Photo: naotakem, Flickr
It was the first true Iron Chef loss this season, not counting the White House special where Bobby Flay and Mario Batali went head-to-head with non-Ironers. Would lightening strike twice? Would the Food Network judges reaffirm our faith that they're not, shall we say, stacking the decks?
Don't crack open the champagne -- or rather, the prosecco -- just yet. We mention the sparkling beverage because, in a fit of hubris, that's literally what this week's challenger did. Demonstrating a trick we've never attempted, venerable NYC chef Geoffrey Zakarian opened his prosecco with a few quick slashes of a chef's knife -- shattering the neck of the bottle while he was at it.
It was a portentous moment: As impressively formal and put-together as Zakarian was, there was little he could do to trump fish-master Iron Chef Morimoto, who, as always, cooked fish in ways we'd never imagined.
From the moment the ingredient was announced, Morimoto went to work, smoking his sardines over pine needles and whipping around his knives like Edward Scissorhands, skinning, boning and filleting like there was no tomorrow.
And then he whipped out his secret weapon: Baby sardines! There they were, looking like fat, short pieces of spaghetti with eyes; later, Morimoto's sous chef pulled out sheets of squiggly baby sardine "paper," deep-fried them and used them as taco shells.
When they went before the judges, the two couldn't have been more different. Zakarian's were elegant, classy takes on traditional dishes: A sardine pain de mie that was closer to bruschetta than anything; or his intriguing sardine tartine with purple mustard.
Meanwhile, Morimoto took the judges "around the world" with his dishes. A sardine "taco" used the deep-fried fish sheets to good effect, even fooling Donatella Arpaia into thinking it had a corn flavor.
His sardine "pizza" was so close to the real thing, it didn't even really need quotes, even though the doughy, super-refined Japanese white bread he used as crust turned off Anya Fernald. And his side dish -- a deep-fried red pepper filled with sardine tartare -- didn't do much for Restaurant Girl Danyelle Freeman. Gesturing disgustedly to his aioli, she added, "I'm not really into this mayonnaise dip here."
No matter. Morimoto predictably won the hour, even prompting Alton to add, "Poseidon himself couldn't take [him] down" when it comes to fish. We don't disagree, but maybe, just maybe, that means they should shake the Iron Chefs a little the next time ocean-bound protein is on the menu -- if only to keep things interesting.