Iron Chef: Battle Lobster

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Theme Ingredient: Lobster
Iron Chef: Sakai
Challenger: Ron Siegel, Master Chef at Charles of San Francisco
Remarks: My comments are based on the October 29, 2000 airing of this episode, so take that into consideration when reading. Sakai was riding a 6-battle winning streak, but he had lost his previous two lobster battles.

I've really been looking forward to this episode; friends of mine who've been watching longer than I have say it's one of the best ever. The challenger was Ron Siegel, Master Chef at Charles of San Francisco. He was personally recommended by Mayor Willie Brown, who said "Dining on his food is like viewing a fine Picasso." Ron himself certainly isn't lacking for confidence. In the pre-battle interview, he said "And I feel like you picked the right person and I'm going to bring the gold back to the USA." Ron's speciality is California-style French cuisine, which balances salty and sweet flavors. He challenged Sakai, who had won his previous six battles but had lost his previous two involving lobster. Chairman Kaga selected lobster as the theme ingredient because it is a very popular item in California cuisine. Forty lobsters from Canada were used.

Actress Aiko Morishita, in her first appearance as a guest commentator, thought Kitchen Stadium was really intimidating. She has had lobster before, but, in true Bimbo Du Jour style, can't remember how she cooked it. Singer Kazuhiko Katoh, dressed more conservatively than his previous appearance (but sporting a fez-like hat he called a 'pajama hat') was the other guest commentator. He likes lobster sashimi. The other two judges were photographer Tenmei Kanoh and 'fortune teller' Kazuko Hosoki.

In keeping with Iron Chef tradition of soaking the show for all it's worth (Chen in particular is famous for opening a case of caviar whether he plans to use it or not, since the show lets him take the rest back to his restaurant), Sakai planned to use a large quantity of Matsutake mushrooms (20 of them, total price USD1500!). Siegel's sous chefs were Japanese, which was a problem because he knew only two words of Japanese: doke: 'get out of my way,' and isoke: 'move it'. Hattori noted that depending on the inflection, those could be considered 'roughneck' words and that whoever taught Ron them should be held accountable. Ron nicknamed his sous chefs 'Teddy' and 'Katz' and was eventually able to get things straight with them. According to Ohta, Siegel used 3-5 times as many herbs as other chefs on the show use; he said this was because the vegetables he had to work with weren't as aromatic as he was accustomed to, so he had to cheat a bit.

Siegel's dishes:

  1. Egg royale. This was lobster custard served with caviar and a burdock stalk in eggshells over rice. Katoh and Kanoh both thought the presentation was more Japanese than French, and were pleased that Siegel could do that. Hosoki liked it too.
  2. Lobster cream soup with scallops & truffles. Both Kanoh and Katoh liked this very much.
  3. California salad with lobster, basil oil, tomato concasse, and avocado. Siegel boiled the lobster tails in about five pounds(!) of butter, without skewering them to keep them straight, and the curved look was interesting. Hosoki thought it was 'the ultimate.'
  4. Lobster ravioli with sweet corn sauce. He used five different herbs to season this dish. Hosoki thought it was 'very good, really good'. Morishita said she wasn't expecting much of him but stood corrected. Kanoh said he'd thought the Japanese had the best taste buds in the world, but had his eyes opened.
  5. Lobster & foie gras in fig sauce. The sauce was port wine boiled with figs, then the figs were removed and butter added and reduced. The foie-gras was grilled first, then pan-fried. I've heard that Chen was sampling this sauce after the show.

Sakai's dishes:

  1. Seafood gratin soup. This was served with lobster-stuffed wonton on the side. Katoh and Kanoh compared this to Siegel's lobster cream soup.
  2. Lobster and matsutake combo. Sliced lobster tail and thinly sliced and lightly pan-fried truffle were sandwiched between sliced matsusake mushrooms. Morishita liked the change of pace to Japanese style after so many French dishes. Katoh didn't like the matsusake mushrooms so much.
  3. Lobster mousse with truffles. Sakai used scampi prawns to sweeten the dish and served it with a sauce made from morels, exo sauce, boiled lobster heads, saffron, and olive oil. Hosoki: "This is our eighth lobster dish, and my tongue is a bit tired, but this is wonderful." Morishita: "I'm getting full, but I can't stop eating this."
  4. Lobster salad, Japanese flavor. The sauce for this was strained pureed carrots with orange juice.

The verdict? 4-0 to Siegel: Kanoh and Morishita 20-19, Katoh 18-17, Hosoki 19-18. Sakai noted that he knew the tasters liked heavy flavors and leaned his dishes that way; it may have backfired on him as he lost his third lobster battle in a row. In a break from normal show layout, Ohta interviewed the judges afterwards; Kano said the soup was key and that Siegel's, which used lobster sweetbread (a part around the throat that goes away as the lobster gets older) was 'perfect.' Katoh was impressed with his taste and combination of elements, and Hosoki said he was bold, with sophisticated and elegant presentation.

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This page contains a single entry by Chris published on May 8, 2005 2:10 PM.

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