Culinary TV shows are always pressure cooker environments, but the hottest kitchen of all is Iron Chef. The reality format, based on a Japanese original, pits professional chefs against a resident master ‘Iron Chef’ in a cook-off against the clock to win the mythical ‘katana’ and earn the title of ‘legendary chef.’
The latest edition, produced by Netflix, takes the battle to Mexico where seasoned pros challenge three of the country’s most acclaimed chefs, Roberto Solis, Gabriela Ruiz, and Francisco Ruano, to cook five dishes in one hour built around a specific theme ingredient.
“In the kitchen, it is organized chaos,” says Julián Baños the show’s technical director and head of D Vision, which provided the filming equipment used on the show. “To watch these master chefs make five dishes in only one hour with ingredients they may be unfamiliar with is exhausting and incredible – but we have to capture absolutely everything.”
Baños was hired by Executive Producer and Showrunner Oscar Botia, and was in talks with Executive Producer Eytan Keller, who directed Iron Chef America, to design the look of the new show to be shot in Mexico City to draw upon the rich flavors of the country.
“Eytan was very clear that we had to do Iron Chef Mexico – not remake Iron Chef America,” says Baños, who collaborated with directors Ricardo Villarreal and Daniel Piza Ruiz, and lighting designer Felix Peralta on the creative. “He wanted a strong cinematic look with dramatic lighting but also wanted to shoot a lot of the show handheld, to feel raw and dynamic.”
In preproduction, Baños set up a stage with food and a lighting grid to test a variety of cameras on the Netflix list of approved models.
“This show is full of colorful food, so the ingredients need to pop,” Baños says. “The skin tones are always important to get right plus we’re using saturated lighting from LEDs. These were the three pillars of our test and three things that are really hard to balance.”
There’s no faking the hectic nature of the show’s centerpiece competition. The Iron Chefs and their challengers really do just have one hour to cook five dishes. With no second chances, Baños determined this necessitated eleven cameras operating simultaneously in the Kitchen Stadium.
“That’s why we chose KOMODO,” he says. “We knew KOMODO had a much better dynamic range - in the order of a stop or two - than some other cameras we tested. The global shutter played a key part in the decision. If we’re going to be emphasizing the shakiness of a handheld camera, you want to retain as much resolution in the image as possible.”
Three KOMODOs were assigned to each of the chef teams and their two sous chefs. One KOMODO was trained on the host, another on the judges and two were placed on cranes. Another roving KOMODO operator recorded additional material. All cameras were paired with Zeiss Compact Zooms and Zeiss Supreme Primes.
Meanwhile, RED MONSTRO captured the plating shots and RED GEMINI was selected for all chef interviews. “MONSTRO gives you amazing resolution and color,” explains Baños. “It’s perfect for bringing a very natural look. You can ‘taste’ the plates with your eyes.”
The MONSTRO was paired with the Laowa Probe 24mm, a Laowa 12mm and a regular Zeiss Macro. They used Zeiss Supreme Primes with the GEMINI.
“GEMINI is very good with skin tones and the interview room was a bit darker,” says Baños of the selection. “GEMINI is great at working in darks. It’s also very tolerant to noise.”
To maximize visual quality and give editorial scope to punch into shot in post, they shot 6K REDCODE RAW to R3D raw files using MQ compression. With all the culinary action for each episode shot in a single day, it equated to 20-24TB per day for which local postproduction house Nonstop Studios allocated 300TB for the whole show.
“When the chefs are competing against the clock nothing can fail from our point of view. The KOMODOs have a 150-watt battery that lasts up to two hours, so that was a bonus and covered us for the show’s most critical element. We also arranged a Formula One style pit stop strategy to change media on the fly.
“With a well-calibrated sensor achieved through black shading, you can use neutral lenses and all you need to do is check the white balance and you’re basically good to go,” explains Baños. “We added a LUT that brought down the mids (luma value) slightly and added a little bit of saturation, so everything looked more graceful. The KOMODO allows you to saturate the camera with LED lighting but you never get outside of the color gamut - that is what none of the other cameras we tested were able to do.”
Iron Chef Mexico demonstrates how far Mexican cuisine extends beyond the tacos, burritos and fajitas of Tex-Mex exports. From Indigenous cultures to the Pacific seaboard and the flavors of the Yucatan peninsula to Spanish and Asian influences, Mexican cuisine is rich, varied and surprising. Themed episodes tasked the chefs with creating deserts incorporating chilies and dishes using cacti.
“Cacti grows everywhere here, and you might think it’s all the same,” says Baños, “but that’s like saying all mushrooms are alike. There is so much variety in flavor and its s wonderful to see how ingenious these chefs are in creating food that may sound strange but is shockingly good.”