Symon Scores: It’s one down, five to go for new Iron Chef competition

Last night’s Tribe loss was a bummer for ball fans, including the 12,000 or so who gathered at the Jake to watch the game on the Jumbotron. But for the dozens of foodies who crammed around the small flat-screen at Lolita, the night was filled with culinary fireworks: Cleveland’s own hotshot chef Michael Symon survived the first round of competition to determine The Next Iron Chef. A reality show in six parts, The Next Iron Chef debuted last night at 9 p.m. on The Food Network. (The show repeats at 12 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11.) To mark the occasion, Symon installed Lolita’s very first television set, the aptly named “mini-tron.” He also offered a scrumptious, $19 family dinner of salad, bruschetta, and homemade pappardelle Bolognese, and entertained the troops with “behind the scenes” gossip related to the taping. A good time all around. Admittedly, Symon survived the first round by a margin as slim as the daikon slices that marked one of the night’s tests. (Among other knife-related feats, chefs had to demonstrate they could slice the radish so sheerly, a newspaper could be read through it.) Symon didn’t do too badly on that portion of the test. Where he ran into trouble, though, was in the “artistry” section of the competition. It seems the judges, including another Cleveland culinary cognoscente, Michael Ruhlman, didn’t much cotton to Symon’s savory dessert, a slight variation on the bacon-piqued 6 a.m. Special that he serves at Lola: “Lacking in creativity” seemed to be the consensus. But while Symon shared the bottom-of-the-barrel ranking with SF chef Traci Des Jardins, it was Des Jardins who was finally dismissed from the field of eight, while Symon hung on to advance to the next round. (Winners, incidentally, included NYC’s Aaron Sanchez, in the speed portion of the contest; and New Orleans chef John Besh, for artistry.) Among the tidbits Symon shared last night was the observation that the CIA kitchen, where the competition took place, reached temperatures of more than 130 degrees during the taping, and that two of the competitors needed IV fluids following the 18-hour ordeal. The heat-related stress also contributed to the fact that Symon, in the course of cussing out a recalcitrant ice cream maker, was the first one of the chefs to get “bleeped.” “Yeah, I was ‘motherfucking this’ and ‘god-damning that’ all over the place!” the tough-talking teddy bear recalled, now able to laugh at his frustration. Of course, the one thing he won’t admit to is when -- or more importantly if -- he finally gets the axe: Even at this late date, the identity of the eventual winner remains a closely guarded secret, with Food Network honchos apparently ready to get medieval on the asses of anyone who spills the beans. In any case, the family-style dinners and communal TV watching continue at Lolita each Sunday night, through the show’s Nov. 11 conclusion. Make a reservation and join the show. --- Elaine T. Cicora
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