Good TV food. You can’t rock a freshly picked tap without hitting a celebrity chef showing his audience how to whip up some incredible creations, and many of them have homes on our very own SBS Food – an entire channel dedicated to culinary pursuits.
That wasn’t always the case: the great cooking TV boom came at the turn of the century, when Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver launched their first TV series and helped convince a generation or three that they could create Michelin-star-worthy meals on their own electric stove. That’s the big appeal here – cooking shows make good food accessible and achievable, telling us that we too could be a world-class cooking wizard if we just follow these easy steps.
iron boss It’s not that.
Launched in 1993 and broadcast in Australia on Saturday nights on SBS, Japan’s cult cooking competition (dubbed in English here) wasn’t there to make sure we could whip up skipjack sashimi fit for an emperor’s palace. . For iron bosscontrol is part of the fun.
Each episode saw some of the world’s best chefs go up against the show’s own expert chefs, building a multi-course menu around a special themed ingredient that must be present in each dish. A pair of commentators, Kenji Fukui and Yukio Hattori, called the action as the challengers struggled to create lavish banquets in the allotted time before presenting them to a panel of judges, made up of food critics and celebrity guests ( Jackie Chan showed up at one point, as did Nagisa Oshima, director of In the realm of the senses and Merry Christmas, Mr Laurent).
Sounds simple enough, right? But what fixes iron boss apart from his sense of style and pageantry, grandeur and occasion. The series has an elaborate backstory worthy of WWE. We are told that Founding Chairman Kaga (Takeshi Kaga) dreamed of discovering “…original new kitchens that could be called true artistic creations. To that end, he’s spent a fortune building his Kitchen Stadium complex, where the show takes place, and recruited some of the world’s best chefs, his “invincible men of culinary talent”, each specializing in a different cuisine:
- Chinese Iron Chief (Chen Kinichi
- Iron Chef French (Yutaka Ishinabe, later Hiroyuki Sakai)
- Japanese Iron Chef (Rokusaburo Michiba, later Koumei Nakamura, then Masaharu Morimoto) and
- Iron Chef Italian (Masahiko Kobe, who was little used – it’s a bit like the fourth Marx brother of iron boss).
The flamboyant President Kaga acts as master of ceremonies, sending the contestants to their tasks with an authoritative shout of “Go cook!“What’s really fun is watching these kitchen magicians, absolute masters of their craft, rush headlong into the episode’s signature ingredient, which they only learn in competition.
The ingredients range from the everyday – tomatoes, rice, potatoes – to the more exotic: black pork, giant eel, sea urchin. Sometimes something more mundane presents a particular challenge – yogurt may not be so exotic to Western palates, but it’s used far less in Chinese cuisine, which drives competitors to really strive for incorporate it.
The whole show vibrates with tension: the countdown, the high standards of the judges, the tense atmosphere of the Kitchen Stadium, all combine to give iron boss its own unique flavor. It’s a flavor that many have tried to replicate, but never completely successfully – although Iron Chef Americaone of more than 10 international remakes, gets points for choosing martial arts star Marc Dacascos as the new president.
No, for real, you have to go back to the original, and still the best, iron bosswhich is finally back on SBS.
Join Takeshi Kaga and his Iron Chefs in this cult cooking series in this SBS On Demand Classic Box Setstreaming now: