Food Network Canada jumps aboard the wildly popular original Japanese series with its very own Iron Chef Canada. With a team of two sous-chefs each, renowned Canadian chefs Amanda Cohen, Rob Feenie, Hugh Acheson, Lynn Crawford and Susur Lee are paired with emerging talent and become rivals in the Kitchen Stadium – battling to produce five extraordinary dishes in just 60 minutes.
Excitement and anticipation are the hallmark of the show. Always competitive, the series features enthusiastic play-by-play commentary and, to challenge the chef’s abilities, an intriguing secret ingredient and a mid-show culinary curveball.
Throughout the season, a rotating panel of expert guest judges broaden their palates and serve up critiques based on taste, presentation and originality, to determine who takes home bragging rights.
Born in Ottawa and raised in Toronto, award-winning chef Amanda Cohen is the owner of Dirt Candy, New York’s acclaimed vegetarian restaurant. Cohen battles it out with competing chef René Rodriguez, who’s also from Ottawa.
“It’s very nerve wracking,” said Cohen. “It was the first time cooking in the Kitchen Stadium and we were all very confused about where things were and how things worked. But it’s real adrenalin. They tell you to go and you just go.”
In this episode, the host revealed the secret ingredient to be cauliflower, and the culinary curveball to be nutritional yeast. “We were not scared of a vegetable, that part was easy,” Cohen said. “It was kind of hard half way through the episode when they throw you a curveball and you have to figure out how to incorporate. Luckily, the nutritional yeast is pretty widely used in the vegetarian world and I have cooked with (it) for a number of years, so we were able to incorporate it.
“The experience was crazy and hectic – running around, trying to do things as fast as possible, but you don’t really know where you’re going and there are two camera people on you at all times. It feels insane and every couple minutes you hear the countdown. It’s not very relaxing. An hour goes by pretty fast.”
Cohen is competitive. “I like to be the best, definitely,” she said. “We did what we came to do, which was win. We battled pretty hard.”
Cohen left Toronto when she decided to study cultural anthropology at New York University. “I travelled a little after university and discovered I really love it. I thought I’d learn how to cook and that one day it would take me around the world,” said Cohen.
She enrolled in the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York. “I ended up not travelling so much. I worked in the city for a number of years – probably 13 or so – before I opened Dirt Candy. I worked every kind of job I could find at the time … regular kitchen, Mediterranean kitchen, bakeries, I worked in a number of vegetarian restaurants, leading up to open Dirt Candy. And I realized that even though some of them were very good kitchens, they were all sort of focused on a lifestyle kind of cooking and I really wanted to focus on the vegetables. That was the impetus of opening Dirt Candy. Vegetables are candy from the earth,” explained Cohen.
Cohen was the first vegetarian chef to compete on Iron Chef America and Dirt Candy: A Cookbook is the first graphic novel cookbook to be published in North America. “Our goal is to focus on the vegetable. We celebrate it. Each dish highlights one vegetable and we try and show our best that you can do so much more than you could possibly imagine with a vegetable. Hopefully that inspires people to look at it differently. Menu items include broccoli hot dogs, carrot sliders and tomato tarts. The idea is really to get the vegetable in the centre of the plate, to get people to really think about vegetables in a new way,” said Cohen.
Cohen’s recent travels include cooking in a castle in Tuscany and spending a couple of months cooking in Copenhagen. “It’s a sweet surprise; it’s a New York success story,” said Cohen.
Chef Amanda Cohen’s carrot risotto recipe
Cohen shared one of her favourite recipes with The CJN: “Carrot Risotto is a traditional risotto that is on our original menu and every once in a while, it makes a reappearance at the restaurant. It’s also in the cookbook. We don’t use any stock; instead, we use carrot juice. It sounds like it’s going to be sweet because carrots are sweet, but it’s very flavourful and very savoury.”
o 60 ml (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
o 15 ml (1 tbsp) garlic, minced
o 250 ml (1 cup) white onion, diced
o 500 ml (2 cups) arborio rice
o 75 ml (1/3 cup) white wine
o 15 ml (1 tbsp) lemon juice
o 1.5 l (6 cups) water
o 250 ml (1 cup) carrot juice
(you can buy it at any juice store, or make
o 60 ml (1/4 cup) carrots, diced
o 45 ml (3 tbsp) pecorino, grated
(you can leave this out to make it vegan)
o 45 ml (3 tbsp) unsalted butter
(you can leave this out to make it vegan)
o salt to taste
On medium-low heat, get your water simmering.
Start onions and garlic in a large pan over medium heat. Starting a pan is the first step in almost every recipe at Dirt Candy. You’re going to put extra virgin olive oil in a pan over low heat. Drop in two pieces of onion and when it starts to sizzle, the oil is ready for the rest. Add the rest of your onions and stir until they’re translucent. Then add your aromatics – garlic, ginger, galangal, whatever the recipe calls for (in this case, garlic) – and keep stirring for 3-4 minutes. Starting a pan is how you flavour the oil you’ll cook with, and the oil is the fat that’s going to get carried through a dish while it cooks. If it’s not flavoured, your dish will taste of hot grease and failure.
Add the arborio rice to the pan and toss until the rice is translucent. About 7 minutes.
Add wine and stir until it has evaporated.
Add lemon juice and stir until it, too, has evaporated.
Start slowly adding the simmering water one cup at a time – rice and water need to be the same temperature before you add them. Basically, you add a cup, stir until it’s incorporated, then add the next cup. You don’t want to rush it. You want to let the carrot flavour slowly develop. This is the trick to cooking risotto: slooooowww.
When you have two cups of water left, pour the carrot juice into the water and stir until it’s incorporated, then add the next cup of water/carrot juice to the rice and incorporate.
When you have one cup of water left, add the diced carrots to the rice, stir it in, then add the final cup of water.
When the rice looks juicy, but there’s no liquid sloshing around, add butter, 30 ml (2 tbsp) pecorino and salt. Stir it in. If this is a vegan recipe, no need to add the butter and pecorino.
Adjust salt levels and take off heat.
When you’re ready to serve, divide your risotto onto four plates and sprinkle with the remaining pecorino.
Iron Chef Canada airs Wednesday evenings at 10 p.m. Visit foodnetwork.ca to watch episodes online.