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'The Next Iron Chef': Technique trumps creativity

"The Next Iron Chef" is Chef Jose Garces.

In the end, Garces' technique -- though bland at times -- beat out Chef Jehangir Mehta's unquestionable creativity.

For this finale, the judging panel added Iron Chefs Michael Symon, Bobby Flay and Masaharu Morimoto, weighing in on who should join their stable of "cooking giants" who defend their titles in Kitchen Stadium on Food Network's "Iron Chef."

The cheftestants were given 60 minutes to make a five-course feast that represents America's melting pot. The secret ingredient was ribs and racks of all sorts, including buffalo, pork and beef.

Chef Garces played it safe, an approach that seemed to impress the fellow Iron Chefs. But it turned off the judges, who have presided over the competitions that led up to tonight's showdown, including food critic Jeffrey Steingarten.

At times, the competition seemed less about Garces versus Mehta and more about Steingarden versus the Iron Chef judges.

Steingarden appeared to be trying to shame the Iron Chefs into voting for Chef Mehta by accusing them of playing it safe as well. He said like Garces because he cooked like them. "I would not pay for that food, and if any of you would, I have a bridge going to Brooklyn that I would like to sell you," he said.
Chefs Mehta and Garces are radically different in their cooking style yet well matched. They both won three challenges apiece during the course of the competition, which this season was set in Los Angeles and Japan.

Mehta was back at the ice cream again, making an avocado version that made nearly everyone swoon. But he also made a pork burger that was, well, raw. And it was served along with raw French fries. Chef Morimoto told Chef Mehta that he had tried to do too much -- it would have been better to focus on one dish and execute it perfectly.

On the other side of the spectrum, Chef Garces did just that, executing everything nearly perfectly. (The exception being a mouthful of cartilage that one of the judges got biting into his carnitas taco). But on balance, Garces' dish were kinda safe and boring, according to some of the judges.

The judging panel was left with a difficult decision: What talent should the reward most? Perfect execution, without a lot of flash? Or creative genius that sometimes fall short? Chef Symon asked this provocative question: "If you're creative and you fail, are you creative? Or are you a failure?"

It was a bit of an exaggeration, of course -- Mehta is not a failure by any stretch. But his culinary high points -- which may have surpassed anyone else in the competition -- were followed by comparable lows. Said one judge: "He can hit a high point ... but can't execute a French fry well."

It was enough to hand victory to Garces.

So what did you think? Did the right chef win?

-- Rene Lynch 

Comments () | Archives (73)

Rene, Why don't you do some investigative journalism and track down those score cards The Chairman was last seen holding. Or, give AB a call and find out why they didn't show the final tallies of the judges scoring? I'm sure that would go over really big in Olympic figure skating, too.

I think grave injustice happened last night, Chef Mehta truly deserved to win. Chef Garces showcased a very Latin menu - dont know what melting pot he was thinking about; Mehta went well out of his comfort zone (of being a pastry chef) and did a very creative menu in spite of the fact that the secret ingredient too favored Garces much more than Mehta. Garces is far too pompous and throughout the last couple episodes has been showing Mehta down with derogatory talk. I wholeheartedly agree with Jeffrey Steingraden, the panel of IC's - Flay, Mormimoto and Symon should be ashamed...they were far too guilty of going with someone who cooks like them. And Symon, a newbie himself to ICA has no right to call anyone else a failure.
BEST WISHES TO CHEF MEHTA. I know a lotta folk would like to see more of him on Food Network.

I suppose that if you just know Garces' cooking from watching the show and not from eating in his restaurants, you might find it boring.

If you've actually EATEN his food, you know that what appears pedestrian on the menu or in appearance usually tastes like no version of that food you've ever had before. Some of his simplest dishes are some of the best food you'll eat anywhere.

For those that find him to be uncreative, I can only assume you didn't see what he came up with for his victory over Bobby Flay. I might also add that he completed his dishes in time for he and his staff to celebrate with a tequila shot well before the clock ran out. Style.

Steingarden = Steingarten
Twice in your piece.

Chef Mehta should have won. We need more creative geniuses like him. He was so inspiring.

All of the chefs who competed showed ego. Appleman was the worst of them, admitting that he made up stories to tell the judges because it was what they wanted to hear. These chefs don't join the competition because they are timid about their cooking capabilities.

I admire Mehta's creativity and hope that we will see more of him. As for Garces, he now has to demonstrate that he's earned the spot by performing well in competition. He won't win against the most creative chefs in the country by playing it safe.

It's a shame that the Food Network blew it with Mario Batali, the finest Italian chef in the United States. There's a man who could out-creative all of the other Iron Chefs.

When is everyone going to realize that the Iron Chef and the Prude Network is just a celebration of egos. First it was Emeril. The Ray. Now Flay. And it's going towards the 40 year old frat boy with the queer higlights and bad sunburn.
Chef G is perfect for this egocentric channel.
There is nothing special about someone being humble on this channel. You must have the fake smile and ten foot tall attitude to be successful on here.
It's no wonder the son of Oppie and Danny Partridge is the leading man for it.
With his spicy pepper and citrus drenching of every dish, to the arse kissing done by everyone that gets a free meal in his restaurant, the Prude Network is just way over the top.

And right after the NIC, I watched Chopped.
The attitudes of the judges on that program are remarkable also.
They call themselves experts. Why? Because they write a book or become a food critic (hell I have 3 of them here in my home), that makes them an expert?
And all their smugness.

The Prude Network is nothing but over priced meals.
I mean really, who is going to run out and by a $50 cut of meat/fish or $20 chunk of cheese for 1 meal in this economy? those people are the ones that make these shill "chefs" who they are with their restaurants.
The ingredients are usually over repeated show after show after show, are cooked in 5 minutes or less, and described with at least 50 different adjectives or made up words on how great it smells or tastes.
Or everything on the channel lately is a competition show.
When is enough going to be enough?
The whole channel has jumped the shark and something new needs to be brought along.

My first choice would have been Chef Appleman, but Chef Garces is an excellent choice. Of the final two, he was, in my opinion, the better chef. I'm happy he took the top honor.

Also, someone needs to proofread the article before it goes to print! Lots of mistakes.

It was a close one. Garces lacked creativity, Mehta lacked fundamentals. The raw pork burger can be attributed to his sous chef, but obviously he should have gone for a better assistant. Donatella Arpia really summed it well - I'm stuck. In the end safety had to win. Garces used the right strategy of playing safe in all the rounds. Freitag , appleman, mehta would have been interesting final 3. The game was structured to throw out the risk takers...

As far as the grape leaves and fighting for ingredients and contestants grabbing stuff which others might use - well ....that was a crap thing of the show...cant blame mehta hiding grape leaves etc...appleman took all the fish one...everyone was being mean..

My vote is 100% for Chef Mehta. I started watching late in the series and loved his creativity and saw him as a totally likeable person. It was also nice he wasn't dripping sweat into his dishes. I wonder how much of Steingarten's criticism of the Iron Chef judges themselves pushed them over to Garces.

Plus, Garces looks just like Emeril in a crowd, so who needs two of them!

Chef Mehta should have won.

The show was rigged. It was obvious who Flay and Symon wanted to PUT in position . Steingarten and Morimoto I am sure voted for Mehta . I think Donatella too

Now we get too many OVERRATED chef like Symon, Flay and add Garces to the list . Morimoto is way underrated. I give Mehta chops for getting himself so far..he was afterall a pastry chef first..so if he can get this far, think of what he can accomplish given a few more months . Technique can be learnt easier but innovation and creativity is either you have it or you are another one of the copycats .

With that said, I can't remember any of Garces dishes from yesterday but I still do reacll Meher dishes from last nite and even earlier show. Why.. his food is impressionable and that's the x factor what Iron chef should possess.

I have better things to do than to watch a predictable Iron chef.

The right chef won!

I have eaten at all four of Chef Garces' restaurants and they are anything but boring. His trademark is unusual pairings and creativity and wonderful flavor. Although this did not really come through in the show, I am sure it will in his future contests.
Visit one of restaurants, and you will see that he doesn't need Mr, Steingarden's custom.

I don't either were bad choices, but I would have rated Mehta higher than Garces as far as Iron Chef potential. I didn't like the obvious editing to make it appear that Garces was losing. My issue with the show is that by making it entertainment, they killed what made it seem interesting. Freitag would have been a good one also.

I really detested Appleman though. I wasn't upset he was eliminated.

Mehta should have won hands down. Maybe Im biased because Ive been talking to him and seems like a nice guy. I realize this wasnt a nice guy contest but his creativity put everyone else to shame. Bringing him to Kitchen Stadium would have brought a level of diversity yet to be seen.

I have to agree with the result and with Chef Symon. Of course he could have put it a bit less provocatively, but if one doesn't have the fundamentals down how can one progress beyond vacillations of good and bad? I wouldn’t have paid for a raw pork burger and uncooked fries no matter how good the guacamole ice cream and buffalo tartar were, Mr. Steingarten, and I don’t believe you would either.

The choice was clear: consistency over inconsistency, technique over raw talent.

It was so close that either one would have been good, though I preferred Garces. I think this show is amazing, and I love the intense focus on food, technique, personality and entertaining production.

imho...mehta's character came through in his use of the "f-bomb" not once but TWICE in the finale. the language and behavior displayed was not merely "editing" of a part of mehta's persona as he alone was responsible for the four letter words and the foul language...he ultimately didn't show command of himself and for that alone, he cannot be an iron chef.

i do understand that most reality shows will only present certain aspects of a person in order to garner ratings, but even they can only work with what they have been given on tape by the cheftestants.

command of your character, command of the ingredient, command of the sous, command of the 60 minutes and command of the vision are all qualities that an iron chef must have, whether it is in the original series or the american version.

ultimately, mehta lost this for himself, when he lost himself to the competition instead of focusing on the end goal of presenting himself as the next iron chef.

as far as one of the esteemed judges who disparaged german food as boring...i have one thing to say...it is MOST difficult to cook german food as it is inherently "boring" to most palates because the complexity of flavors and texture is lacking as most common german food is considered "staple" quality rather than experiential cuisine. the mere fact that an ecuadorian, classically trained chef can pull off such "boring" fare, shows me that he has an ability far beyond his training. for someone typically used to using layered flavors and ingredients it is highly creative for garces to pull back and present simple succulant and serious staple food like german homestyle cooking. and for a man like the critic who clearly has a last name which comes from that region of the world, i find it shocking that he would throw his roots under the bus so vociferously. maybe mr. js thinks he is above his heritage now that he is a food critic.

mr. js needs to remember that prior to the iron chef america experience - no one outside his circles heard his voice. they have given him a platform, a job, and a larger audience. and they can remove it if he continues to think he is above the show.

finally, the iron chef america show is a marathon crammed into what appears to be a sprint type show. and garces is a marathon man. he can be given opportunities to shine in his cuisine of preference - rather than the "cook the melting pot of america" kind of challenge that was the finale. when garces was given a "cook to this cuisine" kind of challenge, he won. i think this challenge was not representative of either chef's personal cooking persepctive. and as such was unfair to both cheftestants.

while garces appeared to be "playing it safe" he was actually narrowing the challenge to a more comfortable margin...cook the melting pot became - cook to the melting pot of chicago as a representative of our american melting pot. shocking but true, the mexican cuisine, the central european cuisine, the southern cusine all live and thrive in chi-town. and for mehta...cook to the melting pot became cook whatever you want.

in the end, the best man/woman won. not necessarily something most people want to see...or accept. character counts in this country. and garces stood while mehta's talk walked him out the door.

Jeffrey Stiengarden is the embodiment of the ugly ( and bloated) American. His rude, petulant and often obnoxious comments are just boring. He looked particularly ridiculous in Japan next to the Japanese judge who was such a gentleman. Criticism can be given without looking like a jerk.

As I was watching Garces' dishes come out, all I could think was 'boring.' Come on, carnitas tacos, pizza, and pork roast?

I thought Garces' had a definite advantage in cultural/culinary experience with the ingredient, too -- so why in the world couldn't he come up with something a little more interesting than the stuff I can find on half a dozen restaurant menus within twenty minutes of home?

I think using current Iron Chefs as judges is just a bad idea. You're always going to find people value those who are like them more. It becomes self-replicating.

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