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'The Next Iron Chef': Technique trumps creativity

November 22, 2009 |  8:27 pm

"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