Recap: Next Iron Chef 3, EP5

Are we at the halfway point already?  It appears so.  Estes is gone, Chauhan is slipping and Tio is starting to emerge as a contender.  All five of the chefs remaining have experienced both highs and lows but one thing is for sure – all of them have a legitimate chance at being named the Next Iron Chef.

Next Iron ChefNot only does the talent of the contestants as a whole seem to be a step up from last year but we have also seen a reduction in lame challenges.  I believe there have only been two truly moronic challenges so far this season whereas last year the biggest piece of drama was waiting for a challenge that wasn’t stupid.  All in all I’d say season 3 is making up for the disappointment of season 2.  The self-judging remains a blight on the current season.  Virtually everyone watching and Tweeting has made a negative comment about it.  I know it is too late to do away with it now but if there are any future NIC‘s Food Network would do well to 86 it.  It’s bush league.

Challenge #1 – Battle: Potato.  Wow and actual secret ingredient challenge that will be judged by a Marine Colonel.  This is cool.

Challenge #2 – Americano.  Make a dish from each of the four corners of the 48 contiguous.  NIC 2 winner Jose Garces sits in as a guest judge subbing for Mike Symon..

My thoughts:

Marco Canora – Canora has made himself a strong contender, although last week he was excessively douchey.  Hopefully that was just a case of unflattering editing.  1st challenge was butter poached potatoes.  Since he got to gather his ingredients first on the 2nd challenge Canora took everything leaving nothing for the other chefs.  That is classless.  Anyone who would do that is not worthy of the title Iron Chef.  It’s cheating plain and simple.  Three of his dishes were good one was overly salty.  Top 2 finish.

Bryan Caswell – Another very good performance but still not great.  1st challenge – truffled tater tots.  The ladies on Twitter continue to love Chef Bryan’s appearance but his food has just not been as popular with the judges so far. 2nd challenge food was OK but crawfish and grits is not an Eastern dish it is a Southern dish.  They didn’t care for most of his dish but they loved his collard greens.  Middle two finish.

Maneet Chauhan – After flying out of the gates in the first two weeks, Chef Maneet has struggled the past three.  This could be her swan song unless she can turn it around.  1st challenge – potato ravioli.  She responded well with the first challenge.  Her second challenge seemed to go well but the judges hated her presentation while liking her food.  Bottom two finish.

Mary Dumont – Went home week 3.

Duskie Estes – Went home week 4.

Marc Forgione – Another strong outing last week.  Though he didn’t win either challenge is was a strong runner up in both.  You have to like the fact that Forgione always tries to judge the other chefs without respect agenda.  1st challenge – potato gnuddi.  It was a major failure.  He came in last and was penalized.  2nd dish he did an ode to the great eateries, Delmonico, Chinois etc.  Some was good and some was not so much.  He is in danger of going home.  Bottom two finish.

Andrew Kirschner – Went home week 1.

Mario Pagán – Went home week 2.

Celina Tio – What a week Tio had last time out.  She won both challenges – the first time we’ve seen someone do that this year.  Another good performance and we’ll have to consider her a genuine contender for the title.  1st challenge was not received well by Casweel but everyone else seemed to like it.  2nd challenge was mediocre as well.  Middle two finish.

Ming Tsai – With all respect to Chef Tio, Ming Tsai was the clear winner of the first challenge last week.  So why didn’t he win?  The stupid self-judging which is used simply to let the other chefs stay in this competition, otherwise this might already be over.  1st challenge – sweet potato risotto.  2nd challenge Ming brought both the funk and the noise.  He’ll be hard to beat.  Top 2.

Leading the pack: Ming Tsai

Dark horse: Marco Canora, Marc Forgione

Tonight’s winners:

1st challenge – Chef Canora.
2nd challenge – Chef Tsai.

Quote of the night – “Her meal was like Iron Chef junior.” Donatella on Chef Chauhan’s plate presentation.

Next week: Vegas.

Have you missed an episode of NIC because you were tracking escaped convicts from the Phantom Zone?  No problem, you can get caught up HERE.  Be sure to check out my exclusive interviews with Celina Tio (HERE), Mary Dumont (HERE) and Maneet Chauhan (HERE).

The Next Iron Chef will not be . . .

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Maneet Chauhan

Recap: Next Iron Chef 3, EP4

Well it took the judges three weeks to figure it out but they finally sent Chef Mary Dumont packing.  Chef Dumont is undoubtedly a fine chef.  If she weren’t she never would have been asked to come on the show.  NIC would never take a sub-par cook (that’s Hell’s Kitchen’s domain) it’s just that she wasn’t right for this kind of contest format.

We are starting to whittle the field down considerably.  Of the seven chefs remaining three have an outstanding shot a winning (Fargione, Chauhan and Tsai), two are nipping on their tails (Canora and Caswell)  and the other two (Tio and Estes) have been solid.  Tio has yet to wow anyone but her food has been good enough to avoid a bottom three finish.  Estes’ biggest flaw has been her consistency (followed closely by her plating) – she may blow the competition away in one challenge then do so poorly in the other that she is close to going home.  Because of this Chef Duskie remains a wild card which has lent some drama to the season.

It appears that the contestants judging each other after the first challenge is now a permanent fixture in the show’s format.  This means the first challenge is pretty much meaningless.  It just wastes the first segment of the show.  I wouldn’t blame you if you skipped it to watch part of the Sunday Night NFL game.  If you do you will have missed little of significance.  A dip into the live Tweets and forums discussing the show will quickly demonstrate that the fans of the NIC hate the self-judging.  That’s a hint, Food Network, if you pay attention to what these people are saying you will gain valuable information on how to improve your programming.

Challenge #1 – Transform a standard American condiment into something new.

Challenge #2 – They are given 30 minutes to harvest whatever they could find at the concession stands at a county fair and transform three fair food dishes – one fried, one grilled and one on a stick.  This is a pretty stupid challenge.  Iron Chef is better than this.

My thoughts:

Marco Canora – Proved very resourceful last week winning the 2nd. challenge despite having a terrible fishing day.  Canora may be on the brink of making himself a strong contender. Celine Tio Recap: Next Iron Chef 3, EP3 1st challenge he transformed mayo into a pudding.  Most chefs considered it a cop out.  He didn’t hesitate to attack everyone else.  That’s the sign of someone with confidence issues.  2nd challenge he wanted to make fair food into health food.  An immediate fail in my book but the judges seemed to like it.  They, however, were wrong.  Canora was excessively douchey.

Bryan Caswell – His creativity keeps him on the verge of full blown contender-dom but as inventive as he dishes have been he has yet to hit a home run.  Still a string of triples ain’t bad.  1st challenge he is transforming ketchup into a flavored water.  Whatever.  2nd challenge his corn on the cob got singed because the production team did not have the grill running properly.  His food was OK.  The concept was strong but the execution maybe not so much.  Top 3.

Maneet Chauhan – She had a rough week last time out.  Her first bottom three finish and the biggest killer was under-seasoned food, unheard of from an Indian chef.  1st challenge she tried to transform Ranch dressing into something edible.  She came in last in the 1st challenge.  Why? Because Ranch Dressing is an abomination.  But that’s two bad challenges in a row.  Her menu for the 2nd challenge sounds like a life saver if pulled off.  Kabab dog on a sugar cane skewer and other dishes were OK.  The dessert, fried avocado and chocolate, was the best received.  Bottom 3.

Mary Dumont – Went home week 3.

Duskie Estes – She finally listened to the judges and put an effort into her plating.  As a result she had a very nice week.  1st challenge transforms mustard.  Decided on grilled calamari as part of her 2nd challenge menu.  That is way too finicky a protein to try and do a challenge like this.  She deep fried caramel which failed.  Some things were not cooked well and her caramel she tried to pass off as maple sugar.  Bottom 3.

Marc Forgione – Another strong outing last week.  He won another challenge and at this point has to be considered the favorite to win it all. 1st challenge he transforms BBQ sauce into a bolognese.  2nd challenge he is transforming bacon-cheeseburger, fried root beer float and Buffalo frog legs.  Judges loved it.  Top 3.

Andrew Kirschner – Went home week 1.

Mario Pagán – Went home week 2.

Celina Tio – Chef Tio has to win something soon because we are getting to the point were a solid performance sends you packing.  1st challenge transformed hot sauce into ricotta cheese dessert and gets that win she needed so desperately.  She ran into trouble on the 2nd challenge.  First the grill wasn’t hot then it burst into flames.  Her food was good but was it good enough?  Yes.  She won the 2nd challenge.

Ming Tsai – I find it impossible to believe that every week Ming’s 1st dish is merely OK while his 2nd dish is great.  What’s the difference?  Oh yeah, actual judges.  Still within striking distance.  1st challenge he transformed everything into something else – the condiment, steak sauce he turned into a protein.  The protein, steak, he turned into a sauce.  You gotta love molecular gastronomy.  2nd challenge Ming did everything on a stick.  Should make for a neat presentation but will the judges think it’s a cop out?  It went over “fairly” well.  Middle of the pack.

Leading the pack: Marc Forgione

Dark horse: Ming Tsai, Marco Canora

Tonight’s winners:

1st challenge – Chef Tio.
2nd challenge – Chef Tio.

Quote of the night – “Her calamari gyro was just clunky.”  Donatella on Chef Estes.

Have you missed an episode of NIC because you were valiantly liberating an oppressed society?  No problem, you can get caught up HERE.  Be sure to check out my exclusive interviews with Celina Tio (HERE), Mary Dumont (HERE) and Maneet Chauhan (HERE).

The Next Iron Chef will not be . . .

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Duskie Estes

Recap: Next Iron Chef 3, EP3

So, last week Ming Tsai was actually on the verge of going home.  I remember in season one that Mike Symon almost hit the road after episode 1; that is before taking home the prize.  Meanwhile Chauhan and Forgione established themselves as the top challengers to a title many have already awarded to Chef Tsai.  We shall see.

A little tomfoolery from the judges last week, Mary Dumont had easily the worst showing yet Pagán was sent home.  Simon said after one taste of Mary’s pot roast, “It fails immediately.”  It was described as shoe leather.  Yet somehow she beat out Ming Tsai who’s food all of the judges liked.  Hmm.

Challenge #1 – Make a dish featuring a pickled food.  Still doing the stupid judging each other thing.  They self-judged AGAIN.

Challenge #2 – Catch of the Day.  The chefs board the charter boat Monte Carlo and catch their dinner.

My thoughts:

Marco Canora – A middle of the pack performance last week after a strong showing in the opener.  A viable long shot.  1st dish was too hot.  Caught three tiny Chef Maneet Chauhan of VermillionScorpion Fish so he’ll probably use some of the sardines that were the bait when they were fishing.  Cachuco (fish soup) two ways – one classic, one raw.  He lost his artichokes that were to be his garnish.  Judges liked his offering.  He did very well.

Bryan Caswell – A top three finish last week with his open faced turkey sandwich.  Still a solid contender.  1st dish went well.  Scorpion fish and Sand Dabs (full of roe).  He lost track of time but it still worked.  Donatella loved it.

Maneet Chauhan – Maneet is proving to be a stronger contender.  She won the 1st challenge last week and had a top three finish on the second.  1st dish went over well.  Scorpion Fish.  She made escovitch.  According to the judges this was her worst offering to date.

Mary Dumont – I honestly do not know how Chef Dumont is still here.  Her food last week a terrible on both challenges.  She came in dead last is the first challenge and had a bottom three finish.  Her fist challenge wasn’t the worst but it was close.  Caught a shark and threw it back but also caught a huge Scorpion Fish.  Her dish bombed (say it with me now) uh-gin.

Duskie Estes – A middle of the road performance.  Duskie continues to be innovative but her execution has yet to equal her creativity.  Plating, especially, has hurt her.  Estes need helping plating her first dish.  Tio and Dumont helped but not with the plating that continues to be an issue for Duskie.  She came in last.  2nd challenge she had to wait 60 seconds before starting her dish.  She also had to use sardines to string out her small Scorpion Fish.  She did quite well by concentrating on her plating.

Marc Forgione – Chef Marc had a huge week.  He won last week’s episode and his restaurant, Marc Forgione, was awarded 2 stars from the New York Times, which if you don’t know is a pretty big deal.  1st challenge seemed to go over well, he won.  He got to take a fish from someone else if he wanted it and he did taking Tio’s snapper.  His dish was great.

Andrew Kirschner – Went home week 1.

Mario Pagán – Went home week 2.

Celina Tio – Another solid week.  She isn’t quite yet a threat but at the same time she has proven to be a tough out.  Her breakfast offering of fried chicken livers on a doughnut still haunts me.  1st dish was OK – one chef voted it best, one voted it worst.  Scorpion Fish and a Red Snapper that was commandeered by Forgione.  Then her mixing bowl caught on fire.  Food Network actually had plastic mixing bowls for an Iron Chef contest.  Bad form, Food Network.  Bad form.  Tio still put out a good meal.

Ming Tsai – Last week the judges criticized Ming for using too many ingredients even though they all loved his food.  How he had a bottom three and not a top is a bit baffling.  Again the self-judging went to script.  Nitpick Ming.  I find it impossible to believe that every week his 1st dish is merely OK while his 2nd dish is great what’s the difference?  Oh yeah, actual judges in the 2nd challenge.  Scorpion fish which Ming made a home run  with.  Simon  & Symon loved Ming’s dish but Donatella was overly critical.

Leading the pack: Marc Forgione

Dark horse: Ming Tsai, Maneet Chauhan

Tonight’s winners:

1st challenge – Chef Fargione.
2nd challenge – Chef Canora.

Quote of the night – “You look like a linebacker, but cook like a ballerina.” Simon to Caswell.
Honorable mention because of it’s audacity.  I don’t want to go home because of a pineapple.”  Chef Dumont who has been close to going home each week.  We also had an “In it to win it quote” which I hate from Simon.

Have you missed an episode of NIC because you had to bail your goofy little brother out of jail for streaking at the gubernatorial debate?  No problem, you can get caught up HERE.  Be sure to check out my exclusive interviews with Celina Tio (HERE), Mary Dumont (HERE) and Maneet Chauhan (HERE).

The Next Iron Chef will not be . . .

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Mary Dumont

Recap: Next Iron Chef 3, EP2

So what did we learn in week one?  Plenty – like all of the chefs are awed by Ming Tsai who they have nicknamed Uncle Ming, that Duskie Estes has never seen Iron Chef before (via this interview from FoodGal.com) and that Andrew Kirschner will not be the Next Iron Chef.

Duskie Estes of Next Iron ChefEarly indications suggest that this is Ming’s competition to lose.  Not only do his credentials trump those of the other competitors but week one revealed that his talent is a cut above the rest.  However, Ming cannot sleep on Maneet, Marco or Marc Forgione.  Unless Chef Pagan can produce better than last week his stay on NIC may be short lived.

Challenge #1 – Make an inspired breakfast dish incorporating doughnuts and coffee.  All of the chefs seemed to have a good grasp on what they would make.  Chef Ming correctly said that there are some people who really excel at breakfast but not everyone does.  Again 30 minutes to cook and judging each other.  The judging each other crap has got to go.  It is clearly there so the other chefs can rip Ming Tsai apart and to add drama.  They should call it Ming-bashing.  It is not “Iron Chef” worthy.

Challenge #2 – Recreate a classic diner dish and elevate it.  The dishes must be “Iron Chef” worthy.  The winner of the 1st challenge got choose which dish they wanted to recreate and then assigned them to everyone else.

My thoughts:

Marco Canora – Had a very quiet but outstanding first week.  Marco flew a little under the radar but ended up with a top 3 finish.  On the 1st challenge his food came across bitter because his griddle was too high.  He flipped liver and onions for the 2nd challenge.  Judges liked it but the liver was overcooked.

Bryan Caswell – A middle of the pack performance in week 1.  Nothing memorable, nothing bad. He was a hit with the ladies, though.  1st challenge French toast.  He got defensive at the critique.  He reinvented a turkey and dressing open faced sandwich.  Judges liked it a lot.  Simon especially loved it.  But Michael said it wasn’t actually a sandwich.  It almost won.  Top three finish.

Maneet Chauhan – In week 1 her 1st dish was good but her 2nd dish was great.  She had a top three finish and has established herself as a true contender.  Doughnut grilled cheese?  It seemed to go over well.  Having won the 1st challenge she got to choose her which recipe to recreate for the second one and then assign the other dishes to the others.  She took burgers and fries and made a veggie burger with squash blossom fries.  The judges appreciated the idea but not exactly the finished product.  Another top three finish.

Mary Dumont – Week 1 she turned in a middle of the pack performance.  1st challenge – bananas two ways for breakfast with very little coffee or doughnut and she cut herself.  Her food was not well received at all.  She came in dead last and as a result was penalized – she looses 1 minute of cook time on the second challenge.  That hurt because her dish was pot roast, a slow cooking dish.  She elected to go with the pressure cooker to catch up but she did not know how to use it.  Simon, “It fails immediately.”  The pot roast was like shoe leather.  A bottom three finish.

Duskie Estes – Last week she won the first challenge then bombed the second so badly she nearly went home. Lots of people watching the show have called her this year’s Jehangir Mehta.  1st dish was okay.  2nd challenge she got fried chicken & biscuit.  She fried quail and an goat cheese and lavender biscuit.  It went over well but the judges still had issues with it.

Marc Forgione – A talented chef to be sure and he loves to do everything from scratch.  He did well but I don’t think we’ve seen his best yet.  He certainly embraces the mentality of an Iron Chef.  1 st. dish was okay.  Made deconstructed chicken pot pie.  The judges loved it.  His talent and dedication are starting to shine.  His dish could be the winner.

Andrew Kirschner – Went home week 1.

Mario Pagán – To be honest, I am not sure how he survived week one.  He came in dead last in the 1st challenge and had a bottom three finish in the second.  Perhaps the close call will motivate him.  1st dish was not memorable but didn’t suck.  2nd dish – meatloaf and potatoes.  He made it tropical and used pork belly as a meatloaf, uh that’s not really right.  The idea was nice, the execution was not there.  Simon didn’t like it and all judges disliked the appearance.  Bottom three finish.

Celina Tio – Celina had a fine showing in week 1.  Everything was above average but none of it stood out.  But she certainly has the chops.  Tio’s breakfast dish was STRANGE but some people liked it.  I’m sorry but fried chicken livers on a doughnut is just weird.  But then again I thought that about melting sharp cheddar cheese onto apple pie so. . .   For the 2nd challenge she got baked fish and rice pilaf – she made salmon with a risotto pilaf.  Michael and Simon loved it. Donatella not so much.

Ming Tsai – During the 1st challenge the other chefs who seemed to be taking advantage of the judge-each-other format to attack Uncle Ming.  The second challenge Ming established himself as the chef to beat blowing everyone away with the only dish of the challenge worthy of an Iron Chef.  1st challenge was a green tomatoes, eggs and ham doughnut sandwich plus a coffee drink.  Again the younger chefs jumped on Ming despite his product.  East/West corn-beef and cabbage with eggs.  The judges criticized him for using too many ingredients but they all loved the taste.  No way he deserved a bottom three finish but that’s what he got.  It was a little suspicious.

Quote of the night – “Who wants to be criticized in front of your peers?  No one does.”  Ming Tsai before the final judgment of the evening.

Leading the pack: Ming Tsai, Maneet Chauhan

Dark horse: Marc Forgione

Tonight’s winners:

1st challenge – Chef Maneet.
2nd challenge – Chef Forgione.

Have you missed an episode of NIC because you were subjected to the torture of an arts and crafts festival?  No problem, you can get caught up HERE.  Be sure to check out my exclusive interviews with Celina Tio (HERE), Mary Dumont (HERE) and Maneet Chauhan (HERE).

The Next Iron Chef will not be . . .

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Mario Pagán

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Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up


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