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October 30, 2014

Ousted 'Next Iron Chef': 'No More Pineapples in My Repertoire'

by Allison Waldman, posted Nov 2nd 2010 10:40AM
the_next_iron_chef_food_network_2010The battle has been joined and after Sunday night's round of Food Network's 'The Next Iron Chef,' there are just five contestants left in the competition. It was an intense episode and the judges made their final decision by the thinnest of margins.

Two challenges were put to the contestants. The theme of the night was respect, and in the first challenge, the secret ingredient was potatoes. For the second challenge, the test was much more daunting: Create four dishes that exemplify the four regions of America -- north, south, east and west -- in just 90 minutes ... keeping in mind that respect is the key.

To learn how the challenge played out and who will not be 'The Next Iron Chef,' read on. Also, we've been fortunate enough to get an exit interview with the chef. Learn how it feels to be so close to your dream, only to learn that you've missed it by so very little.

maneet_chauhan_food_network_2010The winner of the challenge was Ming Tsai, with Marco Canora a close second. But the one who was sent home was Maneet Chauhan.

As the executive chef of Vermilion in New York City and Chicago, Chauhan excels in the melding of the Indian and Latin cuisines. Her previous experience in Kitchen Stadium had also prepared her for the competition. Nevertheless, making it to the final six and then being sent home was a disappointment, as you'll see:

What was your reaction when the judges ruled and said you would not be the next Iron Chef?
Not great. It's the last thing you want to hear, but that's life. You have to take everything with a pinch of salt and learn from it and move ahead. I'm a much stronger person because of it.

Were you surprised that it was you, or were you concerned you might go home?

Throughout the entire competition until the time that you are told you not safe, everybody has this trepidation that you might be going home. So it was disappointing, yes, but it could have been anyone.

It didn't seem that the judges were that critical of your four regional dishes ...
I actually walked away from the tasting telling everybody that I was OK. I thought I had done well. But it was what it was.

If you had a chance to do it differently, what would you change?
I wouldn't have touched pineapple! No more pineapples in my repertoire. Absolutely not.

Did you feel it was fair to come up with four regional dishes in 90 minutes without the help of sous chefs?
You know, that's what this competition is all about. It's about testing your strength, your mettle, your creativity and your endurance. It's fair because all of us were told to do that same thing. If one was told to do that and somebody else was told to do something else, then yes, that would not be fair. But the competition is about proving how strong you are and what your endurance is. All of us finished all four dishes, other than Chef Forgione who had to show off and put out a fifth dish.

How did this competition compare to your experience in Kitchen Stadium as an Iron Chef challenger?
Appearing on 'The Iron Chef America' was a cakewalk! I didn't feel that at the time. I was as wound up as ever, but I had two sous chefs and an entire team working with me. The Iron Chef it was pretty much straight cooking. You're not told to do some cartwheels before you start cooking. The clock starts now and you go. In 'The Next Iron Chef,' just the challenges put in front of you makes it really interesting. You have to do it all by yourself. You do not have a support system. It was everyone working individually towards one goal.

Was there more camaraderie when you all were cooking, as opposed to when you were judging each other's dishes?
Not exactly. The camaraderie was amazing. All 10 of us are chefs and we respected each other for each other's achievements. All of us had the common goal of winning, but winning on the basis of our strength, not on the basis of someone else's weakness. Even when we had to judge, it was extremely difficult. I don't think that camaraderie has left. We're all still in touch. After each and every episode, we have a nice email session. It was great walking away with some amazing friends.

maneet_chauhan_the_next_iron_chef_food_networkHow impressed were you when you saw the other nine chefs in the competition?

Very. It was such an honor to be counted as one of the 10 top chefs in America.

Would you want to do more television?
Definitely. I have also done 'Chopped' and I competed on the all-star edition.

Was it intimidating seeing Ming Tsai as a competitor since he already has had such a successful television career?
Well, all of us on the first day, thought that he was going to be one of the judges. He is just hilarious and an amazing chef. He was there for the same reason as we were, to reach the end goal.

What challenge was the toughest for you?
It's a toss up between the fishing trip and the fair food. I had never fished before. The fair was crazy. We had to shop over there and then we had to cook on a rake. It was hot and then the rake caught fire. There was so much going on.

Ultimately, what did you take from this experience?

The biggest thing that I walked away with was the feeling that any obstacle that comes my way is not going to hinder my pace. It's an obstacle, but it can be dealt with. With a calm mind, it's not a problem. There's no problem in life that cannot be handled. And I walked away having met some amazing people ... the other nine chefs and the people who are responsible for creating this magic. It was an amazing experience. Other than the pineapple, I wouldn't change a thing!

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