Screw You, Antonio Sabato jr

So, Iron Chef America-while oft maligned as a shallow spin off of the japanese one, I’m disinclined to cast it aside as readily as some people. While the theatrics and spectacle is generally far simpler and smaller in scale, it actually plays out as a better sporting event-the challenger actually has a better shot at winning, and having two food critics and a +1 versus 1 food critic and 2 others allows for a more sophisticated analysis of what the competitors are offering.


The other night was one of the most anticipated battles in quite some time (for me, and probably for Food Network Canada)-Iron Chef Bobby Flay vs Chef Michael Smith. Battle Avocado. I ‘ll go into detail about him later, but I’ve always been a huge fan of Smith. My excitement-palpable.

And then they introduce the judging panel. The first, a restaurateur who I recall being on the show before-she’s a bit waspish, but nonetheless has the necessary acumen to deliver judgement, even if it errs on the side of harshness.

Then, Antonio Sabato Jr, whose first example of his keen culinary erudition was “Well, I don’t really like avocados, but, I’m hoping that by the end of this battle, I like avocados”.
The third judge, not a true food critic-she was an expert on sustainable farming. She clearly possessed a fair knowledge of how to articulate her opinion on food, but it still felt a little hinky letting her occupy that slot-especially as it turned fairly grating as she and the other legitimate judge kept trying to tell the other that she clearly didn’t know how to properly eat the food-Sorry ladies, Jeffrey Steingarten already has a lock on that sort of thing, and manages to be self-effacing and funny while doing so.

Anyways, I digress-Most of Sabato Jr’s commentary was in the vein of “Yeah, it was really good” and somesuch. The most articulate he gets is when he manages to explain (and I’ll probably mangle the quote-I remember gists, not specifics, sorry) “Well, I really liked how this dish was cooler than the last one, which was spicy. I don’t like spicy food, so it was nice that this one cooled off the spicyness” or something to that effect.

Now, is there any point in this rant, or am I just being needlessly harsh? Well, my point is multifold (or maybe just twofold-let’s see how much I feel like expounding on. Though if I had three points, would that be trifold? Is multi allowed? Quadfold sounds ludicrous)

1. If you’re being asked to lend your expertise to something, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE EXPERTISE!
In this case-It’s probably a useful job skill to like food, y’know, when you’re going on a show as a food judge. Now, I realize that Jr’s got a new reality show, and a good agent, but I also know that the chefs are given a list of 3-5 possible secret ingredients to prepare for, so realistically, if someone has so many professed dislikes for food, they could ask not to take place in certain battles. Now, I get that some people might not like avocados. Some may not like oysters (still on my list of bivalves to try, so I can’t comment). Some have no stomach for spicy food.

All of that is fine, EXCEPT if you dislike that many foods, you’re probably not much of a foodie. It’s seriously not hard to develop a taste for a wide array of foods-while we inculcate ourselves at a young age to detest certain foods, as our taste buds develop, our tastes change. As tastes change, try stuff you previously disliked, or could only eat in small quantities. Hell, when I was a kid, even the mildest cheddar felt like a flavour bomb on my tongue-it overwhelming it into submission.

Now, all of this is entirely immaterial to Jr’s appearance on the show, as they expressly mentioned his new reality show-in this instance,  it’s entirely a business move.

2. How hard is it to describe flavour?

I’ll admit, when someone asks my opinion of a food, I’ll generally just mumble a ”  ‘S good”, or something, unless specifics are asked for. Then, I illuminate them with a dazzling burst of culinary expertise! Or whathaveyou-Regardless of how trained or untrained your palate is, every person is able to articulate their thoughts on a subject with the vocabulary available to them. If a hamburger is juicy, or well-seasoned, or cooked to perfection, you’ve still communicated to me the necessary information, even if you’re not adding some gastro-flourish to it.

Once you’ve made the decision to go onto the cooking show, and judge cooking, shouldn’t you do your best to actually judge it, rather than half-assedly mumbling that it’s good? (it’s especially telling that for 3 of Smith’s 5 dishes, Sabato Jr wasn’t shown saying anything).

Think about this, the next time a friend or family member asks you to comment about something they’re feeding you. (a contented sigh is also a positive comment that’s hard to misconstrue).

3.I forget.
Clearly, I shouldn’t go off, mid-post to eat, as my memory is notoriously leaky. Eh, bifold it is.

Anyways, the episode itself was somewhat disappointing, as Alton Brown and Kevin Brauch weren’t really up to their usual commentary standards, and two judges were fairly unpleasant in the proceedings. Smith also got his ass handed to him, which I feel was unfortunate, and partially due to having a ‘judge’ who blatantly disliked a large portion of the ingredients he used (now, maybe that was part of what provoked me…)

Next up:
I expand on Michael Smith (Who if we knew him, would be my girlfriend’s archnemesis), my quest to enjoy mushrooms, and more!


10 Responses to “Screw You, Antonio Sabato jr”

  1. Ack! I haven’t seen the episode yet–Michael “gets his ass handed to him”??!! Really? How? I hate Bobby Flay.

  2. Ehh, I can’t especially tell how he lost-the two female judges thought he either under-seasoned or over-seasoned his food (as I said, they get pretty catty with eachother at one point, fairly unprofessionally), and Sabato seemed to hate what Smith had done, but it still seemed odd (he also disliked some of Flay’s stuff, so I can’t blaim this entire thing on him). His plating was fantastic, and the originality of it was also incredibly fun and energetic.

    He also was hilarious, as he acted even goofier than he does on CaH and CaL-Jess was in agony.

  3. Poor Jess! You know he’s probably a relative, right? I almost put him as my doppelganger for facebook last week.

  4. Hey, I read about this in the _Globe_. Further evidence that stunt casting is so rarely a good idea in ANY show. To be fair, I recall plenty of ditzy Japanese starlets on the original _Iron Chef_ who were no better than Sabato.

    BTW, I just got a tortilla press! Corn tortillas can’t be bought in my little town so decided I had to learn to make ’em. Turns out to be really easy & they ROCK! (I figure this is a related comment because guacamole is such a fine thing to put on them homemade enchiladas…..)

    • Yeah, the japanese was terrible about the quality of its judging panel.

      Tortilla press sounds awesome-have you tried frying them for chips and taco shells?

      • I fried some for chips and they came out a bit TOO crunchy; these were some I had already baked briefly on the griddle, though; I thought I would try again w/o doing that. Still mulling over the physics of how to shape a taco shell…….. any ideas?

      • Get a bar between two brackets, and drape the tortilla over it, maybe. Would need something oven safe, I guess.

  5. how then to dip it into frying oil…. an engineering problem…..

    back to IRON CHEF, I have to muse, really, what would be “professional” behaviour from people whose profession includes talking about food on a TV show that opens with dry ice and thunderous music and is set in “Kitchen Stadium”….

    • Eh, doing stuff that at least served the mandate of the show-having hosts henpeck and whine at eachother isn’t exactly riveting TV. They’ve also cut down on a lot of the spectacle as of late-Alton Brown isn’t doing as many of mid-battle lessons, and most of the competitors and ICs are cold fish, when it comes to the camera (though Smith was hysterically over the top).

  6. Hey Kellam…since Leanna forwarded your blog info, I was immediately drawn to your comments about my favourite subject too! Interesting you should mention ‘How hard is it to describe a taste?”. That was one of the hardest things I had to deal with when I first started my wine appreciation course. I could do the book studying and remember the names of the vineyards and the grape types no problemo! But how do you put Yummy and Scrumptious into objective criteria when evaluating one Pinot Noir over another? And! Dare I let you know: I was asked to be part of a recent GBC Winterlicious Mystery Shopper program (basically: go and eat and tell us how they did…yes, dream job, I know!). To get onto the A-list of ‘experts’, we were evaluated on our understanding of the business and on food & wines. Easy enough, I thought. Until I was asked (what seemed like easy enough questions): What is ginger? (not a one sentence answer, I assure you! A root from the ginger plant that could be used in fresh form for Asian and south Asian curries and stir fried; dried and ground as a ‘spice’ in cooking and baking; extracted and made into hot or cold beverages; candied and used in baking; and pickled when used to accompany sushi and sashimi in Japanese cuisine… or as one of my more charming colleagues also put down in her answer: the name of Many Anne’s roommate on Gilligan’s Island), what is a magret? (the breast meat of a duck), what is to be 86’ed? (to be out of stock or a certain menu item), what is the principal red grape variety in Burgundy wines? (Pinot noir). You get my jist… You would have had a blast! Surely there’s a foodie board game out there, a Gastronomical Pursuit? Anyway… enjoying reading your thoughts! Keep it up!

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