Jinx at brunch

The scene is set: three brunching blokes amble into another overly popular Carlton café one Sunday. There’s me, then someone we’ll call Jim (because he’s a gym-bunny and pays attention to his carbs and proteins and all that), and there’s the quiet enigmatic one called Sigmund. My sour morning complexion needing a lift, I order sweet pancakes with various fruity bits, including a serving of lavender ice-cream which sounds just perfect for this warm summer morning.

And it would have been a perfect, warm summer morning… if the ice-cream hadn’t been plated next to the steaming hot pancakes and then left to stand a while. By the time it reached me all that was left was a teaspoon or two of rapidly dissipating cold stuff and a pool of custard-formerly-known-as. If one likes one’s ice-cream, then one must find a way to either gulp or savour the remnants. Savouring was clearly out of the question. The remaining blobs were quickly transported to my mouth, where they could at least melt in their rightful place. But, alack! Alas! Disappointment could not be arrested, for the blobs were not just pre-softened, but entirely lavenderless. Was the lavender a mirage, or had plain vanilla become the new lavender? I shall never know.

My companions went for the savoury options. Both, boringly, decided to have omelettes with fillings. And they might even have chosen identical fillings off the list if Jim hadn’t suddenly had one of those fitness-crazed nutritional moments and decided he wanted hash browns in his omelette. Yeuch. More surprising was the fact that this was on the list of available fillings — the reason Jim had come upon this distasteful idea in the first place. He ordered an omelette aux hash browns and smoked salmon. He was punished.

A large omelette on toast was delivered, avec salmon, but sans browns. It was brought to the waitress’s attention and eventually two or three briquette-like things were delivered. Not briquette-coloured, but certainly the size of those diminutive chunklets one might use to fuel a barbeque. We supposed they were intended as an appropriate size for the inside of the omelette. Regardless of their physical form, they tasted awful.

Sigmund, meanwhile, happily munched through his satisfyingly unambitious omelette without trouble. He even got the extra filling he’d ordered (the basic omelette price only included two fillings). Some people are just blessed.

After drinking our digestif coffees, we went to pay. The bill listed a side order of hash browns, despite Jim having ordered them in conjunction with the omelette (two fillings included, remember). It was an unusual request, I guess, so misunderstandings can arise. We explained, and for a moment it looked like all would be happily resolved, and we could depart. But then the waitress hand-balled the matter over to the Dark Side. “Well, you can’t seriously have wanted that as a filling for that!” he said. He clearly didn’t believe us. Jim must have planned the whole thing to defraud the Dark Side of a $3.50 side order.

I tried invoking the mantra of customer prerogative, unsuccessfully. I tried my light-sabre of logic (‘the menu lists the permitted fillings, and hash browns is on the list’), but it failed to slay the Dark Side. ‘If we put all the permitted combinations on the menu it would be 45 pages long’, he snapped hyperbolically. Dark Side 2: Customers 0. A grumble and a snap and a huff or two later, the bill was corrected. Dark Side 0: Lost Customers 3-and-growing.


Iron Chef America – low sodium

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 Spätzle “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?



contact Books for Cooks
amazon.com: Iron Chef: The Official Book
amazon.co.uk: Iron Chef: The Official Book