I was a judge on Iron Chef America a couple of days ago. The battle was between Iron Chef Cat Cora and Walter Scheib, who until recently was the White House chef.
It was my second time judging,and this time I was able to watch the chefs more intently, as I wasn't worried about not knowing what to do. The first thing I noticed is how hard the chefs and sous-chefs work. For a solid hour they are whirling dervishes, chopping up a storm, running back and forth to the spice rack and the fridge, and moving from burner to oven to mixing bowl without missing a grain of salt. I had never met or interviewed either contestant, and in fact I had never tasted food cooked by either one of them before the show. Scheib was unflappable (he didn't break a sweat the whole time, even when one of my fellow judges asked him if he had to cut up W's food from him) and very articulate when he explained what he tried to do. Cora was charming and energetic, and I loved her slight southern drawl. I have to say the dishes they each prepared were quite impressive, and I found myself in a quandary when I filled out the scorecard. I want to dispel a couple of Iron Chef myths. Number one, the fix isn't in, so it's not the culinary equivalent of Pro Wrestling. They don't tell you to vote for the Iron Chef. Number two, the judges don't confer whey they render their judgement. In fact, I overheard my fellow judges Ted Allen (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy) and Cady Huffman (the original Ula in the Broadway production of The Producers) talking about something, and I asked them them to repeat what they had said. They said they couldn't until I handed my scorecard in. Once I handed it in, I was amazed when I discovered that each of us had picked the same chef as the winner, with the exact same winning margin. Who won? I'm sworn to secrecy, though I can tell you that I managed to stay on my diet. In fact, I weighed myself this morning, and I lost another pound this week. Maybe it was all that walking I did from the judge's perch to the table and back. I had a great time, and I resisted the urge to say when confronted with a strange dessert strudel made with the secret ingredient, "This could be called Strange Pie for the Straight Guy."
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