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Iron Chef America Tournament of Champions: Zakarian vs. Symon

I was beyond excited about this week’s episode of Iron Chef America: Tournament of Champions because we got to watch two of my very favorite Iron Chefs: Zakarian and Symon. The icing on the cake was that lovely Ree Drummond is one of the judges.

That’s right, the person responsible for all our Pioneer Woman recipes herself finished off this trifecta of Iron Chef awesomeness. Let’s get it started, y’all!

Iron Chefs: Geoffrey Zakarian and Michael Symon

Judges: Ree Drummond, Aaron Sanchez and Tricia Yearwood

Secret Ingredient: Wings! The chefs will use both chicken and turkey wings in this battle. I’m seriously hoping we see a good old fashioned BBQ Chicken Wing Recipe in this battle. Please, oh please!

Zakarian vs. Symon pic

First Dish
Iron chef Michael Symon kicks things off with Ricotta Gnocchi with Chicken Wing Confit. He is very confident, and it seems like he has good reason to be. The judges are blown away with his finesse and his excellence in the simplicity. Zakarian scrambles a little with time and serves up his first course with just 15 seconds on the clock. His first dish is a Chicken Wing Lollipop with Chicken Wing Puree and a Tequila Chicken Bird which is a cocktail. The lollipop is tempura fried, and looks amazing – flaky and crispy. Ree likes the lightened up chicken wing while Tricia is digging Zakarian’s take on a classy tequila cocktail. The results are in, and both judges have a score of 12 after the first dish.

Culinary Curveball: Peanuts!

Cooking Highlights
On Iron chef Michael Symon’s side, sous chef Katie is not on her game. First, she over-churns ice cream which screams rookie mistake. Come on, Katie. Then, she has a disaster at the waffle iron while trying to fry up some sweet potato waffles. Both of these issues could mean big problems for team Symon.

Zakarian is mixing up some enormous chunks of blue cheese with hot sauce which can only mean goodness is to follow. He also is working on a funnel cake inspired dessert, that pretty much has me drooling all over my computer. Crazy good.

Zakarian describes his approach to the battle as trying to represent the essence of Buffalo, New York – which is where he is from. His first dish is a Turkey Wing-Smoked Hot Pot with Plums, Radish and King Crab. The judges rave, but Aaron says that it possibly lacks a bit of texture.

His next dish is a Chicken Wing Mousse-Stuffed Chicken Wing Fregola in which he used the culinary curveball: peanuts. The judges note that it does seem to encompass Buffalo, but Ree mentions that she doesn’t notice the peanuts, and if she hadn’t been told, she might not have known they were in there. Not sure that’s an issue because it’s not the secret ingredient, but we’ll see how the scores reflect that.

His next dish looks mouth wateringly good. It’s a Buffalo Chicken Wing Risotto with Chicken Wing Salad. I love a good risotto recipe, and Ree pretty much asks Zakarian for the recipe for this risotto. Maybe if Zakarian shares, she’ll share with us? His final course is a festive Carnival-Fried Chicken Wing Funnel Cake and Cranberry Wild Turkey Slurpee. I’m a bit nervous about the words ‘turkey’ and ‘slurpee’ together, but the judges didn’t seem to be put off by it. Either way, his entire meal looked incredible (we’re dealing with two Iron Chef’s here, afterall) and the judges seem pleased.

Michael Symon’s approach to today’s challenge was to showcase how you can use the meat of the wings without making a traditional ‘chicken wing’. His first dish is Turkey Wing Ballotine with Sicilian Pistachio and Truffle. The judges all love the richness of the dish and the complexity of flavors in his broth. Symon’s next dish is Turkey Meatballs Baked in Greek Yogurt served in these cute little crocks. This dish seems to be a wonderful marriage of both elite cooking techniques and comfort food.

Tricia even comments that she would serve this to her children and they would love it. Next up are Chicken Wing Drumettes with Salad and Hot Sauce. Yes! We have a chicken wing, people! Iron Chef Symon used the peanuts in the hot sauce, giving the dish an almost Tai feeling.

His dessert recipe is a sweet version of chicken and waffles that he calls Sweet Potato and Chicken Skin Waffle with Creme Fraiche Ice Cream and Candied Turkey Skin. It looks like Katie pulled out the waffles and ice cream for this dish. Aaron is not really feeling the chicken and turkey in the dessert, but Ree and Tricia feel differently. They are loving the sweet ending to Symon’s meal.

The Winner of this second round battle of Iron Chef America: Tournament of Champions is Iron Chef Michael Symon! While the scores were pretty close down the judges’ cards, it was the use of the culinary curveball where Michael Symon really pulled ahead. His embracing of the curveball and allowing it to steer the flavor of his dish, won over the judges more than Zakarian’s technique of just throwing it in at the end. The Iron Chef’s hug it out and there doesn’t seem to be (much) animosity between the two.

Join us next week where we watch Iron Chefs Morimoto and Garces battle it out in the last second round battle.

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