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A huge kitchen filled with the best cooking hardware and freshest ingredients available…world-class chefs creating original and inspiring cuisine…a “chairman” wearing some of the craziest outfits ever…  this is Iron Chef, and it’s one of the best shows ever created.

Iron Chef Japan is part of a tradition in my household…every weeknight at 11, we gather around the TV and watch world-renowned chefs cook up creative dishes (sometimes while eating a little creative something of our own.)  Watching these masters work their craft is akin to watching someone paint a fine portrait, or watching someone write an opera.

All seven Iron Chefs, shoulder to shoulder.

All seven Iron Chefs, shoulder to shoulder.

In case you are unfamiliar with Iron Chef, it started in ’93 and during its run aired over 300 episodes.  There is a giant cooking arena, stocked with top quality cooking utensils and ingredients.  There are multiple Iron Chefs (a total of seven throughout the series, although only up to four were ever active at a time), each with their own specialty (Italian, Chinese, etc.).  A challenger comes in, picks the Iron Chef they wish to go up against, and then a “secret ingredient” is revealed.  The challenger and the Iron Chef have to put together high-quality dishes (usually between four and six, although there are no minimum requirements/maximum limits to the number of dishes) that primarily utilize the secret ingredient, which can be something as simple as cabbage to something as expensive and sophisticated as foie gras.  Unlike the popular American version of the show, the ingredient tends to be something used in high-class food, such as the aforementioned foie gras, truffles, or even abalone.  Also unlike the American version, smaller animals such as eel, octopus, and dungeness crabs are presented live and then killed on camera (the octopus and carp battles were particularly brutal…just a warning.)  The challenger and the Iron Chef have 60 minutes to put together their dishes, after which four tasters (two of which act as guest commentators during the battle) rate the food based on presentation, originality, and taste.  The chef with the highest score wins!

An overview of Kitchen Stadium

An overview of Kitchen Stadium

So what makes Iron Chef so darn good?  Aside from the obvious reasons (watching someone make amazing food), a lot of it has to do with the overall atmosphere; despite the competitive nature of the show and the wide-open layout of Kitchen Stadium, the whole thing gives you a warm feeling…it’s very difficult to describe, but sitting down and watching this show is quite a relaxing and fun experience, made even better by having people around you throw out commentary, MST3K style.  Also, the English dub is absolutely HILARIOUS; they frequently mock challengers by dubbing over them with stupid sounding voices, or by (what appears to be intentionally) flubbing the translation so it sounds strange.  Speaking of translation, one of the oddest things about the English dubbing is that the words and phrases have been translated to English, but the intonation of the words remains the same as it was in Japanese.  I never really noticed this before, but once Brittnie pointed it out it became quite obvious.  Check it out next time you are watching this show, it’s really strange.

View across the dividing line of kitchen stadium

View along the dividing line of kitchen stadium

Iron Chef America may have Alton Brown, but the original Iron Chef is where it’s at.  Do yourself a favor and see if it shows up on TV listings in your neck of the woods…it will quickly become a part of your daily ritual.  It’s that awesome.