There was a time when I didn’t care for Bobby Flay. He struck me as brash, cocky, too sure of himself. Over the years though, he has grown on me. Now, I find him easygoing, confident and self-assured, not arrogant, and I like his sense of humor. I was happy to hear of his new Food Network gig, Beat Bobby Flay. Having seen the first few episodes, I find it fresh and interesting, better than tired old standbys like Iron Chef America.
Beat Bobby Flay ( Food Network, Thursdays two thirty minute episodes back-to-back,9-10 PM) is an updated, zippier take on Bobby Flay’s old Throwdown series with some elements of Iron Chef America (hereinafter ICA) thrown in. In the first part of each episode, two up and coming chefs compete against each other for the right to challenge Bobby Flay. They cook one dish that features an ingredient chosen by Bobby Flay ( does this remind you of the ” secret ingredient” on ICA?). The dishes are judged by two celebrity judges and the winner gets to choose the dish for the cook-off between Bobby Flay and himself (shades of Throwdown!). The winner is selected by a panel of experts in a blind taste test.
There are many reasons why I like Beat Bobby Flay. For one thing, the contestants are cooking only one dish at a time ( not five as in ICA) and it is a head to head competition. This makes it easier to follow and , since each half hour episode contains two separate contests, it is fast paced. In the first part, where the two challengers are going up against each other, Bobby Flay is watching and schmoozing with the two judges. They are usually his ICA colleagues, people like Michael Symon or Alex Guarnaschelli, or other celebrities from the world of food,like Jonathan Waxman or Simon Mujumdar. They know each other well and it is fun to listen to them banter. It is also interesting to listen to them air their opinions about the challengers and the dishes being cooked. Another plus is that these dishes are things that viewers might want cook ourselves; watching the show gives us useful ideas that we can incorporate in our cooking. The dishes and some of the techniques used in ICA are beyond the abilities of most home cooks even had we the facilities of the ICA kitchen.
I don’t know how other viewers feel but, for me, many of the things I liked about Iron Chef America have now become the features I dislike most. I am tired of the Chairman’s campiness, his absurd theatrics and the stilted unvarying phrases that pass his lips( Allez cuisine…. Tell us what was your inspiration for the meal. .. Open mind and empty stomach..). I am tired of Kevin Brosh , even though I still like Alton Brown. I am even tired of new gimmicks like the Culinary Curveball which I think detracts from the culinary competition. And finally, I don’t like many of these newer Iron Chefs , who I feel are not in the same league as the originals.
There is one criticism I have of Beat Bobby Flay. When the blind tasting takes place, the contestants are standing in front of the judges , just as in the case of ” Chopped”. It is very easy for the judges to read their facial expressions and know who cooked what. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, because the judges know Bobby Flay’s cooking style so well. He is hardly likely to use wonton wrappers as taco shells or use kimchi in a salad. Still, if it is to be styled as a ” blind” tasting, it would be better for the contestants to be out of sight of the judges as they pick the winner. This, however, is a minor criticism. Bobby Flay may occasionally lose a cooking contest but, as cooking shows go , you can’t beat Bobby Flay.