‘Iron Chef’ Zhou Fude popularised Chinese food in Japan and overseas

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 April, 2014, 10:37pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 April, 2014, 4:13am

Zhou Fude, a Chinese cook who helped to turn the Japanese television show Iron Chef into a worldwide cult hit, has died at the age of 71.

Zhou, who was born in the Chinatown district of Yokohama and cut his teeth in the neighbourhood's kitchens, died of complications arising from pneumonia, according to his family.

A fixture of the long-running Ryori no Tetsujin cookery series, better known as Iron Chef to non-Japanese audiences, Zhou was particularly renowned for his Cantonese-style dishes and being a witty commentator throughout the broadcasts.

Iron Chef was first aired on Fuji Television in October 1993 and quickly became a major domestic hit. Each week, a guest chef was brought in to challenge one of the seven resident "iron chefs" in a one-hour timed contest that featured a particular theme ingredient.

The series ran for 309 episodes over nearly six years - a remarkable lifespan given Japanese viewers' notorious fickleness and their preference for new programmes and talent.

Zhou, who often went under his Japanese name Shu Tomitoku, appeared as the challenger in the eighth episode of the first season but lost in the crab cook-off. Undeterred, he was asked to return in subsequent editions and his victories were credited with attracting more tourists to Chinatown.

Zhou learned his culinary skills from his father, who was originally from Guangdong province but was also a chef in Yokohama's Chinese district, and went on to open his own restaurant after making a name for himself on television.

Zhou also appeared as a lecturer on international cuisine on a cooking programme aired by NHK, Japan's national broadcaster.

Zhou escaped untarnished in 2001, when his younger brother, Zhou Fuhui, was given a suspended one-year jail term and fined 10 million yen(HK$763,000) for tax evasion offences. The Zhou brothers regularly appeared in cooking shows together and dubbed themselves "the blazing chefs".

The Iron Chef show found a new lease of life when it was purchased to be aired - dubbed into English - on the Cooking Channel in the United States and elsewhere around the world.

It spawned two American spin-offs. Iron Chef USA featured Star Trek actor William Shatner as the host. However, it failed after just two episodes in 2001

The subsequent Iron Chef America was a major hit for the Food Network. It is currently in its 12th season.

Julian Ryall


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