Nagging questions about ''Iron Chef''--We get to the bottom of the secret ingredient and other mysteries

Even Iron Chef fanatics have nagging questions about this most eccentric of shows:

Is it possible the Japanese take the show completely seriously?
Well, serious-er, anyway. According to Schilling, the Japanese know ”there’s a comic element in it. The whole setup, with [Kaga’s] big, booming voice, his costumes, and long hair — he’s playing a character, and people are aware of that.” But as concerns the show’s culinary action, for the Japanese, ”food culture is not just a way of making a living; it’s a way of life.”

Do chefs know what the ingredient will be beforehand?
Yes and no. The Iron Chef and challenger winnow down a huge list of possible ingredients to about five well before taping. Beyond that, though, they’re as surprised — and occasionally grossed out (live giant eel, anyone?) — as we are.

Do all the Iron Chefs show up for every battle?
You didn’t think the four culinary warriors drag themselves to each taping only so three can go right back home, did you? The moment when the challenger grandly chooses the Iron Chef before Chairman Kaga is sheer shtick; that shot of the four Chefs at the beginning of each episode is inserted in editing.

It often seems as though the challenger has clearly beaten the Iron Chef, yet winds up losing anyway. Is this thing rigged?
Somewhat, yes, but only in the way that prizefighting is — that is, a challenger must not only beat the Iron Chef, he must score a knockout.

What happens in the event of a tie?
Not surprisingly, this doesn’t happen very often. When it does, there is a 30-minute overtime battle, using a new secret ingredient, which airs the following week.

Why is everyone but Kaga dubbed?
Fuji is responsible for the show’s English dubbing, but, says Opatut, Food Network ”decided to keep Kaga in the original Japanese. We realized his intensity and great eccentric flavor was lost with dubbing.”

Iron Chef America: Battle of the Masters
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