Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
Bobby Flay and Local Chef Rumble in Kitchen Stadium
It’s shot in a studio, lit within an inch of its life, and hosted by a hokey acrobat-slash-actor playing the descendant of an equally hokey yet far less agile Japanese actor.
Yet, for all its manufactured Hollywood glitter factor, Food Network’s culinary competition, Iron Chef America, is just that. When you strip away the BS, what viewers are left with is two skilled chefs spending an hour preparing five-or-more dishes that taste good enough to hold up to extreme nit-pickery, look amazing, and reach beyond the boundaries presented in a restaurant environment.
Recently, Jason Knibb, the executive chef at La Jolla’s NINE-TEN, flew out to New York City to tape an episode in which he went skillet-to-skillet with Iron Chef Bobby Flay. Whenever local cooks or venues get national attention, eating industry insiders like myself pray the networks get it right. For every gifted chef or restaurateur that gets their 15 minutes of fame, there’s some dump (sorry: diner, drive-in, or dive) hardly anybody in town knows about, cares about, or would actually be caught dead at that gets unmerited screen time.
In selecting Knibb, Food Network casters did San Diego’s scene proud. His food has been some of the most consistently delicious, beautiful, heightened, and worldly in the county for years. His plates are the type that look so pristine and artful I hate to dig in and ruin the view. Yet every time I’ve done so, I’ve been glad I got over playing the part of a hungry wrecking ball.
I’m also no stranger to Flay’s food, having eaten at several of his restaurants from NYC to Las Vegas. These two seem evenly matched. While their dishes take cues from different cultural backgrounds (Flay’s centers around the flavors of the American Southwest while Knibb borrows from his Jamaican upbringing), both enjoy awakening palates using spices for more than just their incendiary qualities. They also bring an element of whimsy via the flavor combinations and plating of their dishes. Personally, I’d give the edge to Knibb’s cuisine, but there’s no substitute for (and perhaps no attribute more important than) experience when it comes to competing.
For now, we’ll have to wait and see how our region’s first Iron Chef America competitor does when his episode airs tonight on Food Network. Want to cheer chef on as a member of Team Knibb? Stop by his restaurant at 9 p.m. for a special viewing party featuring small bites and specialty cocktails. NINE-TEN is located inside the Grande Colonial hotel at 910 Prospect Street.