Iron Chef America — Tailgating in Hawaii

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As a very recent immigrant to the United States, I have to hold my hand up and say that most American sports remain a complete mystery to me. Until recently, I thought the term “all net” referred to fishing and that a “power play” was something you found at a Van Halen concert. But, even in my ignorance, I still knew all about the Super Bowl, one of the greatest sport events on earth.

So, when Food Network got in touch and asked me if I would like to judge a very special Iron Chef America episode to air just before Super Bowl XLVI, I jumped at the chance. When I found out it was going to be filmed in Hawaii, I was even more determined to take part and, when I was told that my fellow judges were going to be the irrepressible Sunny Anderson and the current Miss Hawaii, Brandie Cazimero, I almost offered to pay for my own ticket. Almost.

What made it more exciting for everyone involved was that this episode was also going to have a very, very special audience selected from the extraordinary men and women of the United States armed forces. It made all of us even more determined to put on a great show, particularly Sunny, who is a veteran of the United States Air Force.

Iron Chef Michael Symon actually did a little dance when the Chairman pulled back the cloth to reveal the secret ingredient of wild boar. As everybody knows, Michael is all about the swine and challenging him to cook with a whole one of these magnificent animals was like tossing a football to Joe Montana and asking him if he fancied a bit of a throw.

Mind you, an Iron Chef at the level of Masaharu Morimoto is not one to be fazed easily and, as he artfully began dissecting his own Wild Boar into prime cuts, it was very clear to the judges that we were in for something out of the ordinary.

I can now scientifically confirm that 60 minutes of Iron Chef cooking time passes just as quickly outside as it does inside Kitchen Stadium, because before long, the Iron Chefs were being summoned to the judging table to present their tailgate buffet of four dishes and an accompanying cocktail.

The star dish on Iron Chef Morimoto’s platter was a wild boar corn dog that had been molded around a sugar cane in the same way Vietnamese chefs do with shrimp Chao Tom. The sugar cane not only provided a useful handle but added a subtle sweetness to the meat-on-a-stick combo. A close second was his Iron Chef take on the Hawaiian classic, Loco Moco. This combination of rice, gravy, hamburger and eggs has never been a particular favorite of mine, but after tasting Iron Chef Morimoto’s version, I may well now be a believer. However, his hibiscus cocktail, although deliciously refreshing, seemed more suited to a bachelorette party than a tailgate buffet.

If anyone ever has any doubt about the impact of food on the emotions of those eating it, they should only need only watch Sunny and Brandie’s reaction to some of the dishes presented by Iron Chef Symon. The taste of a pork cheek taco with pickles transported Sunny back to the days when her late grandfather would prepare similar dishes. Her eyes immediately welled up with tears at the fond memories. Brandie felt the same way about a dish of laulau, something she told us she has been eating all her life.

I cannot claim to have had the same emotional response to the food as my fellow judges, but both were stellar dishes, packed with incredible flavor. I was less taken with Michael’s egg dish, where I felt the early addition of the broth only served to turn the delicious-looking croutons into a soggy bready mess. My own highlight was a wild boar belly sandwich which, you will all be glad to hear, gave me my one and only opportunity to announce to the world that “Michael has great buns."

That left us to tally up our scores and as usual, it was very close. I had the two chefs pretty even on creativity and presentation, but Michael just edged it when it came to taste. I think, given their reactions, Sunny's and Brandie’s scores were pretty similar, which meant that Iron Chef Symon ran out as a very narrow winner.

However, the real winners, I hope, were the audience of service men and women who had the rare chance to see the Chairman, Alton Brown and the Iron Chefs in the flesh, doing what they do. I am certain that, as you enjoy your own Super Bowl party, you will join everyone at Food Network in remembering those whose service makes such traditions possible.