The Return of Iron Chef Japan, Part 2

(Continuation of Part 1)

On Friday October 26, 2012 after 13 years, Ryouri no Tetsujin returned to the airwaves on Fuji TV.


Except - it's no longer called Ryouri no Tetsujin (料理の鉄人): It's called アイアン・シェフ - Iron Chef, spelled out in katakana (the phonetic character set usually reserved for imported words). I don't know why they've chosen the Anglicized name for the revival, but it could be a reflection of the worldwide acclaim the original Ryouri no Tetsujin has achieved.

Fans of Takeshi Kaga may be disappointed that he isn't reprising his role as the Chairman. The new Chairman is Hiroshi Tamaki, an actor who is best known for his role in the live action version of the classical music theme manga and anime Nodame Cantabile. As the Chairman he is more understated than Chairman Kaga, and frankly lacks his predecessor's theatrical flair. He's not bad at the dramatic pause before announcing the winner though.


If you remember the backstory given to the Chairman in the original run of the show, he was supposed to be a mysterious rich gourmet and head of the Gourmet Academy, who summoned famed chefs to compete in his own secret Kitchen Stadium. The new backstory is a bit different, and probably closer to the reality: a committee of well known gourmets and chefs called the Iron Chef Committee (アイアンシェフ審議委員会), headed up by the new Chairman, was set up to choose the Iron Chefs, the challenge themes, as well as the chefs who come every week to challenge them. But these chefs are no longer called challengers...but more on that later. In any case of course both Kaga and Tamaki are actors, not well known food authorities themselves, so relegating the Chairman role to that of the master of ceremonies is not a big change.

Incidentally, the new Chairman has a new catchphrase, with which he declares the start of each new battle. It's Good Gastronomy! Doesn't make much sense I know, but neither did Allez Cuisine!

The new, revamped Kitchen Stadium is even more sparkly and over the top, bordering on kitschy. It looks rather like a high end Chinese restaurant. Incidentally, the term Kitchen Stadium has entered the Japanese vernacular due to the influence of the original Iron Chef. It basically means any kind of open kitchen restaurant where multiple chefs can be seen in action.


The setup of the new Iron Chef will be very familiar to old Iron Chef fans. The commentary gallery is anchored by longtime Fuji TV announcer Mizuki Sano and Yukio Hattori, the avancular food expert who was the main commentator on the original show. They are joined by experts in whatever cuisine is being made that day, mostly from the Tsuji Cooking School, which probably the best regarded cookery school in Japan, plus the guest celebrities who get to taste the dishes - most of whom, as in the original show, don't seem to have a clue about food. Here is Hattori-san with the new Iron Chef French Yosuke Suga. For some reason, Hattori-san looks very orange on the show.


As on the original series there's a roving floor reporter accompanied by the camera crew, who tells the commentary box what's going on. They started out with 3 announcers, two males and a female, but for the last few shows the female announcer Yurika Mita has been the sole reporter. She's pretty good by the way, and prevents the show from becoming entirely male-dominated.

The Iron Chefs and the Nominees

And last but not least, here are the new Iron Chefs, pictured here with Chairman Tamaki.


From left to right:

Iron Chef Japanese is Jun Kuroki (34), chef and owner of Kurogi in Yushima, Tokyo, a restaurant that is booked up for six months in advance. He trained under famed chef Kenichiro Nishi of the Kyoto cuisine restaurant Kyo-Aji in Shinbashi, Tokyo. (Nishi, who's dramatically labeled as "A God of Japanese Cuisine!" on the show, famously refused a 3-Michelin star rating.)

Iron Chef Chinese is Yuji Wakiya (55), chef and owner of Turandot Garyuukyo in Akasaka and chef consultant at several other places. He was twice a challenger on the original Iron Chef and on one of those occasions beat Iron Chef Chinese Kenichi Chin (Chen). His speciality is Shanghai style cuisine and 'Nouvelle Chinoise' (Chinese with French influence) cuisine.

Iron Chef French is Yosuke Suga (35), executive chef in famed French chef Joël Robuchon's empire. (Robuchon is declared as "The Emperor Of French Cuisine!" every time he's mentioned on the show. I think they mean Emperor as in the Napoleonic sense, not the ) He has opened several of Robuchon's restaurants around the world. There's a profile and interview of him in English here from a few years ago, when he was opening the Robuchon branch in New York.

The fact that 2 of the 3 Iron Chefs are in their mid 30s is quite notable. In the original show all the Iron Chefs were in their 40s or 50s, with the exception of later additions Iron Chef Italian Masahiko Kobe and Iron Chef Japanese Masaharu Morimoto. This may be a reflection on a change in the culinary world in Japan, where young, talented chefs are given a chance earlier than they used to.

There's a spot left empty on the stage. This is supposed to be filled by an as yet unnamed fourth Iron Chef. Each chef that comes to challenge the Iron Chefs is called a nominee (ノミニー) to fill that empty spot, rather than a mere challenger (挑戦者, chousensha) as they were in the original series.

It's interesting to see what type of cuisine the fourth Iron Chef will represent. The selection of a traditional Japanese, nouvelle Chinese, and classic French chef for the first 3 spots reflects the 3 cuisines the top end of Japanese fine dining. But it's up to debate as to which cuisine is up there with them. Midway through the original series they brought in an Italian Iron Chef in addition to the Japanese, Chinese and French chefs they had, so adding another Italian chef may make sense. But many other cuisines are just as popular these days in Japan.

The Theme Ingredients and the Battles

The format of the show is otherwise quite faithful to the original. There's a not-so-secret main ingredient/theme, one hour to cook, and an assortment of judges, some who seem to know what they are talking about and others (pretty actors and actresses) who are mainly there to be decorative and exclaim "oishii!"

There's a lot of time and respect paid to the backgrounds of the Iron Chefs and the nominee-challenger chefs alike, as well as the ingredients and the actual cooking itself. There's a lot of overhyped drama stuff tacked on too of course. But despite all the glittery surroundings, you never get the feeling that anything other than the food and the chefs are the stars.

I really appreciate the attention and respect they pay to the ingredients. For instance, the theme ingredient in the most recent episode was a special kind of jidori (region specific, free-range chicken) called Awadori that is grown in Tokushima prefecture. Not only did they explain what made the chicken special, they also invited two of the chicken farmers from Tokushima who specialize in this chicken. The Fuji TV website also encourages viewers to suggest the finest local ingredients from their regions

Plenty of respect is paid to the original Iron Chefs too, especially the ones who served the longest: Japanese Iron Chef Rokusaburo Michiba, Chinese Iron Chef Kenichi Chen, and French Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai. Chef Michiba has been both a nominator of one of the challenger-nominees as well as a guest commentator, and Chef Chen has nominated one challenger (his son, the 3rd generation of chefs in the Chen family) and acted as a defacto mentor to one of the Iron Chefs. Chef Sakai has also nominated one of the challengers. I'm pretty sure we'll see some of the other former Iron Chefs too eventually.

And most of all, the chefs are never anything but respectful - to their opponents, their ingredients, and the judges/tasters -- even when some of the latter are note quite polite in their comments. (There's already one regular taster-judge, a woman who's a 'food stylist', who is highly annoying.) There's no trash talking, no yelling. The editing does not try to make the actual cooking any more dramatic than it is. Even when a piece of equipment breaks down, there are no histrionics; they just get on with it. The only signs of emotion that you can see are the sweat on a chef's brow, or the tears they shed if they win or lose - and a few tears have already been shed so far. There's a calm professionalism that is just a joy to see.

So: if you have a chance to catch the new Iron Chef somewhere, I highly recommend it, especially if you were a fan of the original. The skills on display are pretty amazing, and the food is often mindboggling to see. I do hope that this new version will be just as successful as the original, and that some English language network will decide to buy the broadcast rights some day soon.

Here's the official website for the new Iron Chef, in Japanese only.

A dilemma

So now I have a bit of a dilemma. If I were to continue writing about the new Iron Chef, I'll have to include a lot of spoilers. I'll leave it up to you as to whether you want to see more about the show on this site or not. Let me know in the comments how you feel. (Either way not to worry: this site will not turn into an all-Iron Chef blog!)

(Footnote: the original version this appeared as an answer to a question on Quora, but has been much expanded.)

Filed under:  books and media tv japan cool stuff from japan iron chef

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Please write about the New Iron Chef! I am so glad to learn that Iron Chef is making a comeback in Japan and I got the information from this site. Hope you can post more about it.


Hello Maki! First off, so glad to see you posting! I was missing your awesome blog posts quite a bit - you and your sites taught me so much of what are now some of my cooking main staples!

I used to enjoy the original Iron Chef Japan A LOT! And whenever I see it picked up somewhere, I usually watch it. I wonder if any of the simulcast or near-simulcast services like Crunchyroll will pick this one up. I sure hope so since I don't really want to wait until a station on this side of the pond does!

I'd want to hear more. I loved the original!

Like the other commenters, I loved the original Iron Chef too! Reading your post made me all nostalgic. I would love if you blogged the new episodes! Your enthusiasm really makes it fun to read. :)

Hi Maki! I'm so pleased to see you online again :) Like the other commenters so far, I'm a huge fan of the original series. (In fact, most of my Japanese language skills are lower-intermediate at best, but thanks to Chairman Kaga's subtitled monologues, my cooking vocab is much better *^^*) I'd love it if you blogged more about the new episodes - perhaps you could hide spoilers after a jump or something.

I'd love to hear more about the new Iron Chef as well! Your post has made me nostalgic as well, I loved the original (well, English dubbed) version when I was little and hope to see this new version sometime soon. To me, spoilers aren't a huge deal for a show like this - the excitement is in watching the masters cook! Can't wait to hear more of your take on the show ^_^

Also thanks for the background on the original Chairman...I never quite figured out what the deal was with him ^_^''

pleae write about the new iron chef, not just because I don't speak Japanese and wouldn't be able to find out about it any other way, but also because we've all missed reading your writing as you've been busy getting well. it's great to have you back.

I would love to hear more about the new Iron Chef! We can not get any channel where it is shown where I live, and I can not speak Japanese in the first place, so until I move to a place where I can choose a different cable programming setup, and find a channel that runs it with subtitles, you're my only hope!

I'm right along those who've missed your writing. Good to have you back Itoh-sama. Good to have a Japanese Iron Chef back, too. I'll keep my fingers crossed that it makes its way to American TV. Ki o tsukete kudasai.

Tom Morse
Peaks Island, Maine, USA

oh maki i'm soooo happy to see you posting again! i hope you are feeling great and yea to see you writing about the new iron chef! i absolutely adored the old show! so please write about it more!

I would love to see blogging on the new iron chef show! Just so long as the winners of each show are not revealed.

This cracks me up ;) This was my favorite show back in high school 10+ years ago. "Good Gastronomy"?!? Haha. And why "アイアン" instead of "アイロン"? I hope to catch some episodes soon!

Write on! I remember the original series well and have conversed and eaten at Ron Seigal's (former) restaurant. He was only American to win, I believe. The show and his win certainly made his star shine brighter.
Good to be reading you again - you write in a comforting way.

Would love to hear more about it! Will see if I can watch it online somewhere and practice my listening skills. As an ex-Tokushima resident I am very interested to find the episode where the local chickens feature! Backwater, sleepy Tokushima doesn't make the news that often.....

Nice writeup. Wow. You have quite a following here. It would be so interesting to bring back the Iron Chefs from the original series to challenge the new Iron Chefs. Mizuki has aged quite a bit. We miss you at Quora. Get some rest.

This is great! I wish I could watch this on the Food Network now. When Iron Chef was airing in America I loved watching it, even if the dubbing was a little cheesy. Sakai was always my favorite chef.

Reading these posts about the original Iron Chef and the new one made me so happy! You highlight exactly what I liked about the originals (it being about the food and the cooking) and disliked about the American versions(which focus more on egos and flashiness). I am SO excited to hear more about the new one in Japan! Thank you for posting :)

I'd be interested to watch the episodes online...without English subtitles. Just seeing Hiroshi Tamaki is worth it!!!

残念ながら。。。。。unfortunately it seems the ratings haven't been good......and the programme will be dropped.

Yeah I read about it too....I'm so sad :(