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Iron Chef: Chef Chen vs. Chef Balibalos

In by Amy, by Katherine, Foodie Fridays on November 15 at 1:11 pm

This is the liveblog of Sunday’s Iron Chef Berkeley: Battle Ginger, consolidated and listed in reverse chronological order.  Check back throughout the week for the photos, recipes, and scores of each dish. 

Final scoring! — 9:48 P.M.

Nish: “When these two titans clash, we all win.”

With some sort of Excel contraption cooked up by JueYan, the judges’ scores have been all tallied up. Again, the dishes were scored on a scale of 10 in taste, originality, and presentation.

Appetizer: Michael’s scallop and stuffed mushroom rode originality and presentation to beat out John’s tom ka gai soup with an average score of 8.67 to 7.33.

Entree: John’s salmon was clearly dragged down by his bland choice of sides, as he suffered a competition-worst score of 6.67. Michael’s salmon scores another victory, averaging 7.78.

Dessert: John’s signature dish carries him through here, with his flan outscoring Michael’s cake 7.56 to 7.34.

Final decision: Although the night was filled with excellent treats at all stages, Michael takes the (metaphorical) trophy, beating out John with an overall average of 7.93 to 7.19.

I am feeling very fat and full. Good night.

– Jack

Balibalos’ flan — 9:00 P.M.

John presents the final dish of the night, a coconut milk flan with candied ginger and orange peels. The toppings are held in a Hello Kitty bowl.

Nish: “There’s a bit of a kick to it.”

Paul: “I think I put too much ginger and orange at the same time.”

Katherine: “This is a strong contender.”

Nish and Katherine comment that they likely have been rating too generously tonight.

Paul says it’s smooth, as all of John’s dishes have been. He really enjoyed the candied orange with the ginger, and appreciated the “little fight to it.”

Katherine was pleased that John brought his signature dish to the table. She gives high marks for the homemade candied ginger, but she would’ve liked if the ginger had been incorporated in more ways, such as a sauce or an infusion into the flan itself.

Nish is similarly satisfied with the flan, and was glad that the ginger wasn’t overly spicy. The taste and texture paired very well with the flan.

– Jack

Balibalos’ salmon — 8:47 P.M.

John has brought out salmon baked with a soy and ginger glaze, as well as a little brown sugar for sweetness. He warns to watch out for bones, as he forgot to take them out. Boiled bokchoy with rice lines the side of the dish.

Katherine says that the centerpiece is clearly the salmon, and it has succeeded there. She likes the complexity of the sauce, but thought a better job could have been done with the side dishes. The bokchoy and the rice fill out the meal, but don’t complement the flavors of the salmon.

Nish agrees with Katherine on the complexity of the salmon marinade and on how well baked the salmon was. The rice did not have enough water, but that was the fault of the sous chef. Overall, it was very enjoyable for him.

Paul describes the salmon as a “nice smooth, ride” that ended in “fireworks” in the back of his throat. Unfortunately, he felt like the rest of the dish was boring, with the boiled bokchoy and plain white rice.

Nish comments that this would be a difficult dish to judge.

– Jack

Balibalos’ soup — 8:37 P.M.

At this point, the food is already cold, but the judges say they will account for that in their scoring.

John has brought out a tom ka gai, a Thai coconut soup with tomatoes, mushrooms and shrimp.

Katherine is coughing as she is overwhelmed by the spiciness of the dish. She asks for water.

Nish is a fan of the spiciness, as well as the coconut milk flavor. He appreciates the Thai-Asian taste of the dish.

Paul: “Wow, I like it so much.” He is not usually a fan of spicy things, but the richness covers the spiciness for him. He follows up with a mixed metaphor. He has just learned that coconut milk is white rather than clear.

Katherine likes the flavor, but she again cannot taste the ginger. She did not like the shrimp, saying it was a little bit overcooked. This will be reflected in her scoring. She does love the creativity in John’s recycling of the fish stock from his salmon dish. She adds that the dish would not have been the same without the mushrooms.

– Jack

Chen’s dessert — 8:26 P.M.

Michael brings out a chocolate cupcake topped with raspberries.

Katherine: “Wow, that’s beautiful.”

It has bits of caramelized ginger inside, and should be eaten with the strawberries and candied ginger on the side, as well as drinking milk to combat the dryness of the cake (a result of it being left slightly too long in the oven.)

Katherine really likes this chocolate cake, bringing her back to the lava cakes of her youth. She’s having a little “Ratatouille” moment here. She doesn’t think that it’s too dry, but could not taste the ginger in the dish. Still, she says that the flavors complement each other well in this “classic.”

Nish also could not taste the ginger inside the cake, only the candied ginger bits on the side.

Paul comments that the raspberries do complement the chocolate, as “they always will.” However, he is disappointed that he could not taste the ginger and missed out on what could have been the meeting of two conflicting flavors.

All the judges agree that it is very delicious when eaten with the candied ginger.

– Jack

Chen’s appetizer — 8:15 P.M.

Katherine just mocked Paul’s ability to judge, comparing him to the guest judge that isn’t usually on the show. The joke was received with light laughter.

Michael is now presenting a two-part appetizer based on two things that are round. On the left: stuffed mushrooms with bacon and other exciting things. Right side: Scallop with a passionfruit ginger sauce.

Paul has dropped some of the food. Tsk tsk. We are starting at the other end with Nish instead.

Nish liked the pliability of the scallops tempered with the passionfruit, but thinks that more could have done with the scallops lacked flavor.

Katherine was a really big fan of the scallops, saying that they were not really tough. She disputes Nish’s point, saying that the scallop’s role as a “blank canvas” was used well. She will remember this dish as the one which packs in the ginger flavor.

Paul’s mouth was conflicted by the many flavors of the scallops fighting with the sauce. He also felt that the sauce was too sticky, which was due to it being overcooked, commenting that it was “sticky in his mouth,” as the scallops were “smoothly sliding along.”

(Side note: Deanne, a non-paying participant, liked the salmon, but thought it was over-salted. She also thought the ginger flavor was lacking.)

On to the mushroom.

Nish thought bacon and avocado went well together.

Katherine agrees, adding that the caramelized ginger also added to the combination. However, she also didn’t see too much of a tie between the mushroom and the “Battle Ginger” concept.

Paul doesn’t really care about the concept, and is judging purely on taste. He likes the “springy-ness” of the salad, but can barely taste the ginger. He thought the mushroom didn’t have enough filling, but that may be because of the aforementioned spill. He withholds judgment on the dish.

– Jack

Chen’s salmon: initial reactions — 8:05 P.M.

Nish, Katherine, and Paul are lined up along the judges’ row of chairs, each with plates of food in front of them. They are about to taste some sort of salmon dish prepared by Michael, who used a bunch of fancy words to describe it that I didn’t catch.

Katherine has asked for a description of the sauce. I caught that it is white-wine based along with some sort of ginger-y and butter-y stuff. Michael claims that the inspiration for his dish is “fat is good.”

Paul says that it is a smooth taste, and he appreciates the fat.

Nish is surprised by the subtlety of the ginger taste, which does not bite at him.

Katherine is throwing fancy words very quickly, like “lightness.” She is not sure about the roasted vegetables on the side, and said that they distracted from the simplicity of the dish.

– Jack

Eating begins! — 8:04 P.M.

Michael has made the common-sense appeal that everything is getting cold and should be consumed at once. I like his thinking.

– Jack

Laying it out — 7: 56 P.M.

The food is being brought out at this point, with everything being laid out beautifully on fancy-looking rectangular plates. Michael is apparently an expert at presentation, which would explain why I feel like the food was brought in from some expensive restaurant. (Though the illusion is somewhat spoiled by the presence of flower-bordered paper plates.)

What I’m most excited about at this point is the scallops and the stuffed mushroom, both of which I love dearly. It’s been quite a while since I’ve tasted the latter, so my stomach is in quite the state of anticipation at the moment.

The slices of salmon are also being put onto the paper plates as I type this, and Michael is pouring some sort of sauce over each one.

I’m hungry.

– Jack

Food Has Arrived, Plating has Begun — 7:40 pm

With the help of several porters, all of Chef Balibalos’ food has arrived. Unfortunately, he will be deducted for time, as he has arrived late.

The plating process has begun, with each chef hurriedly putting the final touches on his dish.

Whose cuisine will reign supreme???? The burning question will be answered soon!


Finishing touches — 7:25 P.M.

Katherine here, writing for Amy, who is busy at Chef Balibalos’ kitchen directing the transport of the dishes across College Avenue.  I wish there was a film crew to document the physical transfer; it would share the same suspense as Ace of Cakes.

Update: Chef Balibalos’ dishes have arrived!  After the myriad of helpers from across the street rushed up the stairs and into our apartment laden with platters of hot food, they stared in disbelief at the apparent coolness of JueYan and Danica, who were “helping” Chef Chen by playing Super Smash.

Just moments ago, I was washing dishes in Chef Chen’s kitchen, where chaos is reigning supreme.  There are dishes of food covering every possible horizontal surface, and sous chef Sandra is constantly chopping and preparing ingredients for Chef Chen, who has a pan on every burner.  This multitasking, intended to save time, may have backfired on Chef Chen, who accidentally burnt a pan of walnuts that were caramelizing in sugar.  The mistake is probably not fundamental, as the ginger portion of the dish is still intact, but it seems to have thrown Chef Chen off his balance a bit.

The high point of panic in the kitchen occurred when Chef Chen suddenly turned around and realized that he had started a small fire on one of the burners.  “Ohhh no no no no!” he exclaimed, as he tried desperately to blow the six-inch flame out like a birthday candle.  After the burner caught on fire for the second time, Chef Chen elected not to use that area of the stove for the remainder of the competition, leaving him shorthanded.  How this will affect his ability to complete his dishes remains to be seen.


Arrival of Judges — 6:46 pm

I returned from work to find chaos in Kitchen Stadium #205, where Chef Chen is feverishly preparing his courses.  I hurried past in order to preserve my impartiality, though not before catching the heavy scent of what I believe is cumin in the air.  Curry flavored by ginger, perhaps?

It appears that the time limit of 2 hours is proving quite a challenge for both chefs.   (I just heard Chef Chen wail from his kitchen, “I need more tiiiiimmee!”)  As such, Chairman Amy has approved the reinstatement of the sous chef position.  Seasoned chef Sandra, whose impressive culinary resume includes a position at Berkeley’s Love at First Bite bakery as well as her current position as a food blog researcher for a catering company, is assisting Chef Chen.  The sous chefs on Chef Balibalos’ side of College, meanwhile, make up for a lack of professional experience in sheer number.  At last count, Paul, Danica, and Jack were all lending Chef Balibalos a hand while JueYan put the Maytag Man to shame as the dishwasher.

Those of you reading at home may wonder why there were so many dishes in the Balibalos kitchen, a condition that many are speculating put Chef Balibalos at a time disadvantage under an already-tight two hour limit.  It appears that, in addition to forgetting his grocery list twice, Chef Balibalos also forgot that he had a sinkful of dirty dishes in his apartment before beginning the competition.  This self-sabotage is made even more ironic by the fact that, when I spoke to Chef Balibalos this morning to ask what preparations he was undergoing for tonight’s competition, he responded with a shrug, “I dunno…gaming…napping…whatever.”  I believe the French, who have a rich culinary heritage, refer to he who brings this unnecessary extra obstacle upon himself as teh noob.


Return from Grocery Store — 5:16 P.M.

We have just returned from a three-store grocery run: Berkeley Bowl, Ver Brugge Meat-Fish Poultry, and Safeway. The lines have been much longer than anticipated, so it’s a good thing that we set aside two hours for this ordeal. Given the delay in timing, it looks like service will have to be pushed back to 7:30.

Chef Balibalos is gearing up to what seems to be an Asian-dominating menu,  with several cans of young coconut, some soy sauce, and rice in his grocery basket. Unfortunately, he forgot his planning sheet at home, and had to shop entirely from memory.

Chef Chen’s menu is a bit more ambiguous; he bought plenty of vegetables, some heavy cream, and butter. He has indicated that his menu is a more flexible, and seems to be leaving his final decision to be made during cooking time.

The chefs remain largely on target for the budget, going just a few dollars over. This was largely due to the whole salmon purchased at the butcher’s; the chefs wanted 4 lbs of fish, but the shop would only sell half or whole fish, the smallest fish weighing in at 5 lbs.

Both chefs are exhausted, and the cooking hasn’t even begun.

In other news, judge Nishant will be dropping to watch the cooking in about 15-20 minutes, bringing guest foodies Charles and Margaret along. While the guest list seems to be constantly fluctuating, this blogger hopes that we’ll be able to break even in the end.


Iron Chef America’s Battle Ginger — 4:38 P.M.

Oh, Jeffrey.  (Somebody needs to make this into a .GIF)

Iron Chef Berkeley’s better-known cousin, Iron Chef America, has previously held a Battle Ginger.  Here’s Reality TV Online’s synopsis, with supplementary pictures as close as I could get to the dishes served (usually not close at all):

This week, sushi specialist Chef Tyson Cole decided to challenge Iron Chef Morimoto. The secret ingredient was ginger. Judging the competition was culinary journalist Akiko Katayama, Jeffrey Steingarten, and food blogger Pim.

Chef Cole served up five dishes: black snapper sashimi and ginger ale (which Jeffrey said was “delightful”), wild sea bass with galangal puree and pickled peaches, sugar coated hamachi, grilled salmon belly with sauternes gelee and ginger infused fruit, and brown butter and ginger sorbet with ginger consumme (Pim thought that was “lovely”).

Toshiro’s black snapper sashimi with torched skin.
Black Snapper Sashimi at Toshiro in Lima, Peru via Doctor’s Review
Striped Sea Bass w/White Asparagus, Watermelon, Smoked Yellow Tomato at Aureole in NY via Food Fashionista
Maple Ginger Sorbet
Maple Ginger Sorbet

Iron Chef Morimoto served up six dishes: Japanese sweet melon with east meets west caprese salad (Akiko thought it was too stringy), seared bonito lamb carpaccio and seared Japanese pike, Japanese grouper cooked in ginger water (which Pim said was the epitome of Japanese cooking), duck meatball soup, ginger congee with wagyu, and ginger coconuts with hot chocolate.

Melon Salad with Mint and Buddha's Hand
Melon Salad with Mint and Buddha’s Hand via Tasty Palettes
Steamed grouper crystal fish dumpling
Steamed grouper crystal fish dumpling at Cherry Garden in Singapore via Lady Iron Chef
Beef Congee
Beef Congee via Steamy Kitchen

Morimoto was victorious by a landslide, winning 49 to 43. He took taste (26 to 20) and originality (12 to 9). He lost plating 11 to 14, but Chef Cole learned to never challenge the master!

Iron Chef Morimoto
Iron Chef Morimoto

Katherine’s commentary from work — 3:05 P.M.

Hi everyone; Katherine here.  I’m stuck at work this afternoon, but based on Chairman Amy’s liveblog, it looks like the secret ingredient tonight will be ginger.

My sources (read: Amy) tell me that the chefs are currently running frantically around the Oregon St. Berkeley Bowl gathering fresh ingredients for tonight’s three-course meal.  Shopping at Berkeley Bowl can be very hectic on weekend afternoons even without a time limit; I like to think of Chef Balibalos throwing elbows to grab the best ginger in the bin as Chef Chen leaps over a toddler in a shopping cart on his way to the checkout.

berkeley bowl carries dates, durian, key limes, rambitan, and other fresh produce.
Berkeley Bowl’s fresh produce section via Leah | salome_st_john on Flickr.

Secret Ingredient Announced! / Planning — 2:35 P.M.

The chefs are surprised by the secret ingredient: ginger! Armed with a pad of paper and a pen, each chef has begun his planning process. Chef Chen argues that the ingredient is biased towards Asian food. The blogger respectfully disagrees.

As one judge has unexpectedly dropped out, it looks like Foodie Friday Presents: Iron Chef may need to alter its judging scheme.

The chefs have also agreed to drop the sous chef, so it’ll be one-on-one cooking. Can they do it alone in two hours? That remains to be seen.


Pre-Competition Blog — 1:00 PM

Two kitchens. Two chefs. Only one can be the Iron Chef.

It’s one hour to competition in Kitchen stadium #205, and we’ve decided to track the progress with a live blog. Tonight, resident Iron Chef John Balibalos has been challenged by Chef Michael Chen, of Six-Month Anniversary fame. The chefs will be cooking in separate kitchens.


  • 2:00 p.m. Secret ingredient revealed, recipe lookup on computer for 10 minutes, 15 minutes to plan.
  • 3:00 p.m. Shopping – limited to 45 minutes, not including line or transportation time.
  • 5:00 p.m. Cooking begin.
  • 7:00 pm. Service


  • 3 courses — appetizers, main, and dessert
  • 1 sous chef is allowed
  • $50 budget per chef (judges + audience pays $10 each)
  • 4 judges — Sandra, Nishant, Katherine, and Don
  • 1 commentator/blogger — Amy
  • 1 vote will be the “jury’s choice”
  • Judges will also help wash dishes :)

Whose cuisine will reign supreme? Stay tuned to find out!