Iron Chef Gauntlet recap: Innovation isn’t as simple as it seems


After finding showing their resourcefulness, the chefs tackle innovation in this Iron Chef Gauntlet recap. Is it simple to be innovative?

Host Alton Brown, as seen on Iron Chef Gauntlet, Season 2. provided by Food Network
Certain characteristics are required of an Iron Chef. Resourcefulness was the first quality that they chefs showcased on Iron Chef Gauntlet. In this Iron Chef Gauntlet recap, the chefs take on innovation. Were the chef’s creations truly innovative or did they lack the vision needed to be an Iron Chef?

Innovation can be a divisive word in the culinary world. While chefs incorporate food trends and new techniques into their dishes, innovating a classic dish can be difficult. For example, some people want the familiar, comforting classic dish. Changing that classic dish to something new can make people yearn for the original.

On the other hand, innovation can bring a new perspective to a dish that has become tired or boring. From a flavor twist to a new presentation, the bland, stale dish gets a new life through innovation. In this scenario, innovative food is at its best.

In this Iron Chef Gauntlet recap, the chefs must re-invent a sandwich. Putting aside what is or is not a sandwich, the chefs seemed to struggle in the Chairman’s challenge. Although flavors seemed to be the focus, a few chefs didn’t find a new approach to the classic sandwich.

Looking at the chefs’ creations, I was somewhat disappointed. With the only limitation that the chefs needed to innovate a sandwich, the chefs had unlimited possibilities. Maybe the unlimited potential caused a lack of creativity? Creating an extraordinary sandwich was a great opportunity, which caused some chefs to falter. Did the pressure of the moment caused a creative roadblock?

Host Alton Brown with Judges Marc Forgione and Judy Joo, as seen on Iron Chef Gauntlet, Season 2. Food Network

For example, Chef Balloo started this challenge making a toad-in-the-hole. Don’t get me wrong, that classic breakfast sandwich is always tasty. But, it isn’t innovative in that current presentation. Luckily, Chef Balloo manipulated the presentation in his second version to make it more innovative. I’m not quite sure about the bread smear, but at least it showed some innovation.

Alton’s favorite innovative sandwich, and winning Chairman’s Challenge dish, was from Chef Thaimee. She made a Thai ice cream sandwich. While this dish sounded decadent, it won based on innovation because Alton hadn’t ever had a dish like this one. Although everyone has probably had an ice cream sandwich, the flavors and presentation contributed to making it innovative.

The losing dish was perplexing to me. Chef MacKay lost the innovative sandwich challenge because his flavors weren’t balanced. His salmon tea sandwich wrapped in Granny Smith apple was overwhelmed by the apple flavor.

Looking at the dish itself, I could see where this dish is innovative. The use of apple as the “bread” component was creative. The downside was that Chef MacKay’s dish failed on flavor balance. Innovative without execution isn’t a combination for a winning Iron Chef.

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Going into the Secret Ingredient Showdown, Chef MacKay opponent was chosen by Chef Thaimme, the winning chef. She picked Chef LeFerve to cook in the Secret Ingredient Showdown. This battle saw two strong contenders take on a difficult secret ingredient.

Looking back at the episode synopsis, the secret ingredient hint said colorful root vegetable. Unfortunately for the chefs, the secret ingredient was a very difficult colorful root vegetable, beets. Given the limited time frame of this challenge, beets were a difficult, almost cruel, secret ingredient.

Beets are a very divisive ingredient. People either love or hate beets. Sometimes the preparation can lead to a person’s like or dislike. A gritty beet dish could scar a person for life.

For this Secret Ingredient Showdown, the chefs didn’t fully embrace the beets. Due to the limited time, cooking the beets was difficult. Pressure cooked beets were everywhere. Since time is always an issue on Iron Chef, it limited some of the potential ways to present beets.

Looking at the two chefs presentations, beet wasn’t always the star of the plate. Even though none of the dishes were complete failures, all the dishes seemed to have some flaws. Neither chef knocked it out of the kitchen.

If I were to choose my preferred beet meal, I would have picked Chef LeFerve. His use of beets showcased the beets in flavor, color and presentation. Also, he used a variety of beets in all of his dishes.

The most interesting dish in his trio of dishes was the second course, which featured beets predominately. The roasted beets was all about beets. The pesto (or chimichurri) was a smart use of the beet greens. This dish was the best use of beets by both chefs.

Chef MacKay’s second course was also his best course. The fish wrapped in a beet leaf was a creative presentation of beets. The downside was that the dish wasn’t about beets. A bold beet color was clear, but the beet flavor wasn’t predominate. The secret ingredient wasn’t the star.

Also, Chef MacKay’s dessert was a misstep. While a dessert was a good attempt, the chocolate beet mousse was an unfortunate color. Some brown desserts aren’t visually appealing. Although an admirable attempt, the dessert wasn’t winning him the battle.

Contestant David LeFevre, as seen on Iron Chef Gauntlet, Season 2. Food Network
The chef leaving the Gauntlet Kitchen was Chef MacKay. His dishes faltered on all three categories, taste, presentation and originality. It wasn’t that Chef LeFerve’s dishes were immensely better. Those dishes were just better by comparison.

Actually, all the Iron Chef Gauntlet chefs should have been listening. This Secret Ingredient Showdown was a good lesson. The secret ingredient needs to be the star in these dishes. It isn’t an accompanying flavor, an enhancement or an afterthought. If the secret ingredient isn’t the predominate flavor in a dish, that chef could be packing their knives.

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What could fans take away from this Iron Chef Gauntlet recap? Hopefully, fans will rediscover beets. While this episode might not have shown the beets versatility, it shows that beets are flavorful, colorful and tasty. It might be time to try the divisive root vegetable again.

Is a favorite emerging in this season of Iron Chef Gauntlet? It doesn’t appear that way. Chef MacKay won last week and now he was eliminated. Any chef can have a good day or a bad day. Who can string together enough wins to make it to the Gauntlet? Tune in next week to see which chefs are left standing.