Food Network is seeking “The Next Iron Chef.” What, again? Call me when they have a contest to be the next Iron Chef food judge. I’m all over that.
Well, I got the next best thing: a chance to sample the culinary talents of 10 up-and-coming chefs who want to be the next Iron Chef and do battle in Kitchen Stadium. Thanks TV Press Tour Food Network party! This shindig, held at a gorgeous and spacious (they have their own wine cellar) home in Pasadena,was the highlight of a hectic month of press madness.
These chefs aren’t really completely unknown — they all do quite well for themselves — but they aren’t part of the household names trotted out from Food Network’s stable of perky stars either. I’m only too happy to say I had a preview of the next food sensation.
But let’s just get to the food, shall we? Allez cuisine!
Chef: Jehangir Mehta
Dish: Green mango paneer w/ lychee shot
One of my favorites. I love a dish that isn’t afraid to use spices yet doesn’t overwhelm. The lychee shot — I (heart) lychee — added a refreshing balance. Note the lovely condensation on the chilled glass.
Chef: Holly Smith
Dish: Beet salad w/ La Tur Bombolino
This could have been better. The beets were fresh and flavorful, but the cheese inside the pastry was practically nonexistent and dried out. I’m sure timing was an issue when plating for the party.
Chef: Brad Farmerie
Dish: Fried oyster on shiso, w/ wasabi-yuzu sauce
A fairly yummy dish, although I’m picky about my fried foods, and felt that the batter was too heavy, as was the sauce. Nice touch with the shiso.
Chef: Jose Garces
Dish: Pork belly bun w/ Togarashi mayonnaise
Who doesn’t like pork belly? Notice I’m not raising my hand. Well, even though I’m not crazy about sweet meat, I knew this was a crowd pleaser. I would have preferred something a bit more surprising though.
Chef: Nate Appleman
Dish: Spit-roasted lamb w/ rosemary-lemon potatoes
Wow. Really, I could have just eaten the lamb alone. Maybe part of the enjoyment was to watch Appleman take his tat-sleeved arms, hack away at the lamb on the spit and then plate up such a satisfyingly simple dish. No frills, but incredibly effective. Well done, Nate.
Chef: Amanda Freitag
Dish: Panko-crusted fried shrimp w/ lemon aioli
Remember when I said I was picky about fried foods? Well, I’m especially picky about fried shrimp. I almost never order the stuff because the batter or crust tends to overwhelm the inherent shrimpiness of the dish. Well, not so here. Freitag knew the exact temperature to produce the most succulent, springy but not chewy shrimp. The crust was delicate and paired well with the bright aioli. I had to keep myself from filling up on this one.
Chef: Seamus Mullen
Dish: Smoked montano sardines on crostini w/ fennel jam
Hmm, I really wanted to like this one. Not only is Seamus Mullen a really cool name, but he was gracious as well when I tried to take a sample earlier than was allowed. This was … okay. I liked the flavors, smoky and salty, but the crostini was a bit hard on the mouth and distracted from the toppings.
Chef: Dominique Crenn
Dish: Bread w/ honey butter cheese and walnut
Um, you really can’t go wrong with any of that. Lovely. Maybe the pieces should have been bigger.
Chef: Roberto Trevino
Dish: Manchego cheesecake w/ pata negra
Yes, this cured Iberian ham was slapped onto a piece of cheesecake. I’m a fan of smoked pork products paired with dessert, and this was certainly a fun dish — both the sweet and savory feeding off each other. But in the end, my palate just wanted more of the pata negra. The cheesecake was just a pesky, unsubtle food delivery system.
Chef: Eric Greenspan
Dish: Short ribs and Tallegia grilled cheese (note: Tallegia is a cheese from Lombardy, the name of the street on which the party was being held. Coincidence? Perhaps not.)
Forgive me, food gods, but this had too much cheese. I know, I know. How is that possible? It was grilled to perfection, and the cheese melted and stretched admirably, but I felt shorted of the short ribs and was trying to drink more of my cocktail to make up for the salt overload.
Frankly, I’m one of those people who don’t judge solely on the last dish prepared. I like to get to know someone’s overall style of cooking, get a feel for their palate and food philosopy. So even though “The Next Iron Chef” on Food Network begins Sunday, Oct. 4 at 9 p.m. ET, I haven’t picked favorites yet. But of course, I am very open to food bribery. Hint.