In some ways teppanyaki is like sex—you never forget your first time. I was 23 years old at Flamingo Las Vegas and they had this old-school teppanyaki grill. It was pure theater with the chef and his creations sharing the spotlight. For a chef used to having culinary drama safely hidden behind a line in the back of a London kitchen, it was a wild ride.
With all of the excitement, it’s easy to overlook one critical element to teppanyaki—the unbelievable skill and precision of the chefs. First, the knife skills. Even if the chef isn’t slicing slabs of beef in mid-air, teppanyaki cooking is fast, furious, and on the fly. In addition, it requires a ton of kitchen choreography to gracefully juggle cooking times, other chefs and one seriously hot grill, while simultaneously chatting up diners and squirting fake hot sauce into the crowd. But perhaps most importantly, teppanyaki requires almost a sixth-sense for cooking times. We’re talking about an unusually hot surface that demands that you cook fast. And with so many ingredients at their fingertips, the grill master must know exactly how long each can sit on the grill.
I thought it was great that our chefs were on a level playing field in the Elimination Challenge. Unlike the raw fish Quickfire, which Takashi handled so effortlessly, none of our chefs were practiced on a teppanyaki grill. So it was a steep learning curve. While Chris had a nice sense of timing and temperature, and his take on Rhode Island clam chowder was creative, he fell short on the entertainment factor. Riding Art as he was cooking all the kitchen talk really doesn’t work in an open space. We’re all chefs, so we got it, but the beauty of a teppanyaki grill master is his sense of control no matter how chaotic it gets. As for Art, he handled it all with grace. He continued to have some presentation issues, but honestly it didn’t matter. His Asian-style southern soul food was delicious and I loved seeing him back in his game.