When Tim Love appeared on Iron Chef America in 2007, he scored a coup -- winning a battle in Kitchen Stadium against Masaharu Morimoto, the longest-running Iron Chef on Iron Chef America (Morimoto was also on the original Japanese Iron Chef).
Since then, Love's batting average of televised cooking competitions has been a little low. He made an early exit on the first season of Bravo's Top Chef Masters, and he was eliminated in the first episode of The Next Iron Chef: Redemption, which aired Sunday night on Food Network (full disclosure: I watched it Monday morning on DVR, which allowed for much fast-forwarding through the bloated 90-minute premiere).
The idea behind Next Iron Chef: Redemption is that former Next Iron Chef contestants who failed to win the "Iron Chef" title are back for a second chance. But there are a couple of wild cards, in the form of Love and Top Chef alum Marcel Vigneron, who -- on Sunday's premiere anyway -- seems to have toned down his bad-boy act a little bit. In the season opener, titled "Resourcefulness," the chefs were given a challenge involving an ingredient that burned him or her in the past. And then cook it using limited resources.
Love (who was identified in a graphic as the chef behind Lonesome Dove and Love Shack, with his buzzy Woodshed Smokehouse oddly omitted) got kale in the challenge, and although the Woodshed has shown a knack for strong vegetable dishes, let's face it -- this is a meat guy. Love opted to make a kale salad with Manchego cheese and apples that the judges found to be a little "lazy," a word that did not set well with Love. He had said that we was going to give 120 percent -- apparently the extra 20 percent went to the steak he cooked on the side for himself, without serving any to the judges. That didn't go over so well with them.
Everyone here is competing to be a regular on Iron Chef America,a show that comes with a lot of melodrama, but there's a sense of irony about it that makes the overwrought nature of the show almost satirical, especially when Mark "The Chairman" Dacascos introduces the "secret ingredient" each week in a flamboyant manner that makes you a) envy his job and b) wonder how he keeps from cracking up.
But The Next Iron Chef: Redemption presents itself with less irony, as if this were a life-or-death struggle with more at stake than, say, trying to survive Hurricane Sandy. And when Love was in the final two and had to survive a "secret ingredient" faceoff with Spike Mendelsohn (familiar from both Top Chef and Next Iron Chef), the show treated it almost as if they were meeting certain doom ("I'm literally fighting for my life," said Mendelsohn, while another contestant compared the final showdown to both contestants having their heads put in a guillotine).
The secret ingredient was ... pineapple. Which neither contestant really wanted to work with (Love said he tries to avoid it, adding, "I think I made a pineapple salsa in 1984.") And yet both acquitted themselves well with "the Death Fruit," with Love making quail with pickled pineapple balanced out with a made-on-the-spot corn milk -- and the deadly kale, deep-fried this time. "I was turned off by the appearance of deep-fried kale on the plate, however, a definite 'up yours' to the judges who had put him in the bottom two," one of the judges, Simom Majumdar, wrote in his blog post about the episode, adding that even he hadn't been irritated by that, Mendelsohn's sweet-and-sour pineapple dish would have won anyway. But at least the final showdown was close, while the judges really seemed irked by the kale salad in the initial challenge.
You can read Love's "Redemption Journal" here.