It was slow to cross the ocean to Australia, but eventually cult foodies here got to see Iron Chef America — the Masters series from 2004. I love Iron Chef. It is a masterpiece of kitchen prowess in a camped-up we-love-the-ridiculous style. Inspired stuff. Completely unlike Iron Chef America.
Where Iron Chef (original) has Chairman Kaga, resplendent in dandy sartorial delights and with a cheeky twinkle in his overacting eyes, America has Chairman Who-Cares, cute, cutting a nice figure in his well-tailored suit, and overacting for the sake of, well, overacting. The gentle viewer could be forgiven thinking that Chairman Nice-Suit wouldn’t be able to tell his caviar from his tapioca. Sigh.
The Japanese series had the jolly “man alive!” banter of the (dubbed) panel. The American series gets Alton Brown, whose voice reminds me more of a cartoon character than an informative host. He does know his stuff, however. That’s nice. But the commentary becomes too didactic and repetitively inane. Whereas the Japanese panel could get away with “I think he’ll probably make X with that”, “No, it looks like Y”, “Gee, I was sure it was gonna be X, but he’s a clever guy”, Alton Brown ranges from very informative commentary on sugar decoration to the stunning “I’m sure this will probably definitely be X or maybe something like that”. Now, I don’t have a transcript in front of me, so please treat that as a paraphrase, but whatever the exact wording, it doesn’t make for scintillating watching. The camp becomes the cold and the banter becomes the banal.
Maybe I’m just a little conservative, too attached to originals. One of those guys who hates covers of my favourite songs or misappropriation of my favourite dishes. Am I just too curmudgeonly to be open-minded about Iron Chef America?
If Chairman Kaga spoke English, if Hiroyuki Sakai didn’t wear red satin, if the voice didn’t say “man alive!” would I still enjoy re-runs of the original Iron Chef? Probably not, but who cares? This isn’t a game of Hypotheticals. The only thing that Iron Chef America has over the original is a touch more commentary by the judges and a little more authoritative info from the commentator. And Vollfffffgang Puckkk.
Wolfgang Puck is like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but with a little more vim. His accent may even be more entertaining than that of the Gubernator. The latter has little more than bad-actor-meets-macho-character in Austro-English. The former has Perrrrrsonality.
Personality is something that Alton Brown shows less of in his commentary (he works better when in the frame). And I can’t forgive him for calling SpÃ¤tzle “shpaytzul” (Kevin Brauch (his floor boy) should wash Alton’s mouth out with wasabi). Without the personality of the original commentary panel and lacking the poetic and eccentric judgements of the original jury, this television is pretty soulless.
For all the technical information which Iron Chef America — Battle of the Masters conveys, both visually and verbally, the lack of fun and whackiness is like undersalted pasta; nourishing, perhaps, but no yumminess. Where’s my Iron Chef umami dispenser?