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'Iron Chef' brings cooking competition Stateside
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Forget how-to-braise-and-broil shows or tours of the trendiest restaurants. These days, the hottest thing in U.S. food television is a quirky Japanese import called "Iron Chef."
One of the most popular programs in Japan, it has become an unexpected hit in the United States. "Iron Chef" is the No. 2 show on the Food Network.
"There was a young production assistant on our staff who was watching it on Japanese television in New York for a few weeks, and he brought it to our attention and we put it on," says Judy Girard, Food Network's senior vice president and general manager. "Who would've thought it would become what it became."
Imagine a show with the theatrics of pro wrestling, the pace of a game show and the culinary expertise of "Cooking with Julia," and you're getting a picture of "Iron Chef."
The show pits chef against chef in a cook-off against the clock that some wags have described as "Kamikaze cooking."
"There are three Iron Chefs and each challenger gets to choose which one he goes up against," says Mina Mita of Fuji Television, the company that started the show. "They get 60 minutes to cook a four to five course meal using a secret themed ingredient which is revealed on the spot."
A recent show, for instance, had experts in Japanese cuisine scurrying to whip up gourmet dishes with giant eel.
When the timer sounds, a panel of food experts and celebrity judges samples both meals and picks a winner.
The whole spectacle is overseen by Kaga Takeshi, an emcee extraordinaire complete with sequined coats and a hairdo Wayne Newton could only dream of.
"He's bigger than life on the show," Girard says. "He's what in the States we'd call a ring master."
Fuji Television recently brought its "Iron Chef" to New York, to go spatula-to-spatula with the Food Network's finest.
Chef Bobby Flay, a master of southwestern grilled dishes, felt up to the challenge.
"I'm just bringing ingredients that I'm used to using all the time so that hopefully they'll blend with whatever they throw at us," he said before the contest.
To help bridge the language gap, Food Network host Gordon Elliot joined Kaga on stage.
Everyone's keeping mum about the secret ingredients chosen for this series of shows, though Elliot ventured a guess before taping: "I think it's Chicken McNuggets," he joked.
Fans will have to wait a while to find out if he was right -- and to learn who won. The American episodes of "Iron Chef" won't be ready for broadcast until June.
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