Iron Chef: Battle Cranberry
November 13, 2006

Well, kids, Iron Chef America's Battle Cranberry went down in history last night with Team Rachael-Mario reducing Team Giada-Bobby to mere, uh, stains on the floor, knives, and cutting boards of Kitchen Stadium.

Although the real Iron Chefs -- Flay and Batali -- were announced as Rachael and Giada's "surprise" sous chefs, it was clear that it's very much the other way around. Ray -- always insistent that she is a "cook" and not a "chef" -- donned a simple red half apron for the competition and not a full-on chef's coat as Giada did.

Throughout the extended battle (the show ran an hour and a half, rather than the usual hour), Bobby Flay had ample time to show his true colors. As sour as the fruits he was cooking, Flay was silent and taciturn, barking out requests for time and smacking around Giada's food processor when it got stuck.

On the other hand, Mario Batali, who proved himself to be quite the gentleman when he ran needed cilantro to his challenger, Traci des Jardins, in a previous Iron Chef, took the opposite approach. He happily ran generous snacks of pannetone over to Giada, while Bobby studiously ignored whatever chivalry was happening behind his back. In another instance, Mario makes a cranberry bellini for the judges, which I've dubbed "The Suck Uptini." When Alton asks Bobby what he thinks of this "love offering" from Mario, Bobby studiously refuses eye contact with the camera and just sourly tosses his hands up, wordlessly. Makes me think his next secret ingredient should be crab.

Speaking of the judges, they were a rather motley crew of Mo Rocka, an Entertainment Weekly editor, and some bald hairdresser. Conspicuous in his absence as bitchiest judge was Jeffrey Steingarten. Perhaps the only way to get Giada to agree to the match-up was to promise that the man who once publicly and jealously insulted her skills as a chef to her face would not be squatting in attendance.

When it came to teamwork, Mario and Rachael seemed to work as an actual team whereas Giada and Bobby worked on their own. Before they even juiced one single cranberry, we saw Mario, Rachael, and Mario's indefatigable sous chef, Anne Burrell, conferring on their plan of attack. Not so on the Giada-Bobby side; they simply silently and separately got to work. I seem to remember Bobby employing that unique form of "teamwork" a few years back when he and original Iron Chef Morimoto were pitted against Batali and original Iron Chef Sakai.

At some point, Mario asked Rachael, "How you doing, hunny bunny?" and Rachael replied almost tearfully, "I don't know." Mario then calmly and soothingly explained what she needed to do and Rachael visibly relaxed. I never saw that kind of encouragement on the Giada-Bobby side, who produced such dishes as Squash and Cranberry Ravioli, Venison Osso Buco with Cranberry Risotto, and Flay's ubiquitous and FIVE HUNDREDTH duck confit tamale. Even with all of Mario's encouragement, Rachael's signature perkiness was clearly flagging when time was finally called. It actually made her human to me.

In the end however, it was calm, cool, and considerate Team Rachael-Mario who won out with a menu that included a Turkey Osso Buco with Saffron Cranberry Fregola, Pancetta-Wrapped Cranberry-Glazed Shrimp, and Cranberry Ajo Blanco with Cod Cheeks.

In spite of her black silk sheets voice, when Ray is announced as the winner, Giada looked very much as though she was sucking on some cranberries herself. Better get your grandfather to coach a "gracious loser" face out of you, Little Big Head, or you'll be more sneered at than Faith Hill.

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