Wokin' and Rollin': Dubbing Iron
Though often far too busy behind
his typewriter to manage anything more than a ham and cheese
on rye at mealtimes, the Captain's
culinary skills are not to be overlooked. His "real pit
barbecue" Mobile Operator of the Year certificate from
1977 offers proof of that - "the good humor man of ribs,"
the kids would say as he moved from town to town dragging
the brazier behind his Airstream.
week the Captain finds himself "slicin' and dicin'"
in television's revered Kitchen Stadium. Join him as he finds
out what it's like to add an English voice to the popular
"Iron Chef" program.
"The day of dread" is how
Bill Bickard describes his average Thursday during the recording
"I keep my mind fresh the one day before
I have to get down to it," says Bickard, the English
voice of announcer Kenji Fukui on Food
Network's "Iron Chef" program, a repackaged
version of the now defunct "Ryoyi no Tetsujin" (which
ran on Japan's Fuji Television for six years) for the American market.
The day he gets "down to it" is not
the day of recording - that takes place on Saturday in a Tokyo
studio. He is referring to Friday, the day of preparation
in his apartment. This day will consist of roughly eight hours
of editing a script of one of the original episodes of the
popular Japanese combat cooking show. "If I have food
in the house, I might not even leave," he explains of
his focus on that day.
Though Bickard is developing amusing phrases
like "Flamola!" and "Bang a gong, we are on!"
- some of the show's trademarks - this is indeed work. With
a VCR, red pen, and script of dialogue, he matches the pictures
of the culinary action on the screen with these irreverent,
over-the-top sportscaster-like phrases, a recipe that has
been a major reason for the show's cult status amongst both
finicky gourmets and amateur bbq cooks.
The show centers around Chairman Kaga and
his courageous team of Iron Chefs - "the invincible men
of culinary skills," who have been culled from around
Japan to compete against world-class challengers in Kaga's
own Kitchen Stadium. Amid torches and a building drama, each
episode begins with the colorful Kaga, an eccentric, flowing-haired
gourmand, introducing an opponent for one of his Iron Chefs,
each of whom possesses a cuisine specialty, and a theme ingredient
that will be used in a "battle" to prepare a series
of dishes. To determine a winner, tasting of the dishes by a panel of judges takes place when the battle, as Bickard says, "is OHVAH!"
The actual cooking battle is the show at its
most intense, and is played out like a sporting
event. The back-and-forth banter between Fukui, color
man Yukio Hattori (or "Doc"), field reporter Shinichiro
Ohta, and various guest commentators, who have ranged from
politicians to baseball players to actresses, keeps the show
flowing. Cameras poking into mixing bowls like close plays
at home plate, the sight of a chef's sweat-soaked forehead,
and reporting from the kitchen floor on cooking strategy that
mimics football sideline injury news further impart that sports
The key to Bickard's job is matching the action
on the screen with the dialogue. He is not translating from
the original Japanese; that is the work of his boss. Instead,
he spices up the translations, with alliterations and slang
being an integral part. Sometimes the results have no resemblance
to the original. As an example, when the original script has
Fukui stating, "A blender full of garlic," Bill
instead whips this up to "Hope he's got some mints for
I am in the studio, I want to make it so I can do this thing
as smooth as possible," he explains of his thinking during
preparation. "If I read what is there (in the original
script) it just wouldn't come out smooth or would be too choppy.
Plus I want to put it in my words; I want to do it in my style."
To get a feel for his style, Bickard reads
from an original, unedited script in which Iron Chef Kenichi
Chen is working with pineapples:
All right! Kitchen Stadium welcomes the first
challenger representing Thai food, aiming to take down Iron
Chef Chen. Chinese cooking vs. Thai food which branched off
of Chinese food. The battle of pineapples will determine whether
Thai food has developed beyond Chinese cooking or not. This
is going to be a great one.
Bickard shakes his head upon finishing. Then,
with his thin frame moving to the edge of his seat, and right
fist in the air (left clutched around the bundle of pages),
he reads his red pen rewrite:
All right! Kitchen Stadium welcoming the first
challenger who specializes in Thai food. It'll be Iron Chef
Chen's spicy Szechwan fare against challenger Morikawa's heat-seeking
Thai dishes, dukin' it out with pineapples, the theme...we
are set. Let's get it on!
Spicy dialogue is one thing; filling time is
another. For the same show, the schedule demands that the
following bit be eight seconds:
Today, we should be expecting a lot different
spices. Doc, are you ready?
"Well, that's 3 or 4 (seconds),"
Bickard surmises. "If I don't prepare something beforehand
I'm just going to be hemming and hawing in the studio."
The following is his solution:
And Chen already slicing up pineapples there...while
on the other side, the 39-year old Morikawa...looks like garlic.
And Doc, ready for the spices?
"I give it that sports drip," Bickard
says of his improvisation. "I have important things to
say; I'd rather add some background information with a sports-rap
style." This approach is taken for a reason: Fukui himself
is a professional sports announcer. In the original Japanese,
Fukui routinely adds phrases about baseball
to the mix.
Keeping it fresh is always a concern, and with
repetition being a common aspect of the Japanese language,
it is not simple. Bickard continually reminds himself to not
get stuck in a rut with the phrasing and puns. The call "not
much talk but a lot a wok" was used just once, and "finding
favor with flavor" finds itself on the air occasionally.
Such old standbys as "double-barrel chopping action"
and the show's signature "Whose cuisine reigns supreme?"
are fixtures. "Cutting board cam"
is a recent addition to the lexicon.
Since the original Japanese show has been discontinued, the English dubbing taking place is of back episodes specifically for use by Food Network. The dubbing of one episode
takes roughly 6 hours. During the battle sequence, the voices
for the four or five main characters can work through a script
within an hour. The various other components of the show,
like the opening segments, display of dishes, comments of the tasters, recap, and interview
sessions with the chefs, are all recorded individually with the appropriate voice. Added
later are some sound treatments, occasional
echo effects on the voices, and other post-production work.
This recipe has proved to be quite popular.
Three years ago, UPN used William Shatner to portray Kaga
for "Iron Chef USA," a program which lasted only
two episodes. Food Network as well debuted "Iron
Chef America" earlier this year with Alton Brown taking
announcer and color duties.
It is hard to ignore that a lot of the show's
great success - as evidenced by multiple fan websites and
marathon showings on Food Network - goes beyond cooking;
a main ingredient certainly is the cheese factor. The irony
inherent within elevating top-notch chefs to that of warriors
as the ostentatious Kaga, meanwhile, sinks his teeth into
a bell pepper can easily be seen as parody. Bickard acknowledges
this, however, only to a point. "Camp can't carry this show,"
argues that if one is going to appeal to a mass audience,
especially on Food Network, total camp just won't work.
"The whole cheesey thing," he maintains, does not overshadow the fact
that these are some world-class chefs going at it here - this
is some dead-serious stuff. They
are fighting out there, putting their reputations and abilities
on the line. There is no prize money. There are no awards.
It is all about personal pride."
And for Bickard, too. He admits that while
his output can be simultaneously witty and "a little
lame," there is an element of satisfaction for him in
that the show is on American television. "As the ZZ Top
song says, 'I'm bad, I'm nationwide,'" he jokes.
A "simple guy in the kitchen" whose beef and cheese burrito wrapped
in a steamed tortilla is his signature dish, Bickard got his start
in college radio doing sports announcing. During his 20 years
behind the microphone, some of his work has included hosting
call-in talk shows, providing his voice for video games, and
doing the public address announcing at Tokyo
Dome for various foreign sporting events. His work with
"Iron Chef" began in 1999 when he successfully passed
a series of auditions through a company for which he was doing
voice work in Tokyo. He's been "wokin' and rollin'"
For Bickard, each week of recording is a challenge.
It is a chance to create something new, to make someone who
watches the show want to watch it again. "I have an opportunity
to do that," he says, "so why not take advantage?"