The chef Bobby Flay is ubiquitous on the Food Network.  I usually see him in two shows, Iron Chef America and Throwdown with Bobby Flay.  Both are competitive shows.  Flay usually loses on Throwdown and wins on Iron Chef.

On Throwdown, Bobby Flay makes one dish and competes with an expert .  For example, recently there was a show where he made a deep dish pizza against Chicago native Lou Malnati.  The two dishes are judged by two experts side by side with a partisan local audience watching.  Flay lost.

On Iron Chef America, the format is different.  There is a secret ingredient (though I bet both contestants have a fair idea of  what it will be!).  In this format, Flay and his fellow Iron Chefs are matched against a gourmet chef.  Last week the secret ingredient was butter.  The entrant was Koren Grieveson of avec in Chicago.  Koren picked Cat Cora to compete against.  And the competition was tied.   As I said, this is a rare event in Iron Chef because the incumbent usually wins.  Why?

I think it’s all in the judging.  On Iron Chef, the chefs get to present their dishes to the judges so there is no anonymity.  On Throwdown, they do not identify who cooked which dish.

I wish they would adopt the same format for Iron Chef.  The judges are biased towards the incumbent.  For example, while Cat Cora’s food looked good, she won more points in the category of “originality”.  One of her dishes was bread and butter, another was gnocchi in a butter sage sauce.  These are original only if one adopts an ironic definition of the word “original”.  But then everything is original and the category makes no sense!  Frankly, I went to avec last night and I just find it hard to believe Cat Cora’s food is better.  Maybe I am expressing the bias manifested on Throwdown: the bias of the local audience towards the local contestant.  This can also be fixed by making the judges judge in a different room.  Similarly, on Iron Chef, a  third party, say Alton Brown, could present the dishes.  If the judges have questions, the show can set up speakers in a separate room where the chef is standing nervously.  S/he can answer the questions into an earpiece worn by Alton Brown.  He can relay the answers to the judges.   This can be done in a theatrical way to add more drama and tension.

A basketball game where one team is vastly superior to the other is boring to watch.  By leveling the playing field, Food Network can add more uncertainty to the competition and get more viewers.