Factors that Constitute Originality: A Critical Assessment of one of the Components in Iron Chef America’s Judging Process



key_art_iron_chef_americaIn the New Year’s Day episode of “Iron Chef America” (ICA), the team of Bobby Flay and Marcela Valladolid won via a one-point margin over the team of Masuhara Morimoto and Andrew Zimmern. The Flay-Valladolid team managed to secure the victory in Battle Sea Whistle Salmon, 51-50. The breakdown of the scoring is below:

Taste - 27
Plating - 11
Originality - 13
Total Score - 51

Taste - 25
Plating - 14
Originality - 11
Total Score - 50

Since I was not able to taste the food, it is but objective that I do not comment on the judges’ scoring of “taste,” the first criterion in determining the winner for each battle in the show. I will take it at face value: Flay-Valladolid’s dishes were tastier than the other team. As for “plating,” the scoring was a no-brainer: Morimoto beautifully and creatively platted his team’s dishes, even utilizing Gaya Tattoo, a Japanese tattoo art, to showcase the secret ingredient. His team rightly deserved the three-point advantage. What I am critical about is the judges’ scoring for “originality,” which was bagged by Flay-Valladolid team with a two-point lead.

According to Kevin Brauch, floor reporter for the show, originality is judged based on the uniqueness of the food and the use of secret ingredient. Coming from that perspective, this episode is about how the competing chefs innovatively utilize sea whistle salmon. Morimoto’s team had a clear and systematic approach to the secret ingredient: a head-to-tail slant. His team utilized every part of the fish, making every aspect edible and giving a makeover treatment to be attractive on the plate. Flay’s team, on the other hand, is less precise and less systematic in its approach. Flay asked Valladolid to prep and cook her two dishes, while he tasked himself to make the other three. Valladolid tackled the secret ingredient by incorporating Mexican twist. Flay, on the other hand, approached the secret ingredient in his usual entrée-sauce mix. Given these two scenes and the task to judge originality based on the aforementioned yardsticks, Morimoto’s team deserves a commendation.

For better comparison, below is another table listing the five dishes served before the judges by the competing team of chefs:

Slow-cooked salmon with sour peach sauce
Guero Chile stuffed with Salmon Tartare
Indian-Spiced Salmon Belly
Salmon-filled Huitlacoche Crepes
Hot Smoked Salmon Chowder

Head to Tail Whole Salmon (Every part prepped and cooked differently)
Bagel and Smoked Salmon (Morimoto made Bagel within 60 minutes)
Salmon and Seafood Broth with Bonito
Grilled Salmon with Salmon Chowder
Mix and Match Salmon Rice

In Donatella Arpaia’s own words, Morimoto-Zimmern’s dishes took her on a “salmon culinary tour of the senses.” I must say, I agree. The team was able to elevate sea whistle salmon to a higher level, showcasing how innovation can impact array of dishes. On the other hand, the judges’ positive comments on Flay-Valladolid’s food centered on “taste”. So, there is no explaining to do why the taste aspect of the battle went to the team’s side. The scoring for originality, however, left me inquisitorial: how did these judges interpret originality?

“I trust that your knives and focus are razor-sharp.” –The Chairman to Morimoto and Zimmern

Mark Dacascos delivered the said line at the start of the show, just before he revealed the secret ingredient. While it was directed to Morimoto-Zimmern team, I believe, it was also fitting to the judges. Judges should be razor-sharp whenever they perform their supposed functions, which include the ability to be objective on their judging, and the ability to judge according to respective criterion. In the end, I am not one of the judges, and it will be forever a weighty question for me as to how ICA’s chosen judges interpret originality.



Photo Credit: Credit: Food Network

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