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Secret Ingredient Scam
I spent my Sunday night watching FoodTV's new show, Iron Chef America. I've long been a fan of the original Japanese Iron Chef, but I quite liked Food TV's adaptation of it. However, I was upset to read in this NY Times article that the 'secret ingredient' presented to the chefs at the beginning of the competition isn't that secret after all:

Both teams are readier for the challenge than most viewers realize. They have come to Kitchen Stadium knowing that they will be cooking with one of two ingredients, striped bass or buffalo, a choice negotiated in advance with the network.

Hmm. Instead of calling it the 'Secret Ingredient' perhaps they should call it the 'Previously Negotiated and Agreed Upon Ingredient'.
EntertainmentFood
Posted by The Curator on Tue Jan 18, 2005
If it's anything like the original Japanese Iron Chef, no one would expect veracity in the presentation of the contest!
Posted by cvirtue  on  Tue Jan 18, 2005  at  01:13 PM
I can't imagine why anyone would be surprised that such stuff is carefully scripted.
Posted by Terry Austin  in  California  on  Tue Jan 18, 2005  at  01:33 PM
Okay, I should have known better... but I seriously thought it was a real secret. I guess I was taken in by the way the chefs feigned surprise when presented with the buffalo steaks.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Tue Jan 18, 2005  at  01:38 PM
ooooooook, now Im a little dissapointed. I always found it amazing that they could get ideas that quick on how to prepare the food.
Posted by Stephen  in  McKinney, TX  on  Tue Jan 18, 2005  at  01:43 PM
As the article states, the contestants know in advance that the theme ingredient will be one of two things. But earlier in the process, there were several possible theme ingredients, which are negotiated away, leaving only two. The contestants only know which two a few days in advance, so that they have a chance to think of possible dishes, and have their kitchens stocked with goods that they might need. It's still pretty tough to cook up 3-6 dishes on the fly in the time span.
Posted by Liz  on  Tue Jan 18, 2005  at  02:21 PM
You see, I thought the element of surprise was the main point of the show... i.e. these guys are so good that you can give them anything and in one hour they'll have whipped up gourmet dishes.

It's like learning that improv comedy is really rehearsed.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Tue Jan 18, 2005  at  03:08 PM
In the Japanese show, it was the same way. They knew it would be one of a half dozen ingredients, and got a better idea as the day approached. This was necessary for them to be able to request specific supporting ingredients that might be needed for each main dish. The kitchen stadium isn't stocked with every possible ingredient, so narrowing it down some is absolutely required.

It's still a surprise. Frequently on the Japanese show you would hear the chefs say, "Well, I picked wrong, I thought it would be ..."
Posted by Laura  on  Tue Jan 18, 2005  at  03:29 PM
Improv Comedy IS really rehearsed. Groups go through many permutations of core skits so that they can be adapted quickly to audience suggestions/ideas. They also rehearse with the most common suggestions likely to be given on any theme/subject. Like most things in life, there is more than meets the eye...
Posted by Indy Guy  on  Tue Jan 18, 2005  at  07:52 PM
it's actually quite logical it's not completely random and surprising.

Fresh Foods obviously spoil or at the very least drop in quality very quickly, and ones in cans do turn evidentually... so if you're a cooking show that prides itself on presenting 'gourmet foods' cooked with 'the finest ingridents' you're not going to want foods to have been sitting around for awhile being cooked with, or worse having a month go by where no one can use the $500,000 worth of truffles, caviar, and rare pickled triceratops hooves so you need to throw them out. So it's really in the show's best interest to say "you might have to cook xxxx or xxxx, what do you need us to buy so you can cook these?"

... it also helps equalize the planning field, since the ingredient normally fits the challenger better then the Iron Chef, so all one needs to do is be a completely different style of cook then the chef and get a HUGE advantage (ie- If you're an Italian chef who specializes in cheesey pasta dishes, if you challenge Chen when they'd expect you to pick Kobe you've got an advantage since they'd probably give you fine cheeses or fresh pastas used more in Italian foods then Chinese)

It makes much more sense in the dubbed Japanese version where they say "theme ingrident", the term 'theme' works better, since it's a running item tying all the dishes together where a 'secret' would be an unknown agent.

still there's some element of surprise... WE don't know the theme, and once we do know it normally we don't know what the chefs will whip up with it... and when they do make something we don't know if the judges will like it... and if the judges like it we don't know if they like it more or less then the challengers dishes. Sure the chefs aren't going to be all that surprised (unless they REALLY planned on getting stripe bass and were taken a back by the appearence of Buffalo stakes) but for viewers, it's fun to guess on what they're making or how that's going to taste.

(also to further destroy the illusion of the show:
-Kaga is an actor... I know, knowing he's 'a fake' is like learning there's no Santa!
-needless to say the new 'Chairman' is not is nephew and also an actor
-so obviously neither of them run some crazy school devoted to challenge chefs to rise to new culinary heights
-the Chef is not chosen right then and there, like the ingredient they know ahead of time, and if the American show is like the Japanese one, the ones not being challenged don't even show up.)
Posted by Eric  on  Tue Jan 18, 2005  at  11:23 PM
Buffalo steaks? That's horrible. Buffalos are an endangered species. No one needs to be eating them.
Posted by Bob  on  Wed Jan 19, 2005  at  02:52 PM
Buffalo are NOT endangered, there are many buffalo farms in the U.S. As for the secret ingredient, yes, it does make sense that the chefs should have some clue as to what it could be, because they do need to request supporting ingredients. If you watched the "making" of special for Iron Chef America, they implied as much, because they followed one of the food buyers to the store, and he kept remarking that after seeing what he was buying at Iron Chef Mirimoto's request, you might be able to guess what one of the secret ingredients would be.
Posted by Matt  on  Wed Jan 19, 2005  at  07:17 PM
P.S.- I've had buffalo in South Dakota, and it was quite tasty. Not gamey at all.
Posted by Matt  on  Wed Jan 19, 2005  at  07:18 PM
Buffalo, is being successfully farmed by many Native American ranchers as a viable tribal business. If I ate meat and wanted buffalo, I'd probably be ordering it from them. If you want to cry about slaughtered buffalo, go talk to Yellowstone National Park, where they want to slaughter overpopulated herds instead of thinning them out by relocation. I hope one day I can drive through the midwest and see buffalo roaming the prairies again...just so they don't stampede and trample my car...LOL
Posted by catlady  on  Wed Jan 19, 2005  at  07:41 PM
"If I ate meat and wanted buffalo, I'd probably be ordering it from them."
This is one of the fainter endorsements I've seen latley.
Anyway, I, too, have tasted buffalo meat (from a ranch, not wild) a couple of times. I couldn't really tell the difference between it and beef.
Posted by Big Gary C  in  Dallas, Texas  on  Wed Jan 19, 2005  at  10:59 PM
I like Nan can cook.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Thu Jan 20, 2005  at  03:09 PM
Actually Buffalo burgers are really tasty. They are juicier than regular burgers and have less fat. They use to sell them in a resteraunt on campus (the university of arizona), but they dropped it from the menu because not enough people were buying them (yah, I was probably the only one).
Posted by Razela  in  Chicago, IL  on  Sun Jan 23, 2005  at  03:56 AM
This rant has gone totally off topic, and I'll add to that, but first I'd like to say I'm pissed the secret ingredient isn't really secret. And yes, it makes a lot of sense that it's not, but I'm still pissed about it. I wanted to believe the kitchen was really stocked with every fresh ingredient ever and that there was some Salvation Army somewhere in Toyko serving truffle sauces every Saturday. Anyway, what I really wanted to say was the name of the show is "Yan Can Cook"
Posted by Jared  in  Shanghai, China  on  Sat Apr 02, 2005  at  03:43 AM
I miss "Wok With Wan", but probably nobody here has a clue what I'm talking about.

Like if I was to mention the game show "Definition".

Buffalo tastes better than beef, it's just not available enough around here. The only guy with a buffalo around here has used it in a few TV commercials, and he's not likely to butcher a (heh heh) cash cow like that.
The talking buffalo lives 10 minutes from where I sit. (Yet again, nobody knows what I'm talking aboot.)

What was the topic again?
hmmm
Posted by Rod  in  the land of smarties.  on  Sat Apr 02, 2005  at  04:14 AM
Buffalo have been extinct for quite some time. The animals you are all talking about are bisons. Buffalos were all slaughtered by both American and Indian hunters in the late 1800's. The animals that are seen today are bisons that were shipped from northern Canada to 'revitalize the eco system'. In any case, the practice is quite vile. Try a veggie burger instead.
Posted by Jen  in  Toronto Canada  on  Sat Dec 03, 2005  at  08:46 PM
Why are they only showing reruns of Cat Cora's Iron Chef America challenges? We have not seen an origional one for months. Even the last one with Choy was a repeat from a few months back. I think she should be given more consideration for more battles.
Posted by Jim on Dec 28, 2005 1200 PM  on  Wed Dec 28, 2005  at  03:03 PM
Why can't the NY Times keep anything a secret. They ruin everything.
Posted by SLade  in  Virginia  on  Sat Jan 21, 2006  at  07:50 PM
Actually the secret ingredient is even less secret than that.

The chefs are given $500 to spend for extra ingredients. For each of the short list of possible secret ingredients they provide a grocery list. The Food Network is responsible for buying the list that corresponds to the chosen secret. As soon a the contestants show up for taping they'll know by exactly what the 'secret' is based on which of their requests were purchased.

Worse, since the list of possible secrets is only 2 or 3 and they bring their own assistants, it means that not only were all the recipes devised and tested in advance but in addition, the process of cooking them in an hour was rehearsed.

To top it off, the food cooked during the one hour is used only for photos. The dished the judges actually eat are cooked up later, off the clock.

The appearance of any drama during the show is added in post production by Alton Brown's breathless delivery or music video style camera movement and editing.

IC America is exceedingly lame compared to the Japan version.
Posted by chromaone  in  NJ  on  Mon Mar 17, 2008  at  08:04 PM
Sorry Jen, buffalo are not extinct, but they almost were. Their numbers got down to under 1000 when the government stepped in and started a restoration project in Yellowstone. Bison and buffalo are the same thing, according to a buffalo rancher.
Posted by sharon  in  TN  on  Fri Mar 27, 2009  at  12:16 AM
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