Iron Chef USA is a spinoff of the original Iron Chef show which airs on the Food Network. ICUSA is an hour long show, aired on the UPN network, and has the same format and rules as the original Iron Chef. Unsurprisingly, thus far it does not seem to have garnered the insane popularity of the original show despite doing a few things right. William Shatner is cast as "The Chairman," this show's analogue to Chairman Kaga. Yes, the bizarre outfits are there (minus Kaga's fabulous gloves). Yes, he's just as zealous as Kaga seems to be. His opening monologue closely follows his progenitor's: the character tells of his secret travels around the world to recruit the top chefs to become the Iron Chefs of Kitchen Arena, the kitchen-cum-stadium he had spent his fortunes creating. Like the original, there are four Iron Chefs; they've changed specialties to match the new audience.
- Iron Chef American is the entirely too serious Todd English (incidentally, this guy was named one of People Magazine's 50 most beautiful people of the year in 2001), nicknamed "Captain America."
- Iron Chef French, Jean Francois Meteigner, bears the unfortunate nickname of "the Battering Bon Vivant."
- Iron Chef Italian is Alessandro Stratta, a 4th generation restauranteur with the nickname "Italian Scallion."
- Iron Chef Asian is Roy Yamaguchi, a Tokyo-born Hawaiian who owns a restaurant chain bearing his name (thankfully not his Iron Chef nickname, "Samurai of Stir Fry").
Yes, The Chairman actually uses those nicknames.
Given the high standard the original show set, ICUSA could not hope to be as good. As I said before, The Chairman's casting is great, one of the high points of the show. The announcers are very good as well, capturing the breathlessness and genuine excitement the (dubbed) announcers in the original show have. However, the announcer on the floor is far too intrusive. Unlike the never-seen floor announcer in Iron Chef, this show's floor announcer, Sissy Biggers, seems to be in every other shot. She's annoying and gets in the way.
These problems are merely cosmetic. This show has some very basic weaknesses when compared to its predecessor. The first is the fact that the dishes in ICUSA seem to be secondary to the action in the kitchens. The original show gives its viewers a clear idea of what each chef is making at any one time; the great part of that show is looking at the chefs throwing strange things into pots and pans, then watching the dishes slowly form as the time elapses. In Iron Chef USA, it's not clear what's going on -- I see sauces being made, I see ravioli get made, I see things get chopped and whipped and burned, but I never understand what's going into what, or what's going on top of what until the judging. This is a basic flaw. It doesn't increase the surprise of the dishes at the end because I have no clear idea of what items from the cooking section of the show went into each dish. The second basic flaw is the judging. Perhaps it was just the show I saw, but unlike the Japanese Iron Chef's judges, the judges in this program were merely celebrities. One judge commented that tuna belongs with mayonaisse on bread; another said she liked thought a dish was weird because she didn't eat food like this in the 'hood. Part of the Japanese judges' charm is their detailed and often over the top descriptions of the dishes. The American judges seemed uncomfortable with the high cuisine from the combatants, and slipped into the comfortable ignorant American character.
While I'd like to see a version of Iron Chef in my native language, this isn't quite it. It's been over-Americanized, losing the charm of the original show almost entirely. Instead of a strange show about kitchen combat, it's wrestling with food.