In less than a week, next Tuesday to be exact, ELV will be in New York for the taping of another episode of Iron Chef America.
To answer the three most common questions asked when this fact is mentioned to anyone: 1) ELV doesn’t know who the cheftestants are until he appears at the FN studios; 2) He won’t know who his fellow judges are until that morning; and 3) The secret ingredient is just that, and not revealed to the judges until about an hour before we head into make-up and pre-production. (The chefs truly are “surprised” when the big reveal is made, although they’ve been practicing their recipes on a number of possible secret ingredients in the weeks before the taping.)
During that time, we are given access to the extensive if small Food Network library to research anything we’d like about the ingredient so we won’t sound like fools when the taping starts.
The last time ELV did this, the word “sturgeon” was muttered to him and fellow judges Andrew “I’m Not A Food Writer Hunk I Just Play One On TV” Knowlton and Steve “Wine Geek” Olson, sending all of us scratching our heads and commiserating over our common misery (i.e. knowing we would soon have to taste and judge 10-12 courses of this bottom-feeder.) Our common exasperation gave us a big laugh, we immediately bonded and have been friends ever since.
Our “extensive” research revealed this sucker is generally farm-raised and muddy tasting — something we all knew — and I think we agreed smoking, curing or wrapping in bacon was essential for palatability. Mustard sauces might’ve been mentioned too, and then we were off to the make-up room.
The taping of one episode takes about six hours from soup to nuts, and the chefs truly do all of their cooking of five (sometimes six) different dishes in exactly one hour. During that hour Alton “The Hardest Working Man In Food” Brown does a non-stop play-by-play that never misses a beat. His keeping it fresh, flawless and funny is every bit as hard as the high wire acts the chefs are performing.
As for the judging, it occurs almost immediately after the bell rings — beginning with the challenger’s dishes. Since he or she goes first, we get their creations right off the Kitchen Stadium counter. It takes about an hour to work our way through the various challenger dishes. This is where we judges do the ultra-hard work of stuffing our faces, on camera, while trying to think of something witty or interesting to say. (Not as easy as it sounds, but whose kidding whom? It’s a blast!)
Because the Iron Chef’s dishes have been sitting by idling for up to an hour and a half, he or she is given the opportunity to freshen them up during the time we are tasting the challenger’s. Only fair if you ask us.
Needless to say, ELV is excited* to be going back again, and thought he’d share his checklist of things to do before he wings it to the Big Apple:
> Press white suit – check
> Get haircut – check
> Work on TV tan – check
> Line up meals with John Mariani, Steven Shaw, Uncle Alan Richman, and Mitchell Davis – check
> Lose 10 lbs – Hey! Nobody’s perfect.
* As Gore Vidal said: “Never pass up a chance to have sex or be on TV.”