How A Japanese Cooking Show Paradoxically Inspired Sustainable Cooking

The world of fine dining has historically been built around considerable and often wasteful excess, and only in recent years has there been a switch towards ecologically sound food, wholesale aprons and a focus on local, slow cuisine.

Oddly enough, one of the pioneers of farm-to-fork and vegetarian fine dining clashed with the world of almost cartoonish excess, with the battleground being the rather infamous Kitchen Stadium.

Ryori no Tetsujin, better known as Iron Chef, is an outlandish fine dining cooking contest where high-ranking chefs from around the world have 60 minutes to cook dishes against the eponymous Iron Chefs, described in the show as masters of particular disciplines, based around a themed ingredient.

In many cases, this ingredient was either outlandish, such as river eel or highly expensive such as Mishima beef, and the chefs need to produce a series of dishes centred around that ingredient for the judges to taste and decide a winner.

It was often ludicrously wasteful, to the point that in one episode a challenger used over $1000 of lobster to flavour asparagus before throwing it away.

In the very last episode of the original series, originally broadcast on 24th September 1999, the chef leading the challenge against Iron Chef French Hiroyuki Sakai was Alain Passard, already with three Michelin Stars, with the central theme being Longgang chicken.

Ultimately, he would lose the contest against Mr Sakai, a fate similar to his seafood specialist at L’Arpége Tetsuya Shimada, but this seemed to be a turning point for Mr Passard’s culinary interests.

In 2001 he would make what was seen at the time as a surprising move for a French fine dining restaurant by effectively banning meat from his restaurant, focusing instead on seasonal, locally sourced vegetables taken from his kitchen gardens.


Ultimately, he would reintroduce meat and fish in smaller portions and not as a centrepiece, but by the time he did other farm-to-fork chefs had been highly influenced by his decision.

January 23, 2023 — Jacob Blakey