When Life Gives You Octopodes, Make Octopi.

Few things bring people together like cookies and octopodes.

Last night the guys and I settled around the TV to watch the most recent episode of The Next Iron Chef – Super Chefs – “in which the remaining contestants visit an improv club and must try not to gag on camera when asked to cook octopus with tortillas and marshmallows. (Seriously…I feel their pain.)

My love for the Iron Chef franchise goes back to the original Japanese series (which I still consider the all-time best show on television), and although I’m not as fond of Iron Chef America, I do watch it from time to time. The foundational principle amuses me. More importantly, I can relate.

For the uninitiated, Iron Chef works like this:

“We’ll give you something bizarre and expect you to make five dishes where this strange-and-probably-side-dish-related-item is the star instead of hidden as usual. You have sixty minutes. The ingredient is a radish. Go.”

In many ways, it’s life in miniature.

When you woke up this morning, life gave you something to work with. Some days it’s chocolate. Some days it’s a radish.

Some days, it’s an octopus with a ninja sword and a marshmallow toupee.

Regardless of the ingredients, you have somewhere between nine and fourteen hours to make something out of the inputs you’ve been given. Some days you do better than others. Some days you may struggle with inspiration. Some days you may not even want to try.

Try anyway.

Last night seven “super chefs” – men and women at the peak of their professions – were handed an octopus, tortillas, a handful of kumquats and marshmallows and told their dreams depended on turning those oddities into a single plate of culinary delight.

They could have quit. They could have complained that it couldn’t be done. Octopus with marshmallows? What were you thinking? The task is too difficult for me!

But they didn’t. They ducked their heads, pulled out the pressure cookers and turned in everything from octopus ravioli (by Anne Burrell) to Michael Chiarello’s winning grilled octopus frittata with marshmallow aioli (though the judges in my living room unanimously agreed that Chiarello robbed the more deserving Alex Guarnaschelli and Elizabeth Faulkner of a win).

At the end of the day six chefs moved on and Beau MacMillan (aka “HappyChef”) went home – but even the “least successful” dish used every ingredient given. MacMillan fought to the end – as the judges recognized. Alton Brown bid MacMillan farewell by saying, “You had a good day in the kitchen. [Elimination rival] Geoffrey Zakarian’s day was just a little bit better.”

This morning, today’s ingredients were chosen. Some you may know, but others will come as a surprise. Will you fight to put your best dish on the table? Or will you surrender and let the octopus win?

Never give up. Never surrender. Take that octopus and make yourself an octopi. At the end of the day, the effort itself is victory.