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Ousted 'Next Iron Chef': 'Buffets Are Not My Deal'

by Allison Waldman, posted Nov 8th 2010 4:00PM
the_next_iron_chef_logo_food_networkAnother week, another chef bites the dust. Actually, it was very nearly two chefs, as host Alton Brown declared that there would be a double elimination on 'The Next Iron Chef.' However, a twist occurred that kept four chefs still in the running ... and only one sent home.

As we near the end of the competition, the stakes are higher and not just because the show has been transported to Las Vegas. For the five contestants going at it last night, the first challenge was the bane of many chefs -- a pastry challenge.

They were asked to create a wedding-quality dessert using chocolate inspired by the work of master pastry chef Jean-Phillip Maury. Three of the chefs opted to try a croquembouche, another made a parfait and one simply presented a set of desserts in little plates.

That was hard, but the Chairman's Challenge ... that was the killer. The chefs had to be inspired by the classic Las Vegas tradition, the 24-hour buffet, but update it. They had three hours to make five dishes, two cold and three hot. The winner of the challenge was Marco Canora. Marc Forgione, Celina Tio and Ming Tsai were all locked in a tie for second, meaning that Bryan Caswell was the odd man out.

bryan_caswell_the_next_iron_chef_food_networkTexas chef Bryan Caswell, owner of REEF restaurant in Houston and master of South Texas and Louisiana cuisine, had hoped to make it into the finals. In our interview with the chef, he reflected on the experience, one that he found completely unique:

What was your reaction to being told you were not going to be the Next Iron Chef?
Well, I was disappointed. I have to admit that every one of the others would have felt the same because after that long drive to Vegas, we were all kind of beat. That challenge took a lot more out of me than the other ones. I was still very disappointed.

How difficult was the Chairman's Challenge, which had you re-create a buffet in three hours?
Buffets are tough. Things that work best in buffets are items that can sit. No chef wants his or her food to sit for over two hours, and that's the deal with a buffet. It's not really my forte. Buffets are not my deal. If you're going to get kicked off, you might as well get kicked off for something you don't normally do. That's sort of right in a weird way. It wasn't an easy challenge at all.

Was that kitchen as big as it looked on television?
It was enormous. It's always daunting when you walk into a kitchen. It can take you 30 minutes to find out where the salt is. There's definitely a learning curve when you go into a kitchen cold and that kitchen was so big, I felt like I was running around the entire time. I'm not the fleetest of cats. I needed a horn to go off when I backed up.

The judges claimed your food was not too high or too low, very consistent. What did you think of the judges' reactions to your buffet food?
I would have rather somebody said "I love this" or "I hate that." You always want to hear some definitive answer. Nobody likes ambiguous reasons for why you're sent home. Now that I'm watching it when it airs, I'm actually getting a lot more out of it -- why things happened and what was going on. When you're there, you're so focused on what you're doing, things happen and then they're over. You don't get a lot of time to reflect. Looking back on it now, they weren't crazy about my food and I fell by the wayside.

What gives with Judge Simon Majumdar's aversion to pineapple?
Simon hates any kind of protein with pineapple, which is why I found it amazing that Ming Tsai would use pineapple in his dish considering that two other chefs had gone home for using pineapple in some way, shape or form. As for my dishes, I take full responsibility for what I put out. It was an interesting challenge. What I saw across the board, especially with Simon, a lot of his critiques had to do with the nature of a buffet. The fact that everything is on the plate together. A lot of his criticism was the nature of the challenge.

alton_brown_bryan_caswell_the_next_iron_chef_food_networkWhat was the toughest challenge of the entire competition?

No doubt, the fair was the toughest. There wasn't a piece of protein or dry goods that any one of us would every use in any of our restaurants. That was the biggest difficulty for me.

What did you think of your competitors?
I was very humbled to be in that group. Everyone was a total badass. Everyone had a name; everyone had their own place. And, of course, everyone knows Ming Tsai. All these people were very successful and talented. I'm never afraid of a challenge, but after we met everyone, I went home and said to myself, "Holy smokes. This is no joke. These guys are really good."

How would you describe this experience?
What we went through doesn't really exist anymore. It's kind of like going to camp. Or maybe Outward Bound. We were all put together and even though we were all competing, we were all subjected to the same kind of rigorous work. You can't re-create that in real life. We all kind of went through war together.

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A shame. Caswell was one of few competitors who had a lot of the qualities of an Iron Chef. Chef Canora strikes me as a very talented chef, but if he were to win he'd be as boring a choice as Garces was. Of those left, Forgione is moving to the top for me.

November 08 2010 at 7:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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