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Recap: Iron Chef America with Paul Virant of Chicago's Vie

By L. Stolpman in Food on Nov 2, 2009 4:20PM

iron chef america.jpg Hellur, food lovers. We decided to watch and recap the action as Chicago's Paul Virant competes on Iron Chef America. After the standard opening montage in which we meet the Chairman, we are introduced to Bobby Flay (*coughdouchecouch*), Masaharu Morimoto, Mario Batali (Croc lovah!), Cat Cora, and Michael Symon (gigglehead). Then we get to meet the challenger, Chef Virant. Alton Brown tells us that Chef Virant grew up in Missouri where his grandmothers took him to the local smokehouse and farmer's market and taught him how to preserve fruit and pickle vegetables. He went to the CIA and worked in NYC and now owns Vie here in our very own Chicago. Chef virant reiterates his midwest style and says he concentrates on fresh ingredients.

The Chairman meets Chef Virant by reminding him that the Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908, calling it 100 years of shame. Seriously? Is this what the world thinks about when they hear Chicago? Why doesn't he just bring up the Great Fire and tell Chef Virant not to burn down Kitchen Stadium while he's at it? Chef Virant stares straight ahead with a look that is probably a mixture of trying to keep a straight face and trying not to deck this guy in his tackle. Let's see who will be the Iron Chef: MORIMOTO!

Bring on the secret ingredient!

Pheasant! The Chairman yells, "Allez cuisine!" and the scramble for birds begins.We learn from Alton that the pheasant is originally from Asia and that all pheasants sold are farm raised. Wild peasant can only be hunted.

Chef Morimoto is removing the oyster from the bird: a piece of meat along the backbone, just up from where the thighs attach to the bird. Who knew? Lots of butchering goes on in both kitchens, along with meat grinders. Whoa, Virant is making consomme using the raft method. Probably something he learned at the CIA and which we read about with fascination in Michael Ruhlman's book The Making of a Chef.

Let's meet the judges. Steve Dolinsky! Hellur, fellow Chicagoan! Jean Nakayama, a Japanese restaurateur and...OUR FAVORITE...Jeffery Steingarten, author of The Man Who Ate Everything. We love this guy for his unabashed behavior. If the food sucks, he says so and if a judge sucks, he will probably say that, too.

Scotch eggs are made, pasta, dumplings, smoked breast - it's nonstop action. Chef Virant is wrapping a meat mixture (livers and hearts, we think) in caul fat. Alton notes that Chef Virant has yet to begin his plating.
With three minutes left, both sides are plating at high speed.

Time is over and we get a quick judging lesson: 10 points possible per judge for taste, 5 for plating, and 5 for originality. Morimoto is up first.

First course: Sous vide pheasant breast with cucumber. Marimoto says that because he is using the breast, he used female pheasants. Jeffery Steingarten says, "Those are the best breasts." Dolinsky comments that the pheasant is so perfectly cooked, it makes a good argument for sous vide style cooking. Steingarten obnoxiously grabs hold of Dolinsky's use of words and snorts out that it is almost as if Dolinsky stupidly thinks that sous vide needs an argument. We resist the urge to roll our eyes at Steingarten. Second course: Bagna cauda with crispy pheasant tenderloin chips. The dish has an oily dipping sauce that is kept bubbling hot with what we assume must be a little tea candle in the bottom of the container it is in. Third course: Pheasant gyoza and pheasant oyster tempura. The judges bemoan the lack of pheasant taste. Fourth course: Pheasant soup with pheasant meatballs. The judges praise the pheasant taste in this one. Fifth course: Pheasant rice with grilled pheasant breast. The dish wins big praise from the judges. Sixth course: Ground pheasant lettuce wraps. We have P.F. Chang flashbacks. There is mozzarella cheese on the miso dish and we shudder a little. Dolinsky remarks that the texture is muddled and asks for confirmation from Jeffery. Hmm. Dear Dolinsky: Jeffery is not the dad who never gave you praise as a child. You are just fine, sir, just fine.

Now on to Chef Virant. First course: Smoked pheasant breast with crispy skin on top of an almond tart and with a blackberry vinaigrette. Dolinsky says it's a little dry and one-note on the texture but Jeffery disagrees, saying that there is variety in the texture. We don't get to see if Dolinsky is crestfallen. Nakayama says the blackberry overpowers the pheasant flavor a bit. Second course: Crispy gnocchi with braised pheasant. Big praise from both Dolinsky and Steingarten for the flavors. Third course: Pheasant Scotch egg: pheasant sausage wrapped around a pheasant egg - all breaded and deep fried. It is sitting on a nest of arugula and shoestring potato. Also a mayonnaise made with pheasant egg. Steingarten says it is the best Scotch egg he's ever had. At this point, we re-affirm our belief that watching people chew is unappetizing, no pun intended. Fourth course: Pheasant caillette with pickled fennel (this is the dish and used the caul fat). Dolinsky likes the texture. This guy is really into his textures. We begin to wonder if he has some form of synesthesia and maybe salty feels like pine cones in his mouth? Fifth Course: Pheasant consomme. Steingarten thinks that the other flavors mask the pheasant.

THE RESULTS. The chairman has both Chef Virant and Chef Morimoto with him and declares the winner: Iron Chef Morimoto by one point! Here's a breakdown of the scores:

Taste: Morimoto - 25, Virant - 26
Plating: Morimoto - 13, Virant - 11
Originality: Morimoto - 13, Virant 13

Totals: Morimoto - 51, Virant - 50

Close match! We actually thought Virant had it. Getting edged out by plating, of all things. Well, writing all of this out, we're hungry and we'd be happy to eat Virant's dishes off of paper plates. Nice job, Chef Virant! You made Chicago proud.