are a few clips up on YouTube to whet your appetite.
Some of my personal Iron Chef high points and low points:
- The first time a non-Japanese chef beat an Iron Chef (Ron Siegel)
- The battle of the French masters vs. the Japanese Iron Chefs, in France, where the vote was split by nationality and the French managed to win because the French judges had voted in some clever way.
- Battle Potato, when Katsuyo Kobayashi, one of my favorite cookbook authors, beat Iron Chef Chen resoundingly.
- Another Battle Potato (I think it was New Potato) when Kobayashi's son Kentaro, who's also a cookbook author and TV cooking personality (and now more popular than his mom) was the challenger, and his mother couldn't stop trying to coach him from the audience.
- The way the commenters talked about the rare woman challenger - so sexist it was almost quaint.
- Seeing Chef Chen, who was my second favorite Iron Chef, use a little spoonful of fois gras in something, but somehow make the whole thing disappear. (My favorite Iron Chef was the Japanese Iron Chef that Morimoto replaced, Rokusaburo Michiba. Both were also regular's on NHK's Today's Cooking, a much more sedate food show.)
- Bobby Flay dancing on a cutting board with his shoes on was a low light. Despite him saying later that he was made to do it, I've never been a fan of his since.
- Chairman Kaga, one of the sexiest men on air at the time. (He's an actor just in case, not a real eccentric rich gourmet. The 'nephew' on the American version is a pale, pale shadow.)
Be sure to check out the great fan site Iron Chef Fans for a lot more. Even though the site hasn't been updated for a while, there's still a lot there worth reading. (Besides, the last original episode aired in 2002 so there isn't much to update.)