'Next Iron Chef' winner Jose Garces racks up victory

jehangirmehta_josegarces_nextironchef_290.jpgChef Jose Garces proved once and for all that he's worthy of entering the pantheon of Iron Chefs in an ultimate showdown in Kitchen Stadium against Chef Jehangir Mehta.

Both chefs had been strong competitors throughout the competition, and their various fortes and foibles came into focus on "The Next Iron Chef" finale Sunday -- Garces with his technical expertise and Mehta with his innovation. A look back at the savory competition:

Recipe:

Prep time: Checking cable provider for show time and mixing a martini.
Cooking time: 60 minutes, the duration of the show
Serves: Viewing audience

Ingredients:

1 Nimble chairman: Mark Dacascos

2 Rival chefs:
Chef Jose Garces
Chef Jehangir Mehta

2 Staffers:
Host Alton Brown
Stadium correspondent Kevin Brauch

6 Judges:
Donatella Arpaia
Anya Fernald
Jeffrey Steingarten
Iron Chef Bobby Flay
Iron Chef Morimoto
Iron Chef Michael Symon

Secret ingredient: Racks & ribs, specifically: pork baby back ribs, country ribs and spare ribs; buffalo rack and loin; beef short ribs

Amuse bouche

The competitors had to create five dishes with the racks and ribs that best exemplified the American melting pot while of course using imagination and delivering excellent food.

The secret ingredient was particularly challenging because usually the meat would require longer cooking times to break down the connective tissue. So naturally, the chefs bust out the pressure cookers!

The hour flies by. Garces doesn't have any major problems, but he's slower to get to plating than Mehta, who of course busts out the ice cream machine. Only hiccup is when the lid on one of Mehta's pressure cookers refuses to budge (temporarily).

Note: Just a wish, but wouldn't it kick ass to see "Top Chef" Hung Huynh speeding around Kitchen Stadium and breaking records for deboning a chicken?

First course

jehangirmehta_nextironchef_290.jpgMehta: Smothered shrimp dumpling with shredded braised buffalo rib on top. Apparently a balanced hit for all tasters, but Flay points out the rib is not the focus.
Garces: Duo of buffalo tartare/kobe sirloin and buffalo rib steak au poivre. Perfectly cooked all around.

Second course

Mehta: All-American pork/bacon burger with chipotle mayo and beef short ribs with an apricot glaze. Umm, inconsistent temperatures mean that some of the french fries were still raw and more unforgiving -- so was the pork burger!
Garces: Mexican-style braised carnitas (pork spare ribs) taco with lime, onions, cilantro and cabbage. Good flavors, but perhaps needs a bit of heat?

Third course

Mehta: Indian style pork spare ribs with a yogurt curry. Not very tender and the curry did not penetrate into the pork.
Garces: "The German": Pork loin rubbed with thyme, grainy mustard and garlic, topped with chanterelle mustard sauce. Cooked fine, but overall somewhat monotonous

Fourth course

Mehta: Buffalo steak with chocolate Malbec sauce. A very pretty presentation, but perhaps too many things distracting?
Garces: Spanish-influenced pizza with beef short ribs and horseradish cream, manchego cheese and bacon marmalade. A good showcase for the main ingredient but perhaps needs punch?

Fifth course

Mehta: Buffalo rib eye tartare with avocado sorbet. Nailed it. Everyone loved this and one judge even called it the "best dish in the competition."
Garces: Soul food influence: Baby back ribs with spicy BBQ sauce, grits with bacon, mustard greens. Executed well, but perhaps safe.

josegarces_nextironchef_290.jpgDessert (Tasting and judgment)

The judges were torn since the competitors were opposites in what they offered: While very few could fault Garces on his overall approach and excellent cooking skills, many admitted they were bored and Steingarten even claimed he wouldn't pay money for the food. On the other hand, Mehta had exciting but uneven cuisine that didn't deliver on their promise, even fundamentals like french fries.

Final note:

 - Check out our post-win interview with Jose Garces. He talks harsh judging and stinky tofu.
- Okay, I had been rooting for Mehta, purely on the strength of loving his tasting dish from the "Next Iron Chef" Food Network party during the summer TCAS. But hey, I will not argue with two excellent chefs and the way the final competition played out.
 - I wish we got to see the judges' scores as usual. Would loved to have seen if the vote was close.
 - Mehta's metaphor about how the staircase of life can lead downwards but also simultaneously upwards cracked me up. His personality will be missed.
 - Beef short ribs and not one chef did a twist on Korean galbi?
 - Check out Garces' first official recipe as an Iron Chef: Revuelto de langosta, aka lobster & asparagus soft-cooked eggs with oyster cava cream

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Related:

Interview with newest Iron Chef Jose Garces: Harsh judges & stinky tofu
TV Press Tour: 'The Next Iron Chef' tasting menu in pictures
'Top Chef: Las Vegas': Best. Restaurant Wars. Ever.


Photo credit: Food Network
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