Wherein I Eat Lousy and Watch Good Food

A little sick today from a flu, so am staying home and taking it easy as per doctor’s (well, my) orders. And due to having jogged for a bit two days ago, my body is now a mass of aches and pains that leave me wincing when I go down the stairs. All this means I am too lazy to go buy food and am eating the lfetovers I can find in the fridge.

I’ve always had a soft spot for culinary shows. I don’t cook myself, but it’s somewhat heartwarming to see people put in effort to make food, partly because my family’s idea of a hard time preparing food involves throwing pork ribs in a pot and leaving it to boil for five hours before telling the kids to go get it if they’re hungry. I especially like to watch nice food on TV when I have to eat crap – I think association (or distraction) makes whatever’s on my plate seem a little more palatable.

And one of my favourite shows is, of course, Iron Chef. Oh, how that show does crack me up as well as show me some good food. I love the campy silliness of the presenters, the overbearing seriousness of the commentators, the pretty and stupid weekly female gues judges and the ridiculous costumes of the host.

Okay, for those of you not in the know, Iron Chef is a culinary show with a twist – it’s a cooking competition. The action takes place in “Kitchen Stadium”, a gigantic set filled with cooking implements, and features a challenger chef (usually already of quite some fame in Japan) who challenges one of the Iron Chefs (yes capitalized initials), famous chefs specializing in particular cuisine types, such as my favourite, Chen Kenichi (chinese cuisine). You have to watch the show at least once to get an idea of how campy it is. The chefs come out in raised platforms holding props, like chen’s cleaver and the french chef’s pear. Then the host reveals the ingredient of the day that the chefs have to adhere to and both challenger and Iron Chef have to come up with a full-course meal involving the ingredient. They have one hour.

I love watching the close-ups of the challengers’ faces when the ingredient is revealed. Sometimes they’re elated, sometimes there’s this look of oh-my-god-what-can-I-possibly-do-with-liver (yes, liver has been an ingredient) kind of look. Then the timer starts and the chefs scramble to finish their dishes, whilst the commentators talk about what they’re doing, which is sometimes rather uninformed – “He’s pouring the green sauce over the chopped things!” or “Is it papaya? No! It’s pepper! He’s putting something pink in the pepper!” The show isn’t so much about learning how to cook as standing in awe of professionals who can make fried rice in five minutes (Chen Kenichi!) or make a pizza with ten minutes on the clock.

And you just can’t beat the expressions on the chefs’ faces when the judges finally taste the food and make their comments. The weekly bimbo judge usually doesn’t go further than saying something like “Mmmmm! It’s very nice!” whereas the food critic judge tends to be rather harsh, sometimes pushing the chefs close to tears. There’s usually another judge of high birth to complement the bimbo and the food critic, some politician or even astrologer (very popular in Japan amongst those who can afford them) who will make subjective remarks like “It’s good, but there’s too much soy sauce for my taste” or “I think it’s wonderful, but the crispiness is not good for my teeth”, whereupon the chefs turn green in worry about how they didn’t consider the judges’ age or red in irritation with the annoying old man.

Unfortunately Iron Chef is no longer in production, having run something like three years or so in Japan. The chefs’ cuisines are still available, though, as they all have famous restaurants in Japan (and some in US). It’s something of a sinful dream to go on an Iron Chef tour, making trips to all the restaurants of the chefs of my favourite episodes (liver!), but considering Japan is an expensive place to eat well I guess that’ll have to wait a bit.

For now I’ll have to be content watching. Allez Cuisine!

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