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'The Next Iron Chef'' recap: Ming Tsai nearly serves up his own elimination

October 11, 2010 | 10:36 am

Did celebrity chef Ming Tsai think his bid to become "The Next Iron Chef" was going to be a cakewalk?

Probably not.

But he probably also would not have predicted that he'd be in the bottom two -- with a 50% chance of elimination -- in Week 2!

That's right, there was no mercy for Ming the Merciless in this week's challenge.

Continuing the homage to American food, the cheftestants arrived at John O'Groats in Los Angeles and were challenged to come up with an innovative twist on coffee and doughnuts. Most fell back on some version of using the doughnuts for French toast. Clever, but not exactly innovative. Chef Maneet Chauhan turned breakfast on its head -- a grilled cheese doughnut and a coffee-and-doughnut frittata -- and handily won the challenge.

Her win gave her honors in the next challenge, and once again we saw the "prize" turn out to be a setback in disguise. The second challenge was to take classic diner food and give it an Iron Chef-worthy twist. Chauhan had first pick of the dishes and jumped on burgers and fries. But then she made a -- gulp! -- veggie burger and okra and squash blossom fries. She got points for the fries, but the judges hated the texture of the burger and suggested that she was in danger of being relegated to "one-trick-pony" status if she kept relying on Indian flavors. She was left to wallow near the bottom.

But not quite at the bottom.

Those two spots were reserved for Tsai and chef Mario Pagan, with the judges trying to decide "whose dish was less bad than the other's."

The quote of the night goes to Pagan, who, finding himself in the bottom two with Tsai, said: "It's truly an honor to be standing next to him. But not in that situation."

Tsai was dinged for overdoing it and turning his plate into an archaeological dig with too much stuff. His assignment was to reinvent corned beef hash, and although the judges said the nugget of brisket on the plate was good, the dish was described by host Alton Brown as a "Faberge egg via the Hindenburg."

I have no idea what that really means, but it can't be good.

Tsai was only saved by Pagan's tropical, fruity take on meatloaf, and the unappetizing look of the plate.

Tsai swore that he'll never be in this spot again: "I dodged a heat-seeking missile. It wasn't just a bullet. I can guarantee you this is going to be the closest I come to getting eliminated."

We shall see.

An observation: Game-play reared its ugly head. As winner of the first challenge, Chauhan also doled out the rest of the diner dishes to the competitors. Was it coincidence that she gave one of the most time-consuming dishes -- pot roast -- to chef Mary Dumont, knowing that she faced a penalty of some sort? (Turned out Dumont had only 59 minutes to make her dish, while everyone else had a full hour.) We do know Chauhan tried to trip up Marc Forgione by giving him chicken pot pie, because she admitted as much. "My strategy with Chef Forgione completely backfired. What can I say, he cooks a mean chicken." Forgione's dish was stunning, a true deconstruction and reinvention of chicken pot pie.

-- Rene Lynch / renelynch 

Photo: The cheftestants at John O'Groats. Photo credit: Food Network