Kitchen Stadium got a presidential break on Sunday.
The flavorful battleground of the two-hour Iron Chef America season premier was set in Michelle Obama’s vegetable garden over the weekend. The players: Crocs-sporting Mario Batali, BAM-master himself, Emeril Lagasse, all-American king of the grill and owner of Mesa Grill in New York, Bobby Flay, plus newcomer and White House Chef, Criseta Comerford.
Flay and Comerford faced off against Batali and Lagasse with each team cooking up dishes showcasing the secret ingredient: anything found in the White House garden including fennels, collard greens, kale, rhubarbs, broccoli, watermelon and icicle radish, purple cauliflower, and Japanese eggplant, among others.
On the show, participants are given an hour to create five dishes that are judged for taste (10 points), originality (five points), and presentation (five points). The judges of this episode included cookbook author and sexy chef Nigella Lawson, Olympian Natalie Coughlin, and Dr. Quinn herself, Jane Seymour.
The premier was just another effort on the part of Mrs. O to push healthy eating and backyard gardens. One of the First Lady’s first acts after moving into the White House was establishing a fruit and vegetable garden in a corner of the South Lawn. Her Healthy Kids Initiative aims to reduce childhood obesity through improved school lunches, farmers market, community gardens, and exercise. Obama, the first presidential wife to appear in a reality show, sported a fresh orange dress and baby blue cardigan and revealed the secret ingredients in the “Chairman’s” place.
In a statement by the Food Network, Senior Vice President, Bruce Deidel said “Mrs. Obama’s message to cook and eat fresh food encouraged us to create this historic battle.”
So who exactly is the lucky lady behind the Obama family’s healthy eating? Cristeta Comerford, who joined the White House kitchen as assistant chef during the Clinton administration, promoted as Executive Chef by former First Lady Laura Bush in 2005, and reappointed by Mrs. Obama in 2009 because of her dish’s emphasis on healthy cuisine, got a chance to prove her culinary mettle against some of the world’s most skilled chefs.
The Lagasse and Batali dishes comprised of a scallop with radish and fennel salad; an oyster and salad trio featuring several White House greens; sweet potato and ricotta ravioli; a succulent lardo-wrapped quail and turkey wrapped rice and spinach duet; and dessert of sweet corn beignet with an orange liquor-spiked chicory coffee. Comerford and Flay cooked dishes featuring a fennel and apple salad with oyster; garden salad with lobster and crispy squid; a delightful broccoli clam chowder; a 7-vegetable All-American barbecue dish that incorporated grilled pork, collard greens tamale, cauliflower cheese, and pickled watermelon radish. Going in for the kill, Comerford and Flay served up a meringue sweet potato tart, too.
After a frenetic hour of slicing and dicing, the Comerford-Flay team emerged victorious making Comerford the first White House chef to ever compete (and win) the Iron Chef competition.