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Sunday, January 16, 2005

Cultural Battle Moves to the Kitchen

My wife loves Iron Chef. This evening, while watching the Iron Chef America Preview Special I learned a valuable object lesson about differences in culture and value systems.

During the Preview program, a profile of a past competition between American chef Bobby Fley against Japanese Iron Chef, Marimoto, the American team did the unthinkable in the minds of the Japanese Chef community.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Iron Chef competition, let me briefly explain. The Iron Chef Challenge takes place in Iron Kitchen Stadium, a specially designed kitchen set where chefs comepete while television cameras roll, in front of a live audience.

Iron Chefs are the top chefs in their particular cuisine. They are: Iron Chef Japanese, Iron Chef French, Iron Chef Italian and Iron Chef Chinese. At the start of each program, a Challenger Chef, along with his team of assistants , are introduced. The Challenger chooses to go against one of the reigning Iron Chefs.

Once the Challenger team has chosen the Opponent, the Moderator introduces the Ingredient of the day. Then the competing teams have 60 minutes to come up with several creative dishes of their choice, with the condition that each must contain the main Ingredient of the day.

Adrenalin rush ferociously as the teams race the clock to whip up their best culinary fare to claim the coveted prize. At the end of the 60 minutes the chefs serve their meal to a panel of judges who score the dishes on the basis of taste, presentation and creativity. The team with the highest aggregate score wins.

During the program I watched this evening, they showed Bobby Fley's team was so juiced up that when they completed their dishes in the allotted time, his team lifted him up onto the counter and Fley stood on the chopping block and lifting up both his arms cheered loudly "lifting the roof." His team and the American stadium audience cheered rambunctiously along with him. The Japanese team stood in stunned, jaw-dropped silence, . You see the chopping block, the chopsticks and the cooking utensils were sacred in the Iron Chef culture. It was inconceivable to them for a professional Chef to stand on the chopping block!

They showed not only Iron Chef Marimoto and his team, but also another Iron Chef, Iron Chef Sakai, and other Japanese members of the audience, watched on in shocked disbelief while the American cavorted on top of the sacrosanct chopping block.

Later they interviewed Sakai who explained the cultural values of the Japanese chefs. To them the Americans had committed a terrible faux pas. Iron Chef Sakai smiled, shrugged his shoulders and quipped, "I guess that is done in good intentions. He was excited. It was all good! Maybe next time I will do it!"

I thought, "Oh wow! What generosity, humility, understanding and demonstration of world citizenship!" Perhaps something for us all to learn!