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Japan's food fight hits America

A man dressed in a crisp white chef's jacket strides purposefully through a cloud of smoke into Kitchen Stadium, the arena in which "Iron Chef" is filmed. He is there to challenge one of three culinary gladiators to determine, in the TV show's immortal words, "whose cuisine reigns supreme."

But wait, as the smoke clears, the challenger looks oddly . . . all-American. In fact, it is Rick Bayless, owner of Chicago's Frontera Grill and Topolobampo and an acknowledged master of Mexican cuisine.

The Iron Chef summoned to do battle with Bayless is none other than Bobby Flay, the red-haired heartthrob who is now as famous for his cooking shows as for his New York restaurant, the Southwestern-inflected Mesa Grill.

In the two kitchens where the battle will be waged, the cooking equipment -- from the All-Clad bowls to the Pyrex measuring cups -- looks decidedly un-Japanese. Which is fitting, since this is "Iron Chef America: The Series."

Tomorrow at 9 p.m., Food Network will broadcast Flay vs. Bayless as the first battle in the series, a home-grown version of the Japanese show that, since it first aired in 1999, has become one of the network's most popular offerings. (It is currently shown every night but Sunday.)

Each hourlong episode of the Japanese "Iron Chef," produced by Fuji TV, chronicles a face-off between two chefs. Each creates as many as seven dishes based on the day's theme ingredient, unveiled at the beginning of the show.

Underlying the competition is a nutty mythology: Chairman Kaga, a vaguely feudal figure, lives in a castle with four Iron Chefs and busies himself by staging food battles between them and the outside world's leading chefs.

The cooking portion of the show is covered as if it were a sporting event, with a play-by-play announcer, a color commentator, and a sideline reporter narrating. Finally, the dishes are judged by a panel consisting of a food expert and several celebrities.

Bruce Seidel, Food Network's vice president of programming and planning, remembered the day he first saw "Iron Chef."

"It was unlike anything I'd ever seen before," he said. "Zany and wacky, but also compelling."

Seidel was well aware of the challenges he faced in translating a show whose appeal lay mainly in its foreignness.

First on his list of culinary priorities was getting the right Iron Chefs. Flay, the one American chef who has appeared as a challenger on the Japanese show, was, according to Seidel, "a natural." As was Masaharu Morimoto, formerly chef at New York's Nobu and now proprietor of his own restaurant, Morimoto, in Philadelphia. In 1998-99, Morimoto, a native of Hiroshima, held the title of Iron Chef Japanese.

The third American Iron Chef is Mario Batali, whose restaurants -- among them Babbo, Lupa and Esca -- set the bar for fine Italian dining in New York Batali is also a veteran of several Food Network cooking shows.

Finally, late in the first season, Kitchen Stadium will host the induction of the first female Iron Chef, Cat Cora, former chef at Postino in Lafayette, Calif. Whose cuisine reigns supreme? Tune in tomorrow night.

Fox to show Muslim PSAs

In response to the portrayal of Muslims on Fox's "24," the network is offering stations two public service announcements that show Muslims in a positive light.

The announcements were produced by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, with whom Fox representatives met Wednesday. The 30- and 60-second spots showcase diverse individuals, who share personal descriptions and identify themselves as American Muslims.


MTV's gay/lesbian channel delayed

MTV Networks has pushed back the launch date of Logo, its nascent gay and lesbian-themed cable/satellite channel, from February to June to secure additional commitments from carriers and to develop programming.

Brian Graden, president of Logo and president of entertainment for MTV Music Group, confirmed that the channel has acquired first rerun rights to the HBO miniseries "Angels in America." Among unscripted projects is "Cruise," a series that follows several couples on a gay cruise ship bound for the Caribbean.


Radio highlights
10 a.m. WBIX-AM (1060) --
"Stu Taylor on Business. Guests: Hugh Hewitt, author, "Blog -- Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing the World;" Sarah Susanka, author, "Home by Design;" Jan Scites, Scites Associates.

Noon WBNW-AM (1120) -- "The Brass Ring With Gina Ghioldi." Guests: Rocco Lo Bosco, author, "Buddha Wept;" Dr. Alan Engler, author of "Body Sculpture;" Elysabeth Williamson, author of "Pleasures and Principles of Partner Yoga."

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