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Sun 25 Jul 2010 04:00 AM

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Is food the new football?

One could argue that in the modern world, cooking has become more like a professional physical sport than the craft or skill it was viewed as in years gone by.

Is food the new football?

One could argue that in the modern world, cooking has become more like a professional physical sport than the craft or skill it was viewed as in years gone by.

OK, so cooking may not be one of the staples of school PE lessons; and I have yet to see a group of men congregating in a field on Saturday afternoon for a quick five-a-side cook-off.

But on the other hand, it is undoubtedly strenuous work, demanding a great deal of thought and bucketfuls of energy (and perspiration!) ‘Players' require specialist outfits and equipment, and there are certain rules that must be followed to succeed - food safety and hygiene, to name just two.

What's more, it is a highly competitive field. Chefs are a proud lot: they aim for the top and strive for perfection, and nowadays there are a multitude of high-profile competitions in which they can prove their mettle.

Such events seem to draw increasingly large crowds of eager onlookers - and as a result, this ‘spectator sport' has made it big in the world of television as well.

As foodie shows have grown in both number and popularity, from the easily digested Come Dine With Me to the grittier, more industry-focused Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, consumers have steadily been drawn into the exciting world of culinary competition.

And now Middle East viewers can enjoy the ultimate in sport-like culinary stand-offs, with Iron Chef America: a spin-off of the Japanese TV show Ryori no Tetsujin (which literally translates as ‘Ironmen of Cooking').

Like the original, the US show is a dramatic fusion of culinary game show and all-out physical battle, with each episode seeing a new challenger chef going head to head with one of the panel of resident ‘Iron Chefs', in a high-pressure live cooking competition against the clock.

It can get extremely competitive - and although there are less dives than a football match and less fouls than a basketball game, the tension between competitors and the pressure in the kitchen is palpable.

So maybe professional cooking is more of a physical sport in today's world?

And regardless of whether it is or not, anything that opens up the F&B industry to the public and encourages future chefs and restaurateurs has got to be good news.

Lucy Taylor is the editor of Caterer Middle East.

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