Iron Chef: Battle Lamb

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Theme Ingredient: six lambs from Pauillac, France
Iron Chef: Sakai
Challenger: Michel Husser, Owner/Chef, Le Cerf, Alsace, France
Remarks: I don't know when this episode aired on FoodTV, but I'm guessing sometime in the second half of 2000.

Sopexa is a bi-annual French cooking competition for Japanese chefs; eminent French chef Joel Robuchon was the head of the jury. The 1998 (I think) winner was Akira Itoh, chef at the Royal Park Hotel, whose winning lamb dish bowled over the jury. Kaga, however, wasn't impressed, and he wanted to reach beyond even that for Battle Lamb. Enter Michel Husser, Owner/Chef, Le Cerf, Alsace, France (himself on the Sopexa jury). Husser trained under his father from age 10, then apprenticed at 18, studying under Alain Senderens, the leader of the "nouvelle cuisine" movement in France. At 22, he returned to Le Cerf and took over as 4th generation head chef, earning a Michelin two star rating five years later. Head on, he challenged Iron Chef French Hiroyuki Sakai. I like that kind of 'to be the man you have to beat the man' thinking; I always feel slightly ripped off when, for instance, a Chinese-style chef (any variety) takes on Kobe instead of Chen. Kobe in particular often gets picked on in this fashion; I think it's because he's younger than the others.

In a bit of a break from form, both chefs knew in advance that lamb would be the theme ingredient; specifically, six lambs from Pauillac, France. Husser was shaking his head when the lamb was presented; I'm not sure why. Maybe he thought it wasn't the right kind or something. You know how those French can be. Guest commentators were actress Akiko Nishina and sportscaster (and ex-baseball player) Kazushige "Junior" Nagashima, who's a pretty big guy, and whom I remember from a previous battle saying "I ate two box lunches before the competition so I wouldn't be hungry". Enigmatic photographer Tenmei Kanoh and the ferocious Asako Kishi were the other judges; Sopexa winner Itoh also tasted but did not judge.

    Husser brought five dishes before the panel:
  1. Lamb liver and foie gras salad. Walnuts and apples were also featured.
  2. Fried lamb tenderloin, mustard flavor. Salt-cured cabbage was included. Kishi liked it and Kanoh was impressed as well; Nagashima thought he could eat twenty or thirty of them.
  3. Alsace style stew. Lamb meat loaf rolled in pasta dough and cooked in consomme. Nishina liked the choice of flavorings; Kanoh liked it too.
  4. Roast lamb and soubise. The gelatin is key to the texture here. Kanoh liked the contrast in flavors, calling it a "perfected dish."
  5. Lamb belly saute and bell pepper sorbet. The sorbet was served with white wine poured over it. This dish was a big hit with all tasters.

    Sakai's retort also had five dishes:
  1. Roast lamb & foie gras royale. This dish features Sakai's ability to fuse Japanese techniques with French recipes.
  2. Lamb stew & French-style fried rice. The rice was sweetened with fruit. Kishi thought it was a bit undercooked, but Kanoh liked it.
  3. Filet pie crust grill & roast round meat. The main dish; almost a meal in itself. The crust was a Alsace-based recipe in tribute to the challenger; Sakai served it himself off a silver tray. Nishina: "It almost tastes like flowers." Kishi and Junior both liked it a lot; Kanoh liked the contrast between the grill and the round.
  4. Lemon & basil sorbet. Served with fried lamb slices.
  5. French style tenderloin, shabu-shabu. Made with lamb tenderloin.

Itoh said all of Husser's dishes were beyond anything he had done at Sopexa.

Sakai's stew had several condiments on the side, and tasters were invited to use them as desired to adjust the taste. I don't remember any Iron Chef saying that before, but it seems to have paid off here; Nishina didn't like the stew at first, but was able to adjust the taste to her liking.

Kanoh said at the end of the tasting that he'd vote it a tie just so they could come back and cook again.

Kaga said the dishes were the best lamb dishes he'd ever had, and was sad that he had to announce a winner. But he did; he voted 20-19 Husser. Nishina went 19-18 Sakai, Nagashima 20-19 Husser, and Kishi 19-17 Husser.

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This page contains a single entry by Chris published on July 19, 2005 12:52 PM.

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