Alton Brown on the Return of 'Iron Chef Gauntlet'
"It comes down to the fact that Iron Chef, in the end, is a sporting competition," Alton Brown begins. The host and commentator for Iron Chef Gauntlet is resuming his role tonight as a new crew of contenders enters Kitchen Stadium—an arena that's kept us glued to the screen ever since the original version made its way to the Food Network in 1999. Now, almost 20 years later, that basic formula of chefs vs. chefs is still as captivating as ever.
"It's not that different from watching an NFL game: There are surprise plays [and] victories; there are also failures. And we're also fascinated by watching creativity under pressure," Brown continues. It helps that Iron Chef Gauntlet, a variant that Brown himself has had a personal hand in conceptualizing, is full of opportunities for all of the above to take place. To start, the series doesn't even guarantee a winner: As the seven chefs battle against each other and are slowly eliminated, the last contestant standing still has to beat the three current Iron Chefs (Alex Guarnaschelli, Stephanie Izard and Michael Symon) if they want their own spot on the podium. "There's no guarantee," Brown says, who bills this potentially winnerless season as both "completely the same and completely different at the same time" as last year's.
There is one guarantee about Iron Chef: There will always be someone willing to walk into Kitchen Stadium. "There's a certain kind of 'going to war' adrenaline rush to service and being on the line and working next to people you rely on," Brown notes of professional chefs. "And some people get really addicted to it—and that drives a lot of chefs to do this [Iron Chef]. It's a rite of passage in this day and age."
Despite the years he's spent as the on-floor correspondent for Iron Chef America and now Iron Chef Gauntlet (a role he describes as "basically cramming for the SAT perpetually"), Brown has never considered putting on a chef's jacket.
"Thank you, but no," he laughs. "If you put those knives in my hand, you'll see I don't do well under time structures." That doesn't mean he isn't continuing to improve his own cooking skills though. "I'm still observing techniques and discovering ingredients on a day-to-day basis," he reveals. Seventy-five percent of what you'd find in his current pantry are ingredients he's encountered while being a part of the show, not to mention all the other culinary ideas he's picked up along the way. It's why he doesn't view Iron Chef as just a competition show, but a force that's been changing the way we both look at and eat food: "I will only say that it has accelerated the creativity and the evolution of cuisine in America," he acknowledges.
There's just one last lingering question one might have for Brown: What about his original TV show, Good Eats? "It's happening. The return of the Eats is happening," he promises, while hinting the show will also include the potential return of beloved characters such as Marsha and W. So while we wait for its return, we'll just have to catch Brown on Iron Chef Gauntlet.
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