Do you remember several years ago when the Food Network was still in its infancy? Celebrity chefs were still kind of a novelty. And a quirky little food competition made the leap from Japan to the States to find that it was absolutely loved by American audiences. Then years later after the original had run its course Food Network tried to revive it with the American version. Well, what if I told you, you could still have that beloved show, only in your own Kitchen Stadium. What I am talking about is an Iron Chef Party. This is a potluck dinner party that combines all the elements of eating interesting food, having people cook "competitively", and just a great excuse for a social gathering.
Let me start with some of the ground rules. The point of the Iron Chef party, much like the show, is centered on a main ingredient. The person hosting the party is considered to be the Chairman and thus they choose the ingredient. In the case of couples it is usually considered that they are both hosting and therefore co-Chairperson, especially if they are married or living together. The ingredient is chosen anywhere from a couple of nights beforehand up to a week but not much more than that. You still want a little bit of an element of surprise.
Once the ingredient is chosen all the participants prepare a dish using said ingredient. The day of the event, everyone, including the chairman, brings their dish to the host's place and shares with everyone else. Now people can bring their dish already prepared or, if the host is willing and able, people can finish prepping at the host's locale. This proves to be useful for hot entrees or side dishes.
Once everyone has shared their dish there is a vote to decided the best dish. The chairman/host is not in the running since he or she was the one to decide the ingredient in the first place. How you vote is entirely up to you. Secret ballot using slips of paper and pens works well. At one such gathering a friend of mine who is technologically inclined set up a Google doc and had us all vote electronically via email. Yeah, that is way over my head too.
After the voting is concluded the winner is announced to the adulation of his peers. What do you get when you win an Iron Chef party? Bragging rights, a point of pride or whatever you would like to give out. My group of friends have made an Iron Chef hat that is passed around when someone wins. That person keeps the hat until the next Iron Chef party and if someone else wins, they get the hat.
So, how do you get started? Easy, you just declare an Iron Chef party. You can do this via email or in person or however you would like. The idea is to try to get together as many people as possible. In the case of an Iron Chef party the more the merrier is a good mantra. No good potluck parties ever had only a few people. Let me give you this one piece of advice. When you are preparing your dishes, keep in mind that you are not giving everyone a full portion. We have learned this the hard way over time. If you have 12 people coming over and everyone is preparing food to feed 12 people... Well that is a lot of food. All anyone really needs is a taste.
And what about those people who can't cook for whatever reason? We have built into our Iron Chef parties what we call wine passes. Can't cook because you will be stuck at work until party time? Bring a bottle of wine! Can't cook because all you know how to make is toast and you burn that? Bring wine! Just keep in mind that this is a potluck and you do not want more wine than food or having just a couple of people feeding everyone else. One time the host decided to challenge everyone to bring a complimentary bottle of wine with each dish. We ended up with 13 bottles of wine and 11 participants!
When you decide to throw an Iron Chef party here are some suggestions for you. Like with any party pick a time that will accommodate the most number of people. It's no fun if no one can make your party. Also keep in mind that there will be large amounts of food and possibly beverage. That is why I like to have mine on Fridays or Saturdays. The best ingredients are usually ones that are very versatile. You want to have a wide range of foods from appetizers , to entrees, to even desserts. Some of the ingredients we have used have been wine, beer, goat cheese, honey, lime, zucchini, just to name a few.