Seafood showdown

And then there were two. Chefs, that is.

If you are watching Next Iron Chef and you haven't see the double-elimination penultimate episode, please don't keep reading unless you want your experience spoiled. In other words,


We were down to the final four competitors: Michael Chiarello, Elizabeth Faulkner, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Geoffrey Zakarian. Sweetie and I expected Zakarian to go through to the final. He has been very strong all along. We also expected Guarnaschelli to hit the wall. She has done well, but she was lucky to be in the final four. Even though she was talking a good game, I suspect that even she knew how lucky she was.

The Chairman's Challenge was about passion. It took place in tony Montauk on Long Island. The four were given an allowance with which they had to rush around for two hours buying ingredients at shops in Montauk (home of $12-a-pound butter), and then use those ingredients to prepare, outdoors, in two hours, a three-course seafood tasting menu, not just for the judges but for about 20 diners. Imagine constant motion, creativity, and technique for two hours without a break.

In front of the judges, Guarnaschelli presented her dishes, which were generally well received. Faulkner got a few more snaps for her offerings. Judge Simon Majumder licked his chowder bowl! But when we saw what Zakarian had come up with, we were in awe. There was an inventiveness to his dishes that was missing from those of the two women. It was really quite amazing. And what Chiarello served was not far behind.

We were not at all surprised when the judges said that Zakarian had done best and would go to the final. Neither were we surprised when Guarnaschelli was sent home. Then, the judges said that Chiarallo was just a hair away from having won first. However, according to the rules of the competition, no matter how well he had done in the Chairman's Challenge, he still had to face off against the other who remained, Faulkner.

The Secret Ingredient Challenge involved three kinds of Town House crackers and several varieties of wine. The goal was to create three bites using the crackers as a vehicle and incorporating the wine. As amazing as it is to see what people come up with for the Chairman's Challenge, it's perhaps even more amazing to see the outcome of this challenge—with such extreme ingredient limitations and so little time. Faulkner and Chiarello, two superb chefs, clearly went all out. We were pulling for Faulkner as we have been all along.

The judges nibbled their canapés, and from the comments it seemed as though Faulkner might actually have edged out the more favoured Chiarello, who had just almost won the previous challenge. And in the end, that is what the judges decided. Woo hoo! Elizabeth goes to the final!

We're thinking that Zakarian is going to be tough to beat. He not has only amazing technique but also a huge repertoire of ideas. The judges almost never dislike anything that Geoffrey serves, and we probably wouldn't either. But there is one thing Zakarian lacks—the element of surprise. If he had been up against Chiarello, the food would have been amazing and delicious, but also unsurprising. Now, with Zakarian versus Faulkner, all bets are off. Zakarian might still have an edge in some ways, but there is no telling what Faulkner is going to come up with. And if she can surprise the judges in the right way, she will become the next Iron Chef.

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