I've been watching The Next Iron Chef almost religiously. It's the one show that I make an effort to watch on the old TiVo on the weekends between classes. For those of you who haven't been watching it, it's kind of like The Next Food Network Star or Top Chef, with one big difference: these people are professionals. With the possible exception of Gavin Kaysen, who consistently failed to impress me, this show has featured nothing but chefs who are at the top of their game.
Unlike the half season of Top Chef that I subjected myself to before giving up on it, the challengers on The Next Iron Chef are like brothers and sisters in the kitchen. The had a mutual respect for each other, and in fact had to be forced in one episode to stab each other in the back, which I found to be the only ordeal that they truly failed in.
From the very first episode, it was clear that every single chef competing looked up to John Besh, not just as the man to beat, but as the man whom everyone else could truly only aspire to. As time went on, Besh consistently proved himself in challenge after challenge. If ever he hit speed bumps with the judges, it was generally related to technicalities. Lobster served with watermelon consomme? Truly, his only mistake was calling it consomme instead of soup.
As the battles passed, it also became clear that there was another truly talented chef to content with: Michael Symon. For those who saw him cook for Anthony Bourdain and Marky Ramone in Cleveland, this comes as no surprise. From foie gras bratwurst on No Reservations to his lobster hot dogs on The Next Iron Chef, Chef Symon has a knack for taking something seemingly pedestrian and elevating it to a truly inspired level.
It does not surprise me that the final two contestants are Besh and Symon. In a week we'll see them duke it out in a traditional Iron Chef-style battle. Both have extremely important characteristics that would greatly benefit the Food Network, both on and off of Iron Chef. Besh obviously is technically superior, while Symon has a more camera-friendly face and personality. But each is close enough in both areas that regardless of which winner is chosen, I won't be surprised or disappointed.