I am not an Iron Chef person (you either are or aren’t, yo), but Sunday night I watched the much touted special Iron Chef America battle twixt Giada De Laurentiis and Rachael Ray–two quite short women who are incredibly big ratings draws, whatever you think of them. Each was paired with a seasoned male Iron Chef–De Laurentiis with Bobby Flay and Ray with Mario Batali. Why watch this one? Well, there aren’t regularly women on that show, other than Cat Cora and Batali’s sous chef, and you got to see behind the curtain a bit–how they acted when there wasn’t an entire staff of writers and fluffers and postproduction editors making things perfect (answer: nervous, a little twittery at both the stress of the situation and the inane rituals of the show).
There’s no getting around the fact, though, that the whole thing, despite some halfway interesting culinary results, reminded me ineluctably of a chicken fight in the pool during summer. Two bossy charismatic guys with giggling girls on their shoulders, play fighting, everybody hoping somebody’s top comes off. It made sense to have the couples divided up, but it did kind of make the current demographics of the Food Network pretty clear: Men = chefs. Women = cooks. Although there was yet another weird undercurrent to the combat; as Bill Buford pointed out in his somewhat gloomy forecast of things to come at the Food Network in an October New Yorker, De Laurentiis (who lost) is basically replacing Batali (who won, with Ray) in the schema of the network’s new less cheffy/more everyman programming. Maybe Battle Cranberry had more at stake than it seemed. Or maybe I’m falling into that Iron Chef trap of taking all the dorky drama too seriously.