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As Easy As Pie

ANNOUNCER: It’s spring, the harvest is and holidays are behind us, and the apples in cold storage are starting to age. Someone needs to come to their rescue before it’s too late. And that can mean only one thing here in Kitchen Stadium: it’s Time for Pie. So today’s challenge will be an homage to Mom’s apple pie.

But things are going to work a little differently this time out. Instead of a challenger taking on one of the Iron Chefs, five Iron Chefs will battle each other. Half of the points awarded will be for quality – taste, execution, and presentation – but half will be awarded by number of pies made. Each chef can have a team of assistants, but due to the available space, each team is limited to five people.

Now it appears that the teams have all been organized differently, so as the battle gets underway here, we’ll take a look at the different strategies each team has for mastering the challenge.

Let’s start with team 1.These guys seem to have set things up pretty simply: each team member will make pies independently of all the others, and just keep going until the time is up. Each member starts with apples from the bushels and spices and flour from bins, and ultimately delivers a pie to the judging table.

COMMENTATOR: So that means that all of the team members have to know how to make an entire pie! They’ve had to bring in some heavyweights that can handle all the duties. And you know, the more skills they have, the more they tend to be, shall we say, prima donnas, and get harder to work with.

ANNOUNCER: Well that’s true, but on the other hand, they pretty much don’t have to work with each other much. Each one does his own thing, and as long as they can stay out of each other’s way – and you can see they have set up 5 parallel workstations – then they have a fighting chance. Notice also that they’re not always doing the same thing in the same order; one might be making a crust first so it can chill while cutting apples; another is making several crusts first, so he isn’t getting to the apple prep as quickly, but then again, he won’t have to make any more crusts for a while.

COMMENTATOR: Makes my head hurt trying to keep up with them. But they seem to know what they’re doing, and they all have access to all of the ingredients – Whoa! Spoke too soon there! Looks like two of them went for flour at the same time, and the result is two empty scoops and a big white cloud in the air!

ANNOUNCER: Oh my, well, they’re going to have to figure out how to ensure they don’t all try to grab the same stuff at the same time or else it will be chaos on team 1!

OK, let’s look over at team 2 now. They seem to have gone in the opposite direction: each of their team members is only doing one thing. So they’ve got one person that just cores apples. She takes the apples from the bushel, cores them, and gives them to the Peeler. The Peeler takes the cored apples, removes the peels, and hands them to the Slicer. The Slicer cuts them up into pie-ready slices and hands them to the Mixer; the Mixer adds the spices and such to the sliced apples and hands them to the Assembler, who puts the pie together. Wow, it’s just like an assembly line, like the apples are flowing down some kind of pipeline. And you’ll also notice – and I’ll be curious to see what the judges think of this – that because they could only have five people, they’ve had to bring the crust in from outside, pre-made. In fact, it might even be store-bought crust. So they’re taking something of a gamble here, and we’ll see if offloading the crust-making pays off with more pies.

COMMENTATOR: Well that sure makes it easier to assemble a team that can work together. Each member only has to know how to do one simple thing, and do it well.

ANNOUNCER: That’s right. The only catch, of course, is if one of the guys is slower than the others. In fact, look… team 2 seems to be having some trouble right now. Let’s go down to the floor to see what’s happening.

FLOOR: Yeah, it seems the Peeler can’t quite keep up. The Slicer has ended up waiting around for some peeled apples in the bowl, and as you can see, the Corer has also stopped because her bowl is full and she can’t put any more apples into it until the Peeler takes some out. They’re gonna have to figure out how to make the Peeler work faster; perhaps a better knife will do the trick. We’ll see… Back to you.

ANNOUNCER: Okay, thanks. Boy, and it doesn’t help that their Corer is particularly fast – she can do the work of one or two normal corers – you could practically call her a multi-corer. Well, while they untangle their operation, let’s take a look at team 3. These guys have gotten a bit more complicated. Let’s see… it looks like they’ve got two guys prepping the apples – coring, peeling, and slicing… and two mixing the filling and assembling the pies – we’ll call them the Bakers. And they’ve dedicated one guy to making crust. So this is kind of a mix of the approaches of teams 1 and 2 – they’ve got some cooks working in parallel – and not all of them are doing the same thing, but they still have a kind of pipeliney thing going.

COMMENTATOR: Interesting. So here the Preppers get their materials from the bushel and put sliced apples in the bowl for the Bakers. Crust Guy takes flour, butter, and whatever other things he’s putting in there and hands a finished crust to the Baker. So the Baker then takes the sliced apples, mixes with spice, a bit of flour, and whatever… and then puts that into a crust, and into the oven it goes.

ANNOUNCER: So they seem to have broken up the process in a very different way from team 2; it will be interesting to see if the workload is better balanced between them. And they’re making their own crust, which is good, but the Bakers need to hope that the apples and crusts show up at about the same time so they can get started.

OK, on to team 4. Now these guys are a bit hard to figure out… Been watching them a little here, and they seem to have a mix of everything.

COMMENTATOR: Yeah, when they started, they had one guy making crust and four guys prepping apples. But then after a while, after some apples and a couple crusts were ready, a couple of the Preppers went and started assembling the pies, and when they had done a few of those, they went back to prepping apples.

ANNOUNCER: Yeah, how do they know when to prep and when to bake? Who’s in charge here? Oh, and look, their crust dude has stopped making crusts – looks like he has made enough for now, so while everyone else is prepping he’s started assembling pies. Holy moly.

COMMENTATOR: Yeah, this is really complicated. Not only does each of the team members have to be able to do any of the steps, but they have to be able to change the, oh, I dunno, flow, or whatever you wanna call it. The crustmaker was taking from the flour bins and delivering to the assembly table; now he’s taking from the assembly table, apple bowl, and spice bins and delivering to the judges’ table.

ANNOUNCER: And not only that, they seem to be communicating with each other somehow so that everyone knows what’s going on. Jeez, it would be so easy for them to get confused and step all over each other. But you know what? Have you noticed that none of them has been standing around waiting for everyone else? Everyone’s always busy, so if they can manage to hold it together for the entire hour, they may just top the pie count.

OK, now finally let’s look at team 5. And I have to say I’m completely confused as to what this guy was thinking. This iron chef has decided to do everything himself. Apparently, he thinks he can just work faster and keep up with the other teams. They say he’s been stoking up on coffee and NoDoz all morning so that he’ll be in top form.

COMMENTATOR: Well as long as he’s not using any drugs to enhance his performance… I mean, if he wins, we wouldn’t want to have to put an asterisk by his name.

ANNOUNCER: Absolutely. But look what he’s done with the remaining four people on his team: he is so hot and sweaty and flushed that he’s using his team to fan him while he works. And I must say he’s working at a furious pace; it’s sometimes even hard to see his hands, they kind of blur.

COMMENTATOR: It’s an amazing thing to watch. He clearly came to win. But we’ll have to see if he can keep up this pace for the entire hour. He looks ready to pass out already. Hopefully he won’t lose his cool too early…

ANNOUNCER: Well luckily for them all, the hour is almost up. So let’s review: team 1 has five guys working in parallel; team 2 has five folks arranged in a pipeline; team 3 has five people arranged in kind of a hybrid parallel-pipeline thingy; team 4 has five people, well, doing whatever needs doing at the moment, and team 5 consists of an Überbaker and his fan club.

The moment of truth is approaching here in Kitchen Stadium. The air is rich with cinnamon, nutmeg, and anticipation. Our judging panel is clearly starting to look hungry. So which team will master the complexities of each step while turning out more pies than anyone else? Which configuration has provided the best balance of skill, versatility, flexibility, and speed? Which team will reign supreme?

We’re going to take a break, and we’ll be back when the judging is ready.

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