Dacascos and his suggestive brows.
Photo: Food Network.
It took a transpacific flight, but finally last night, "The Next Iron Chef
" deviated from its status as a "Top Chef" also-ran and finally started getting ... weird. Or maybe it was just the goofy opening montage of our four remaining cheftestants standing in the busy rain-slicked streets of Tokyo, crossing their arms in slo-mo and acting all alpha-dog dominant.
In any event, the show is finally getting down to its high-stakes, high-drama Japanese roots after an extended period of trumped-up, low-stakes challenges in Los Angeles. Our trio of alternately grumpy
judges have come along for the ride, and eyebrow-cocking "Chairman" Marc Dacascos
is no longer beamed in via satellite to bark oblique commands to the chefs -- now he can do so in person!
This week's mission was the pursuit of umami, the Japanese concept of a so-called fifth flavor -- something beyond savory -- that seems to be everywhere these days. The word was mentioned about a zillion times in the course of last night's episode, and -- surprise! -- it just happens to be the current marketing catchphrase of "TNIC" sponsor Kikkoman
, whose umpteen varieties of soy sauce were littered around the challenge kitchen. The umami theme also allowed host Alton Brown
a moment to do what he does best: Explain all the geeky details of how soy sauce is made.
That food chemistry lesson out of the way, it was up to our remaining pro chefs to get down to the flavor at hand, a challenge made all the more confusing in the Hattori Nutrition College
kitchen, replete with weird can openers, stoves operating in celcius and ice cream makers that seemed to deep-freeze their wares to a glacier-like consistency. Asked to fill five spots of a bento box each with a different rice-based dish, the foursome didn't need to engage in the usual reality-show sabotage -- the people who arranged the kitchen seemed to do that for them.