Where Big is Beautiful…

“Phillipe Excoffier, the executive chef at the US Embassy in Paris, comes to Kitchen Stadium to challenge Iron Chef Flay. Will Chef Excoffier’s Parisian culinary flare impress the judges and beat out Flay’s southwestern spice? Tune in to see whose cuisine reigns supreme.”

That’s the on-line teaser for the current week’s Iron Chef America on the Food Network. I stumbled across the program while channel surfing prior to crawling in bed for some last minute studying – and it looked like a completely acceptable diversion. My brother enjoys Iron Chef and I watch it occasionally as a point of conversation with him.

The subject of the evening’s competition is the sea bream or dorade, a mild fish with lovely texture and endless possibilities. The early part of the show is wild and chaotic. After much mayhem and running about the kitchen the chefs settle down and ultimately present their flurry of finished plates to the judges.

Ironically, this episode encapsulates the cultural disparities between the American appetite vs. the European approach to food. The French presentation offers carefully composed, small artful portions. The US plates are colorful splotches of unstructured boldness. The flavor profiles are mild to bland for the European plates and robust to highly-spiced for the American versions.

Chef Excoffier presents his own variation of classical items such as a seafood forcemeat in a pastry cup, and a fillet covered with scale-like potatoes – with considerable focus on overall composition of textures, colors and flavors.

Bobby Flay counters this approach offering fillets adorned with 2 to 3 sauces per plate – all soaringly brilliant. There’s carpaccio covered with a piping hot spicy sauce that would surely mask any possible dorade texture or flavor; and ceviche – which one of the judges suggests is overpowered by citrus. Another is a dorade fillet poached in butter and perched atop a lovely cioppino. The soup is presented in mega-enormous white salad bowls, easily 10” in diameter, and the judges appear dwarfed and cartoon-like behind them – as they peer into these vast super-structures.

Finally, the judges have spoken.  The decision is a crowding pleasing conclusion:  It’s a knock out.  Once again, Bobby Flay takes home the gold.  I am disheartened as I flip off the TV and head to the comfort of my bed. 

The program message is another a bleak reminder of what America has come to represent:   Where big is beautiful and more is better.

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