METROPOLIS | CLASSIFIEDS | PERSONALS | JOBS
BIG IN JAPAN
Iron Chef

Iron Chef
Courtesy of Fuji TV

Cookery programs have reached epidemic proportions in Japan, but let' face it, there's a finite number of ways you can make shots of minor celebrities stuffing their faces look interesting. So a worthy salute is given to the series Ryori no Tetsujin, which means literally "Iron Chef," also known as "Gourmet Academy." This program, which has sadly finished its run, has since 1993 put entertainment and fantasy into fancy cuisine.

The premise of the series was a weekly "battle" between one of the show's resident "Iron Chefs," all experts in their chosen fields, and a challenger from outside. The aim was to create a course of superb-looking and outstandingly delicious food in a time limit of 45 minutes. One of the show's many unusual aspects was that each dish had to include a certain ingredient, which was the theme of that week's battle. The ingredient started off as something mainly sensible (lobster, tofu, foie gras) but became increasingly bizarre as the shows went on - natto, ostrich, black pig.

The Iron Chefs themselves are not exactly chefs, more like culinary superheroes who wear costumes that are a cross between Duran Duran and Thunderbirds. For the last few years there have been three main characters: Sakai Hiroyuki (French), Morimoto Masaharu (Japanese), and Chin Kenichi (Chinese). Kobe Masahiko (Italian) appeared infrequently, and there were three retired Iron Chefs who were the original experts, returning occasionally to give advice. Each person is the head chef of an internationally renowned restaurant; Morimoto is based in New York at the restaurant Nobu (co-founded by Robert DeNiro).

The contests were staged in something appropriately called the Kitchen Stadium, a huge arena with cameras swooping in and out of the action. Every program would start and finish with MC Takeshi Kaga, playing an eccentric nobleman who apparently staged the battles for his own pleasure, and announced the start of each show by biting into a raw bell pepper (for reasons never explained).

During the food fight, three announcers explained the recipes to the audiences at home, and after the final bell was rung, the results were passed to a team of judges. The judges were drawn from many areas of business and entertainment as well as catering, and on the final show the judge guest of honor was ex-Prime Minister "Elvis" Hashimoto himself. The Iron Chefs won on a highly regular basis, but the show was never predictable, with many a challenger leaving with impressive prizes and an immeasurably boosted reputation.

Ryori no Tetsujin was syndicated on the Food Channel in the US (as Iron Chef) and became an instant cult hit. The originality and attractiveness of the dishes, and the atmosphere of tension built up during the program, left many an armchair gourmet drooling. Fuji TV Japan has promised the show will return in one-off specials, with the first scheduled for January 2000 - although as public pressure has been mounting, it may well be a new series.

As King Kaga would say, "Allez cuisine!" Whatever that means.

John Paul Catton

BIG IN JAPAN:
299: Nakamura Kankuro
Arizona lover and Kabuki actor
298: Miura Yuichiro
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
297: Iron Chef
Gourmet cuisine battles
296: "Katte wa ikenai"
"Don't buy these products"
295: Oda Yuji
The dancing detective
294: Enoki Takaaki
An artist who acts
293: Glay
Japan's reigning pop princes
292: Akebono
Hawaiian Sumo wrestler
291: Issey Miyake
Fashion designer
290: Murakami Ryu
Radical writer
289: Oshima Nagisa
Movie director
288: Takakura Ken
Crime film actor
287: Miura Kazuyoshi
Soccer player
286: Suzuki Koji
Author of the horror, Ring
285: Tezuka Osamu
God of Comics
284: Yuming
Singer/songwriter
283: Anpanman
Bean-powered superhero
282: Yamaguchi Takashi
Immersed in traditional Japanese music
281: Nasubi
Comedian
280: Doi Takako
First female Speaker of the House
279: Nakamura Kichiemon
Retiring Kabuki actor
278: Oe Kenzaburo
Nobel prize winning author
277: Kimura Takuya
SMAP member
276: Utada Hikaru
Teenage pop phenomenon
275: Bando Tamasaburo
Kabuki female role impersonator
274: Otomo Katsuhiro
Akira creator
273: Dreams Come True
Premier recording artist
272: Dango San Kyodai
Surprise hit of 1999
271: Banana Yoshimoto
Author
270: Matsuzaka Daisuke
Baseball player
269: Moritaka Chisato
Model and singer
268: Mukai Chiaki
Female astronaut
267: Natto
Traditional Japanese health food
266: Hiroaki Kikuoka
Shamisen player
265: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Japan's most revered dramatist
264: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Oscar-winning musician
263: Shigeo Nagashima
Japan's Mr Baseball
262: Ayako Totsuka
Pioneer careerwoman
261: Yatsuhashi Kengyo
Koto player
260: Chiyotaikai
Sumo wrestler
259: Pocky
Japanese snack food
258: Itsuki Hiroshi
Enka singer
257: Pocket Monsters
Conquering the world
256: Classified ads
New concept in Japan
255: Chara
Japanese pop star
254: Pink Lady
1970's singing duo
253: Takashi Sorimachi
Japanese heartthrob
252: Ennosuke Ichikawa
Kabuki actor
251: Rie Miyazawa
Model and actress
250: Shazna
Visual-kei band

Issues 350 +
Issues 349 - 300/1
Issues 248/9 -