In case you missed last night's Iron Chef America viewing party at the Bottleneck Lounge, I can now tell you that Tilth's Maria Hines did the very-nearly-impossible by kicking the mother-lovin' crap out of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto.
But wait, not only did she totally hand Morimoto his ass (winning 51 to 46, picking up points almost exclusively on flavor), but she did it with an ingredient that didn't exactly play to one of Morimoto's weak spots. Pacific cod was the secret ingredient, and while Hines was certainly familiar with the fish, Morimoto is a sushi chef (among other things), so not only was he playing on his home court, but with an ingredient that he knew as well as he would anything.
And yet Hines still came through, taking down the Iron Chef by a comfortable five-point margin and proving once again (as if all the loving press, glowing reviews and the James Beard Award for Best Chef Northwest weren't enough) that she can hang with the best in the country.So how did she do it? Here's a breakdown of the dishes cooked:
Paprika smoked pacific cod on arugula and fresh flageolets tossed with crème fraiche. A serious, heavy-hitting dish right out of the gate, with an innovative cooking technique not traditionally used with cod.
Pacific cod Brandade with truffle oil and garnished with nicoise olives and orange. Truffle oil? Really? Well, fuck it. It seemed to work for her, and the judges (including John T. Edge, one of the very few food writers working today who I would follow down any rabbit hole he chose and who's tastes I trust like gospel) seemed to dig it.
Sous vide cod with lemon verbena, tomato fondue, tapioca pearls, fried green tomato, tomato water. A complicated dish, drawing from about a hundred different influences--from culinary modernism to classical southern comfort food to the French Laundry Cookbook and beyond. This was a risky dish that she pulled off with veteran elan.
Pan seared pacific cod with artichokes, fregola, nasturtium vinaigrette. I don't even know what fregola is, but I'm glad Hines does.
Alderwood planked balsamic cod with corn cream and corn pudding. If you have to use fish for a dessert, there are worse ways to pull it off. Like cod ice cream, I guess...
Smoked pacific cod sashimi, done sous vide and then cold smoked. Both chefs turned to the smoker for their first dish. Hines just did it better.
Cod broth with cod "ramen" (a soft cod noodle, then a fried cod noodle) alongside cod mousse tempura on a stick. Yeah, I wish I was kidding about this. Credit to Morimoto for thinking outside the box, but sometimes that box is there for a reason. Like to stop someone from making cod mousse tempura on a stick.
Cod pizza. Kinda.
Fish and chips paired with cod chowder. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Yeah, watch it in re-runs if you didn't see it last night.
Cod curry with a rice ball. A reasonably simple and straightforward idea, but I'm still hung up on the cod mousse tempura on a stick.
Unsurprisingly, Morimoto won the points race when it came to originality (beating Hines 13 to 11), but in the end all the vacuum sealers and smoking guns in Kitchen Stadium weren't enough to turn the tide.
For those of you looking to get a taste of Hines's Iron Chef menu, Tilth will be offering a special five course/five wine menu tomorrow, August 3, featuring all the dishes Hines (and her two sous chefs, Larkin Young and Jason Brzozowy) cooked for the Pacific cod battle. It's a bit pricey ($200 per person), but if you're really in love with the menu, or just with Hines, reservations can be made by calling Tilth at 206-633-0801.
A bit too steep for you? Then how 'bout just watching Hines and Co. beat Morimoto all over again? Her episode of Iron Chef America will be rebroadcast on August 5 at 9pm, August 6 at midnight, and again on August 7 at 5pm. Granted, now you know how it all ends, but it's still worth checking out, if only to see what that cod mousse tempura (on a stick) looks like in real life.