Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend debuted on Netflix last night (June 15), and Mason Hereford, the well-known chef behind Turkey and the Wolf and Molly’s Rise and Shine in New Orleans, helped kick off the season with a particularly fun first episode.
Hereford competes against celebrity chef Curtis Stone in a street food-themed battle, the first matchup in the new season that will award one competitor the Iron Legend. All in all, whatever kooky antics one might expect from Hereford based on his self-described “playful, occasionally funny” cooking style, he exceeds expectations, starting with his attempt at a dap/man hug with the ever-serious Mark Dacascos. In the intro, Hereford shakes out his mullet while his voiceover talks about his time at Coquette, his nostalgic food, and opening Turkey and the Wolf and then Molly’s. The restaurants’ sous chefs, Colleen Quarls and Liz Hollinger, accompany Hereford in the Kitchen Stadium.
They learn lamb is the secret ingredient and that they must utilize fire in all five courses, and the trio commences their cooking by cracking beers, naturally, and cheersing, “We’re on freaking Iron Chef.” Duke’s mayo makes an early appearance (Hereford is a Duke’s mayo spokesperson), with Hereford saying, “The first thing you do with a jar of mayonnaise when you open it is throw away the lid, because you know you’re going to eat it all. Like ice cream.” Squirt, the soft drink, is poured into tiny squirt guns, “a palate cleanser.”
Course one has to be served in the first 30 minutes of the hour-long competition, with the remaining four to be served at the end of 60 minutes. Hosts Alton Brown and Kristen Kish, while discussing the difference in cooking styles of the two teams, note an urgent, Michelin vibe on Stone’s side compared to Hereford’s notably “more chill” energy (Brown then points out, “That’s because they’ve been drinking,” though some New Orleanians might object to that characterization when only one beer had been cracked).
For their first dish, the New Orleans squad serves a lightly-fired lamb tartare served on a Pringle, with the Squirt gun chaser on the side (which judge Nilou Motamed says is like a zamboni for the tongue, in a good way). There wasn’t enough fire flavor for Motamed, and Francis Lam wishes the meat was a bit warmer, but the spices and balance of acid and fat were on point, and Andrew Zimmern says, “I’m happy. Food should make you happy.”
For his first course, Stone serves kibbeh with lavash, and judges are impressed, but the two teams end up with a tie at 19 points each. After 30 more minutes of cooking, Hereford’s team serves, in order of course:
- Grilled lamb larb lettuce wrap served in a children’s lunchbox
- Lamb tenderloin walking taco/Frito pie served on a hand sculpture
- Grilled lamb heart roti paratha open-faced sandwich served in a toy dinosaur
- Chicken fried lamb steak sandwich (this course requires use of tableside flame, so Hereford brulees a piece of the sandwich bread, covered in spicy mustard and sugar, to create a sort of honey mustard). It’s served on a train track with a side of lemon on a tiny train, “because I think it’s adorable.”
Hereford’s parting words to the judges are, “This place rules,” and Motamed calls the team’s showing “a compelling journey.” Ultimately, says Hereford, “We got it up before they said ‘one.’ Or whatever they said. We got there.” Somehow, Stone won the battle 85 to 78, despite his courses not really feeling like street food, like an arepa (classic street food) served in a smoke chamber (not classic street food), and all of Hereford’s dishes nailing the theme.
In what must be purely coincidental timing, Hereford’s cookbook, Turkey and the Wolf: Flavor Trippin’ in New Orleans goes on sale next Wednesday, June 22, after a shipping container carrying the initial round of copies collapsed in the Atlantic Ocean, delaying the original release date earlier this year.