I always enjoyed the Japanese Iron Chef, even the one before the English dubbing. A wacky host! Unappetizing-looking dishes! Weird ingredients from the bottom of the sea! The inevitable girly-girl judge!
Throw in Alton Brown, and an appearance this season by Cleveland's Michael Symon, the only celebrity chef we can confirm is not a CGI character or a actor paid in hooch, and I must love Iron Chef America ... right?
I want to. I really do. I liked it, but I want to love it. So I'm hoping it gets better than the Flay-Lang-chicken episode I saw. I found myself amused and interested when I wanted to be caught up in hilarity and heart-pumping action. Maybe chicken was too boring an ingredient. Maybe barbeque-ing with in Road Runner mode is just too contrary to my slow food philosophy.
Or perhaps they are trying too hard to emulate the original. The melodrama of the original, replicated here (albeit tongue in cheek), feels odd when peopled by down-home Yanks, not unlike the misplaced grandiosity that is Mount Rushmore. Or the drama felt odd because it was feigned: perhaps American chefs don't bring to the arena the same sense of that honor is at stake. They don't seem to carry in the weight of upholding the reputation of one's self, one's family and community. When the judges made some snide critique on Iron Chef America, Flay or Lang merely shrugged; in the Japanese, the chef would droop his head in shame. Winning or losing just seemed to matter more in the original. Hence the battles in the original truly did seem like fierce combat, rather than a picnic sack race. And that's what made it funny: grown people seriously, dramatically, fighting it out over something rather trivial.
Still, I'm optimistic that Iron Chef America will hit its own quirky stride. The promotional videos, for one thing, are a good sign (I'm partial to the catfish one myself); the color commentary of the Alton Brown is another. So I'll keep watching. You never know - maybe Flay will lose a battle and start crying like a baby. And then it will be all worth it.