The third episode of The Next Iron Chef wasn't about the other competitors. This week, it was chef Celina Tio versus the flaming plastic mixing bowl. And in a move that perfectly displayed the theme's episode of "resourcefulness," we learned that the chef at Julian can even handle molten plastic.
Secret Ingredient Challenge -- The secret ingredient is revealed to be pickled items and host Alton Brown informs the chefs that they are to design a tasty, portable snack in 30 minutes. With only eight competitors left, we begin to see gamesmanship. Chef Mary Dumont snags all the butter lettuce for her chicken cups, which leaves chef Duskie Estes with romaine for her lobster lettuce cups. The chefs appear to be taking the pickles in two directions, either pureeing them into a sauce or aioli, or stuffing hot peppers with various meats and cheeses.
Chef Tio finishes her corn pancake with grilled chorizo and a pickled corn relish early. So she helps chef Estes plate her dish. It's nice to see that Midwest spirit of giving on display even in a competition.
In the tasting we learn that chef Tio is supersensitive to heat as she is overwhelmed by chef Marco Canora's pork butt-stuffed peppers. He suggests that if "she can't stand the heat," words that will later be literally disproven.
Tio gets a worst plate vote from chef Marc Forgione, the challenge's winner thanks to a duck liver mousse with piccolini. Not even Tio's help could save Estes from being named the worst by her fellow chefs.
Chairman's Challenge -- The chefs are sent fishing and whatever they catch is what they'll get to cook with for the second challenge of the show. Every chef catches a scorpion fish, while chef Tio is the only one to catch a red snapper. Chef Dumont returns her catch to teh sea.
"I threw it back because it was a baby and it doesn't taste good," says Dumont.
The chefs return to the kitchen where they'll have 60 minutes to prepare a two-course tasting menu. Forgione, as the winner of the secret ingredient challenge, has the right to swap one of his fish for any of the other cheftestant's fish.
"I'll take Tio's snapper," says Forgione.
"I expected nothing less," says Tio.
"I'm not sure if that was an insult," says Forgione. Neither am I.
Estes must wait 60 seconds while every one else grabs ingredients. The chefs are told that they can also use the bait to cook, so that adds sardines into the mix. Only a few minutes later and chef Tio's mixing bowl is on fire. The plastic coating on the bottom has been ignited by the flame on the stovetop.
"Get that out of your hands or you're going to get burned," says chef Conora, opting to offer that wisdom instead of leaving his adjacent station to help. Chef Tio calls for salt as she begins to pour salt on her station. Chef Dumont waits until the situation is beginning to begin contained to sweep the bowl -- filled with Tio's couscous -- onto the ground. And so, chef Tio must start another batch as Alton Brown picks the bowl (the base is good and melty) off the floor and remarks that "it is still hot." Thanks for that breaking update, Alton.
Conora's lemony artichokes end up in the garbage, and he can't find them when it comes time to plate. It would seem that this is a kitchen with a sense of karma. That doesn't prevent him from winning the challenge, courtesy of a seafood stew prepared traditionally and then with raw ingredients.
Chef Tio's cataplana-and-saffron-couscous-crusted scorpion fish draws high praise from the judges. Simon Majumdar says this is "the best you've given us." Donatella Arpaia says, "It is nice to see your personality come through." Tio advances to the next round, along with chef Estes, Forgione and Caswell. Chef Tsai advances after his "evil doppelganger" from the second episode has apparently been vanquished.
So that leaves chef Maneet Chouhan, who gets taken to task for undersalted fish steamed in a banana leaf. That is not considered as big a sin as the pineapple sauce used by chef Dumont with a piece of scorpion sashimi. And Dumont is eliminated. The show then gives her its traditional post-mortem, wherein it shows a montage of her catching fish and plating a dish as though she will be killed for failing in kitchen stadium. The lesson here? Don't mess with Tio's food.
Line of the Night:
"Chef Caswell cofounds me. He looks like a linebacker and cooks like a ballerina," says Majumdar.
"I get that all the time," says Caswell.
Episode four will feature condiments and fair food. The third season of The Next Iron Chef runs on The Food Network, Sundays at 8 p.m for the next seven weeks.
[Image courtesy of Food Network]