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Monday, December 24, 2012

Next Iron Chef: Redemption - Episode 8: Passion/Respect Finale Recap

Only three chefs remain for this final episode. Chefs Alex Guarnaschelli, Amanda Freitag, and Nate Appleman have to compete in the Chairman's Challenge of Passion. Each judge selected one key ingredient that they each wanted to have in their last meal on Earth; the chefs had to select blindly from the three. Since Freitag had won the most challenges, she got the advantage of choosing first. She picked card #3, Farm Chicken. Appleman selected card #2, Haddock. He pointed out he was not passionate about haddock, but would be for the sake of competition. Guarnaschelli, by default, received card #1, Sea Urchin. The chefs had 45 minutes in the kitchen of Fiama Trattoria, in the MGM Grand., to prepare one dish that showed passion for the ingredient.

Freitag went with a dish that would highlight crispy skin, moist inner meat, and fat from the chicken. One technique she used was removing the skin from the chicken thighs, laying it out flat, dusting with all-purpose and rice flours, and frying to a rich golden crispiness. She was using a lot of "lusty" lemon, and a basic roast on the typical vegetables.

Guarnaschelli wanted to show the passion for sea urchin and sunchokes she developed when she first arrived in France. She wanted to create a flan in the shell with Brussels sprouts and sunchokes, while highlighting the fluffy urchin and lemon.

Appleman decided to go with a clam chowder type dish with the haddock, a memory from his childhood. He wanted to create the smokiness of a chowder, and used a sous vide cooking method to slow poach the haddock.

Chef's Challenge Judging

Nate Appleman was first up with his Poached Haddock and Clam Chowder, with the ingredient chosen by Simon Mujamdar. Simon enjoyed the bacon and broth components, but felt some of the clams were a bit underdone, chewy, and didn't add anything to the chowder. Donatella loved the parsley buttered crumb topping. And Geoffrey didn't pick up any of the intended smokiness of the dish, but said it envoked the childhood memories tied to the dish.

Amanda Freitag was up next with her Lusty Lemon Roasted Chicken, featuring lemon ricotta, smaltz, and crispy chicken skin. (In case you don't know, smaltz is rendered chicken fat, a key ingredient in Kosher/Jewish cooking.) This ingredient is the one that Geoffrey Zakarian said must be in his last supper. He thoroughly enjoyed the dish, and raved accordingly. Donatella loved the lusciousness of it. Simon had nothing bad to say, either, including how wonderful the Parmesan chicken jus was. It was very obviously to anyone watching at this point, Chef Freitag smashed this one out of the park, and clearly would be moving into the final battle in Kitchen Stadium.

Finally, Alex Guarnaschelli was up for judgment with Donatella's last supper ingredient, sea urchin, in the form of Sea Urchin Custard, with Corn, Brussels Sprouts, and Sunchokes. Donatella was worried it would be too isoteric of a dish, but assured us, her worries were unfounded. Besides the unique custard, Alex stepped outside her comfort circle to produce a foam! Was she drawing inspiration from Marcel with that move? Her foam consisted of the sea urchin liquid from within the shell, water, lemon juice, and butter, to represent the movement of the ocean. A very bold move, but garnered criticism from Simon that he would have liked a little more lemon in it. He did, however, love the sweetness the corn imparted to the dish. Geoffrey felt the custard was not custardy enough. And Donatella loved the dish.

Clearly, it was between Alex and Nate for the spot opposite Amanda. It seemed very close; Nate lacking smokiness and having some underdone clams, and Alex with her not custardy enough custard (?) and lacking lemon in the foam. When it was all discussed and decided, I was happy to see Alex move on to face Amanda. With either of these ladies, I would be happy.

The Final Battle in Kitchen Stadium
The two finalists find themselves in front of Alton Brown and The Chairman in Kitchen Stadium. Brown reveals the theme of the final battle is Respect. In accordance to this, as additional judges, three of the senior Iron Chefs were on hand: Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto, and Michael Symon. Brown reveals the secret ingredients. There were three categories on the podium, to pay homage to each of the senior Iron Chefs: Southwest ingredients (avocado, lime, chiles) to represent Flay, Asian ingredients (a shill for Kikkoman products, including Panko, ponzu, soy sauce, daikon radish, wasabi), and Mediterranean ingredients (olives, feta, phyllo, egglplant) to represent Symon.

The chefs needed to select two ingredients from each set, and create three dishes that would show Respect and pay tribute to the Iron Chefs they would be joining, upon winning. They had the normal 60 minutes, that was customary for Kitchen Stadium battles.

I won't even begin to try to type commentary for the actual action in the kitchen. I feel that's just something one would have to see for themselves.

Dishes were presented to the judges in an alternating pattern, just to confuse the hell out of us, I believe.

Guarnaschelli presented her tribute to Morimoto: Scallops with Hen the Wood Mushrooms. Her dish featured miso marinated shallots. Symon liked the way Guarnaschelli transformed the Morimoto flavors. Simon had one over cooked scallop. Flay loved the dish. Morimoto loved her vision of her dish.

Freitag created a Feta Burratta Caprese with lime, feta, and ponzu. Symon loved the Mediterranean dish. Zakarian appreciated it, and Flay thought it was more of a Morimoto dish. I was a bit puzzled with that comment.

Guarnaschelli's nod to Chef Symon was a Lamb Loin with Fennel, Olives, and Eggplant. The eggplant puree was thee star of the dish, all around.

Freitag showed her respect to Chef Symon also with lamb, in the form of a Lamb Loin with Charred Eggplant Yogurt & Chermoula. A chermoula is simple herbs, cumin, cayenne, and lemon. The dish was smokey, and Symon felt the sous vide cooking of the eggplant may have caused it to lose its bitterness, but kept its texture.

Guarnaschelli's Flay dish was a dessert, Cherry Tart with Pasilla and Lime, with crème fraiche ice cream with lime. Flay loved it, and felt it was brilliant. Other judges raved it was brilliant, inspired, stunning, "best dish","favorite", smart, and bursting with flavor! Obviously, this was the best dish of the battle. Was it enough to win it all for Alex?

Freitag created a dessert of a Brown Sugar Corn Cake with Miso Honey Ice Cream, featuring a blueberry ginger compote. The main critical point was from Flay, that it was too much on the savory side. 

All the judges then conferred and we were brought to the setting of the tapestry pictures of the reigning Iron Chefs. The Chairman stood before the covered tapestry and they did the customary talk to the contestants. Brown pointed out, truthfully, that both of them had gained redemption. But in the end, only one chef could reign supreme... 

The Next Iron Chef is...

Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli

I was beyond excited to see her win, but would have been happy to have either her or Freitag as the winner. And already, Guarnaschelli gets a chance at a little revenge next week, in her first Battle against Chef Judy Joo, the judge that caused her elimination in last season's Next Iron Chef. 


  1. Is the recipe for Chef Freitag's Lusty Lemon Roasted Chicken available on the Internet?

  2. I would love to see the recipe too!

  3. Guess what brought me to this site... yes!!! I also want the recipe for Lusty Lemon Roasted Chicken.