Michael Symon, owner and head chef of Lola and Lolita, two fancy restaurants in Cleveland Ohio, has won "The Next Iron Chef" on Food Network!
I always liked the original Japanese Iron Chef and never saw the point of the "Americanized" version (which, as Donnie pointed out, sounds as if they took the exact translated script, complete with "ahs" and "ums" and just had the American cast read it), but when The Next Iron Chef started, I just so happened to be channel surfing during the first eppisode and saw that a Clevlander was in the running. Also, the Next was layed out differently than a regular Iron Chef battle (being that there were 8 contestants, they had to come up with something other than one-on-one battles) so it seemed interesting. You can watch all the eppisodes on the Food Network Website - but the most fun (I felt this way about one of the other reality shows I got into) is to read blog postings related to each eppisode. The first people voted off were the only women, so people blasted FN for being sexist. Then there was an African American and a Latino, and I guess there was a whispered comment between these two that the judges (two white guys and a white women, in case we're suppose to keep count) had voted off the women and "the brown people were next." So then FN is racist! I would say that this has no bearing on the competition, being as it is about food, but truthfully, these are not blind taste tests, and the person behind the food is as big a part of the show. I mean we at home are not tasting the dishes - we're watching the showmanship of the chef.
I think in fact this may have played a part in Symon winning. Again, looking at the multitude of blog postings, the last two standing were Symon - The hyena (dubbed by one of the judges due to his laugh, which was described by the Plain Dealer in one of the most ludicrous similies of all time as sounding like "a bull goose being molested on a rollercoaster"), who radiated the tough as nails but sweet as a kitten Midwest / Rust Belt mentality (and wore his black Lola polo shirt through the competition), and John Besh, a Louisianna chef who dressed in white chef scrubs, spoke French and had the Southern charm (some thought he was uppity). Whereas Besh could perhaps have been the better of the two at preparing and integraing food, Symon simply made a better Iron Chef. He had the showmanship, he had the ability to season his food strongly, he used inginuity and jokes more than style and flair to win many of the prelim battles. When it came down to Kitchen Stadium, two of the three original judges voted for Besh, but all three Iron Chefs (Morimoto, Flay and Cora) voted Symon in. I thought Besh's food looked and sounded better, but the Iron Chefs seemed to have questions as to if they hilighted the main ingrediant (swordfish). Also, the fact that Besh made a swordfish desert won him points for ability to perform under pressure and take risks, but his dish wasn't impressive enough to end on.
Plus, Symon has a huge tattoo on his leg that says "COOK / LIVE" - how could he not win!
Other blogs that have been keeping up with the competition include the Amature Gormet (who blogged on the Food Network website: http://blogs.foodnetwork.com/food/nic/
Rhulman - one of the judges who is a freelance food writer from Cleveland Heights (his association w/ Symon added flames to the "contoversy" since he was the only judge of the three who followed the intire series to vote Symon in as Iron Chef)- http://blog.ruhlman.com/ruhlmancom/2007/11/next-iron-che-1.html
Knowlton - another judge and (in my oppinion) a pretty snooty writer for Bon Appitie - http://www.epicurious.com/bonappetit/blogs/editor
The Cleveland Blog: http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2007/11/clevelands_michael_symon_wins.html
CNN Money blog by Michael (this was actually one of the tip-offs for me that Symon might actually win - why else would they ask him to blog on CNN? Also, the fact that he held parties at his restaurant each Sunday to watch the show... although in Cleveland, it wouldn't be unheard of for him to have lost anyway): http://money.cnn.com/2007/11/12/smbusiness/iron_chef_episode_6.fsb/?postversion=2007111211
His first battle will be November 18, 2007.
Read Symon's blog here for updates: