Floor director Paul Goto, left, gave chef Peter Merriman instructions on striking a warrior-like pose during the filming of "Paradise Chefs Duel" on Aug. 3 at Restaurant Row.

Producer banks
on appeal of
chef duels

The first episode of 'Paradise Chef Duels'
will air this Saturday

By Betty Shimabukuro

It's not enough these days for chefs to be good at cheffing. They must be willing to pick up their knives and go to war. They must be kitchen conquistadors.

Television demands this.

But some of them just don't wanna.

When producer Frank Clark was putting together the first episodes of his "Paradise Chef Duels" kitchen competitions, he came across several chefs who just said no.

"Hawaii's a small island and they didn't want to compete among each other," Clark said. "Some thought they didn't have anything to prove."

He expected trouble, but in the end, it was easy filling out the roster of six "name" chefs willing to do the "Iron Chef" thing in front of cameras.

So he built them a stadium -- a sleek outdoor kitchen in Restaurant Row with two of everything -- and got them a referee with star power, David Rosengarten of the Food Network.

Merriman, left, and Philippe Padovani battled in the first duel, which airs Saturday.

Battle No. 1 airs at 7 p.m. Saturday on KGMB, featuring chefs Philippe Padovani of Padovani's Restaurant on Oahu and Peter Merriman of Merriman's on the Big Island.

Battle No. 2, with D.K. Kodama of Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar and Russell Siu of 3660 on the Rise, airs Sept. 7. Sponsors are being sought for a third show, already filmed, and that should be just the beginning, Clark said.

He's expecting that the show will catch on and he stands ready to turn it into a "Paradise Chefs" series. He'd like to do 12 episodes, shooting on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island as well as in Restaurant Row. Beyond that, he's seeking mainland distribution, believing that the appeal of Hawaii's foods and personalities can cross the Pacific.

"We definitely want to create a series," he said. "We hope there is enough interest out there."

The competition itself involved an hour of cooking time, but that will be edited down to about 35 minutes. Clark emphasizes that "Paradise Chefs" is not only about culinary testosterone. Each show will include a segment with chef Alan Wong on healthy eating (the state Department of Health's "Start Living Healthy" campaign is a sponsor), as well as a segment on the roots of the mystery ingredient that the chefs must cook with. Often this will mean a trip to a neighbor island farm.

"The ultimate goal to promote our chefs locally, as well as our products," Clark said.

"Paradise Chefs" is an expensive proposition compared to the average local cooking show. The first round cost more $80,000, Clark said.

His aim is to add sophistication to the TV cooking demo. "I want to change local television cooking shows, personally. I want to bring more excitement to local television."

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