Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle TV Eye

By Belinda Acosta

JUNE 28, 1999:  This is the year I turned into my mom. There were clues along the way, but I chose to ignore them. The first clue was my newfound comfort wearing chanclas around the house. Chanclas, for those of you who did not grow up with a Mexican mom, are rubber thongs or plastic flip-flops (no rubber post between the toes) found at the grocery or drug store. They're cheap, incredibly durable, and last as long as you can stand the way they look. The constant kneading of heel-toe-heel-toe, thwack-thwacking around the house makes any effort to restore a worn pair of chanclas futile. Since I bought black thongs and wear a toe-ring, I denied any resemblance to my mom. Her chanclas are white. The "hippie" ring (as she calls it) is not her style, all the more reason to wear it. No, I'm not my mom. No way, I told myself, thwack-thwacking myself toward denial.

The second clue was my sudden desire to have my purse match my outfit. My mom has purses, bags, totes, and carryalls for every occasion. But since I settled for one dark and one light-colored purse to switch according to the predominate color I'm wearing, I continued to deny the truth.

The last clue was the harshest. It crept into my consciousness during a long-distance phone call with my mom when we got on the subject of cooking shows. It's one thing when you grow up with a parent and learn certain things inadvertently. I can name the cast members of The Lawrence Welk Show, thanks to her TV viewing habits. But to realize we share opinions about Jacques Pepin and Julia Child, and that these opinions were shaped independently, was a hair-raising discovery. The final confrontation with reality came when my mother asked, "Have you heard of the Iron Chef?"

In the past, when she has asked me a question like that, I was smug in knowing it was old news, or certain that the subject was of no interest to me. But this was not the case this time. We shared the same curiosity about the Iron Chef, whom I'd heard of through friends on the West Coast, and as I was spilling what I knew about this food show phenom, I realized I had turned into my mom. How long had the truth been thwack-thwacking around me?

The Iron Chef (7/9, 9pm, Food Network)isn't a who, but a what, and it's one of several new shows set to premiere on the Food Network in July. A cult favorite in Japan since 1993, this one-of-a-kind cooking show has had limited exposure in the West Coast, New York, and Hawaii. Now that Food Network has added it to its programming, a larger U.S. audience can now experience the supreme battle of the chefs.

Similar to Food Network's Ready, Set, Cook!, Iron Chef pits two world-class chefs against each other to create a four-star meal with choice ingredients and one surprise item that could be anything from ostrich eggs to potatoes. The cooks have an hour to prepare and present the meal to a panel of judges who decide the winner. The premise is straightforward, but this is where Iron Chef departs from the rest.

Hosting the show is Kaga Takeshi, who is described as a cross between Liberace, Walter Mercado (the astrologer on Univision), and a Las Vegas showman. He ceremoniously selects one of the show's in-house iron chefs to "do battle" with a guest chef. Frenetic camerawork, commentators, and even instant replay give Iron Chef the atmosphere of a sporting event, making it one of the most talked-about cooking programs on the air, next to the deliciously droll Two Fat Ladies.

Stephanie Masumura of San Francisco has been an Iron Chef fan since 1996 and Webmaster of the unofficial Iron Chef Web site since 1997 (http://www.ironchef.com). She writes, "The commentators ... speculate on what will be made. The 'color' guy gives some culinary background ... The show likes to have instant replays of cool things. Last week, Morimoto [an in-house iron chef] heated pebbles in the oven and poured whiskey over them. Of course, the whiskey lit up and Morimoto had a pan of flaming pebbles. A great replay moment."

Food fans are drawn to the exquisite ingredients and breathtaking presentation of the final meal. Most everyone else will likely be captured by the quirky blend of seriousness (the chefs mean business), the campiness of the host, and the Monday Night Football atmosphere of the show. Subtitles and overdubbing should make Iron Chef accessible to Central Texas audiences, though word has it that in the rare occasion that translations are not available, the show is even more fun to watch.

I'll be tuning in. Unfortunately, my mom can't see it in Nebraska, so I'll dutifully send her video copies through the mail. Isn't that what hip, chancla-wearing, purse-switching daughters in the big city are for?

The Food Network kicks off a week of premieres Monday, July 5, with a 90-minute special, Emeril's Big Bam Blast, featuring Emeril Lagasse, the network's popular host of Emeril Live and The Essence of Emeril. Since signing a multiyear deal with the Food Network, Emeril Live will now be carried seven days a week at 7pm.

Other favorites returning for the new season include East Meets West, hosted by the boyishly charming Ming Tsi, Two Fat Ladies, Pick of the Day hosted by Curtis Aikens, Bill Boggs Corner Table, and Hot Off the Grill With Bobby Flay. Flay, along with his lovely assistant Jacqui Malouf, will move into a spiffy new indoor set.

Other new cooking shows include:

Cooking Live, Primetime (7/5, 9pm). A second helping of the first and only call-in cooking show hosted by the gracious and amiable Sara Moulton. Lifestyle, entertainment, and on-location features expand the show.

Extreme Cuisine (7/6, 8pm). "Wild recipes, culinary inventions, eccentric chefs, and unknown food factoids" are the focus of this series, which scours the nation in search of the unusual, the compelling, and the weird.

Good Eats (7/7, 8pm). With "visions of comedy sketches, film noir, and grilled beef filling his head," filmmaker-turned-chef Alton Brown redefines the cooking show format with his unusual blend of humor and pop culture.

Best Of (7/8, 8pm). A news magazine show featuring a different subject each week.

Calling All Cooks (7/9, 8pm). Real people, real kitchens, real good cooking.

Taste Test (7/10, 5:30pm). A new game show hosted by David Rosengarten. Three contestants try to beat the clock while answering trivia questions and naming ingredients of prepared dishes.

Food 911 (Sneak peek, 7/10, 11:30pm; Regular show time, Sun., 5:30pm). A SWAT team of chefs tackle food dilemmas and disasters submitted by viewers via e-mail or phone.

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