Review and EXCLUSIVE Interview: Iron Chef
KING EGGMISTRESS talks to Iron Chef presenter Olly Smith about touching Anne Robinson’s breasts – ‘a truly magnificent rack’.
The effort a cooking programme puts into the CGI effects it cuts to just before an ad break can be pretty telling. The Master Chef logo always comes across a bit crummy, the vegetables used in Ready Steady Cook are irritatingly bouncy, and the opening sequence for whichever River Cottage is in season, is often just as depressingly chirpy. For the Iron Chef production team the choice was simple: end each segment with flames, flying knives and explosions – a decision that gives a good flavour of what the show is all about.
From a country that has previously produced both Hole in the Wall and “Gaki No Tsukai Ya Arahende” this new import shows all the signs of replicating the success it has tasted in both Japan and America. The show is fronted by the Chairman – a man so imposing he requires no name in the closing credits. After a casual back flip entrance, he explains the rules of the game with an increasingly outrageous accent and a series of astonishing hand gestures and facial expressions.
Simply, each week a team of four challenger chefs are pitted in ‘morsel combat’ against the same number of Iron Chefs. Every day one Iron Chef competes against the team of challengers, each producing two starters and two mains. Come Friday one chef from the challengers, and another from amongst the Iron Chefs go through to face off in the week’s final. The whole thing is spiced up by the addition of a daily special ingredient to be included in every dish.
Pleasing for all those who feel that cooking programmes are often tragically devoid of conflict – each episode has to be referred to as a battle over whatever ingredient is being used: be it “Battle Monkfish” or “Battle Cheese”, every instalment is a fierce struggle for culinary domination. Whilst most cooking programmes leave viewers hungry or bored, Iron Chef is such a balls-to-the-wall affair that by the end of the hour you can feel as knackered as if you’d just finished a Proclaimers’ walkathon.
Proceedings take place in ‘Kitchen Stadium,’ – a Death star inspired arena which substitutes the normal vapid live audience for better stuff like a vacuum machine and dry ice. The Judges and challengers change weekly but the Iron Chefs (Tom Aikens, Martin Blunos, Sanjay Dwivedi and Judy Joo) stay permanently to take on all comers.
Cooking aside, the best bit of the show is undoubtedly the amazing Olly Smith who, with accomplice Nick Nairn, narrates and interviews the chefs. With the kind of voice that could pull off a stand up routine at a wake, and what seems to be an almost unfeasible amount of brylcreem in his hair he ensures no episode is ever half-baked. Oranges become ‘grenades of sunshine,’ dishes ‘take your eyeballs on holiday,’ and scents are ‘elevators to aroma heaven’ – it’s difficult not to get carried away just listening to him.
Iron Chef is not without problems. For one no attempt is made to disguise the fact that Tom Aikens is far better than any other possible challenger or Iron Chef. Even when Aikens is off-screen much of the viewer’s time is spent in the unsettling effort of trying to reconcile Martin Blunos’s biker gang/meth lab face with a conspicuous West Country accent. On top of all this lies the disappointing knowledge that no one Olly Smith will ever talk to will be able to respond nearly energetically enough.
Minor flaws aside, Iron Chef still proves to be a tasty thrill ride that will leave most viewers reduced to drooling ‘Om nom nom’ in dazed excitement. Enjoy watching it and – in the words of the Chairman’s uncle – “allez cuisine!”
The Tab has also secured an exclusive interview with the show’s charismatic and notorious host Olly Smith.
You sang as chorister in the King’s College choir while growing up in Cambridge. Did you frequent Cindies’ nightclub during your time in Cambridge?
I didn’t frequent Cindies but I get the impression from the question that either I should sell up and move there or sell up and emigrate to avoid it. Help!
Why should a student drink wine rather than strawpedo an alcopop?
Wine can be a brilliant drink to use as the base for a mix. When I was a student in Spain we used to love Tinto De Verano which is simple to make -mix equal parts red wine and Fanta Limon in a jug and if you’re feeling fancy add chopped fruit and ice. You can try it with Sprite or 7Up too. Job done.
You present the English version of the International cult TV show ‘Iron Chef’. Could you briefly describe what it is for the uninitiated?
It is bonkers, a Japanese Chairman gathers challengers to face his Iron Chefs in Kitchen Stadium. They cook a dish based on a special ingredient to be judged. The best challenger of the week faces an Iron Chef alone in the Friday Final and has to wear iron pants as part of the ritual. OK apart from the iron pants all that is true.
Iron Chef has been compared to the X-factor. If the chairman is Simon Cowell does that make you Louis Walsh?
Golly. I guess that’s better than being Dannii!
Who would you say is the most fearsome of the Iron Chefs?
They are all lethal. Iron Chef Blunos has muscles in his ponytail which he uses as a whip, Iron Chef Joo has laser eyes to finish her food with precision, Iron Chef Dwivedi carries thunder in his back pocket and Iron Chef Aikens sharpens his eyeballs with hot rocks.
Famously on the Weakest link you touched Anne Robinson’s breasts. Given that you described them as “absolutely fantastic” was it worth all the subsequent uproar?
Definitely, a truly magnificent rack. Anne rocks.
Olly’s new book “Eat and Drink” with a foreword by Sir Roger Moore is now available.