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'The Next Iron Chef': The final stretch

November 16, 2009 | 10:40 am

Chef
And then there were two.

Could anyone have predicted that Chef Jose Garces and Chef Jehangir Mehta would be the last two standing in the battle to become "The Next Iron Chef"? Not because they lack talent. Quite the contrary -- they are two talented chefs in a pool of talented chefs. But there were no clear standouts. All had their highs, all had their lows.

Yet here they stand, representing two vastly different backgrounds. Chef Garces is inclined toward more Latin fare, an homage to his Ecuadorian background, while Chef Mehta is inclined toward ... flowers. And Indian food. And seems to have an unnatural affiliation for ice cream makers.

This week's challenge was one of the toughest yet -- fitting for a challenge to narrow the field down to the final two. Chefs Mehta, Garces and Chef Seamus Mullen had 60 minutes to shop in what is perhaps Japan's most famous fish market, and then, for a panel of six, make a five-plate meal that best illustrated integrity and their personal expression through food.

Chef Mehta shopped as if he were cooking for 100, and seemingly had as many flowers on the plate as he had food. One of the contestants sniped that his presentation looked like a funeral procession. The judges thought it lacked restraint -- but also appreciated that he was indeed putting himself on the plate. (Of course, he used the ice cream maker.)

Chef Garces was the challenger who took the "personal story" angle to heart, and indeed explained how each plate echoed a key point in his life. (The char marks on one of the fish dishes symbolized all the burns he picked up working in kitchens over the years.)

Chef Mullen, limping along with rheumatoid arthritis, thought he could show up his fellow competitors by making six dishes, instead of just five. But that may have been his undoing. With so many dishes to keep track of, he ended up with a salmon mousse that was overcooked and a rice dish that was undercooked. Well, you can imagine how poorly cooked rice goes over in Japan. There was no recovering from that, even if his mullet roe ice cream won rave reviews from the judges.

Mullen went home.

So, out of Garces and Mehta, who will be the next Iron Chef?

Final thought: I had no idea just how much I'd miss Amanda Freitag until she left. I'd really had her pegged for making it to the finals.

-- Rene Lynch

Photo credit: Food Network

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