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October 6, 2015

Ousted 'Next Iron Chef': 'I Never Wanted to Change My Style'

by Allison Waldman, posted Nov 15th 2010 7:00PM
the_next_iron_chef_logo_food_networkIf you watched last night's penultimate episode of Food Network's 'The Next Iron Chef,' you know that the competition was intense.

In fact, it was such a tight race that it surprising to see which two chefs were sent home. Both made just the slightest missteps in their nearly flawless, high-end, luxury dishes.

The theme of the night was seduction, and the final four were asked to make not only their food sexy, but a cocktail, too. The first challenge was creating a seductive cocktail with a snack food to complement the drink.

It's always tough for chefs to turn into mixologists, but all four managed to rise to the occasion. Marco Canora was the winner and gained an advantage for the chairman's challenge.

celina_tio_the_next_iron_chef_food_networkThe two chefs who went home ended up being Ming Tsai and Celina Tio, two highly decorated, successful chefs.

Tsai seemed like a sure bet to make it to the finale considering his fame and stature in the cooking world. As the host of his own PBS cooking show, 'Simply Ming,' he would have been a natural on 'Iron Chef America.' Alas, it was not to be. As host Alton Brown said at the end of last night's episode, "You were simply out-cooked."

During the episode, in a sort of Let's Make A Deal' game, the chefs were told to pick a safe holding a mystery item that would tantalize the taste buds. After Tsai, Tio, Marc Forgione learned what they "won," challenge winner Canora had the choice to take one of the items already revealed, or whatever was in the last safe. Canora chose to take Tsai's beef rather than the last safe.

Would Tasi have done better with the beef that Canora took from him? Perhaps, but who knows for sure.

The other out-cooked contestant was Chef Tio. Was is the lack of seasoning to her fish? Should she have done something bolder? Earlier today, we caught up with Chef Tio and asked her those questions ... and she shared her thoughts about the experience and how it felt to come so close to making it to the finale.

It seemed like a tight competition; did it feel that way to you?

It didn't feel like that to me only because I'm very hard on myself. To me, it felt at the time like, "I'm such a loser. I can't believe it." Or I really screwed it up or something. We don't get a chance to see their deliberations or hear anything that the judges say when you walk away. So to know that it was really close -- it was certainly more comforting.

In retrospect, do you regret choosing the moi fish since it involved a lot of prep work with the bones?
No, not at all. Somebody said to me, "Oh, you were slighted. You should have won the advantage at the secret ingredient challenge, maybe that would have changed things." But it wouldn't have changed anything because I would have kept the moi anyway. Had I had the opportunity to take something else and somebody else had the moi, my choice would have been the same.

I would much rather win a competition with everybody playing at their absolute best then to try to underhandedly take something away from somebody that I knew somebody wanted. Or because I thought it would give them an advantage. You know what? I would want them to have the advantage because I want to know that I won beating somebody at their best.

Were the other contestants of the same mind or was there some strategizing going on?

I can't speak for any of the other chefs, what their thinking was or what decisions they made. I'm sure there were people who strategized. I can only tell you what I thought and I would only really love and be honored to win knowing that I beat people at their absolute best. That would never change for me.

Do you think you might have gotten farther if you had been bolder in your flavors?
Well, I really wanted to represent me and have everyone see my style for what it is. If that was not 'Iron Chef'-worthy enough, than so be it. But that was my style and I really never wanted to change my style. Sure, you always cook for your market, or cook for your guests and in this case, those three particular people were my "guest." At the same time, when we went into every battle, Chef Forgione would always say before we were ready to go, "Cook your food." You know, don't change who you are just because of the show, and I certainly did not.

chef_tio_the_next_iron_chef_food_networkWhen you saw who the other nine chefs were, what did you think?
I thought that I had serious competition. I was honored to be chosen among those great chefs and I still am. I had met Ming Tsai several times and obviously knew Marc Forgione because of his father (Larry Forgione, known as the "godfather of American cooking"). I had met Marco Canora several times.

What was the toughest challenge?
Probably the buffet challenge. I have never worked so hard in my life. You see how hard we work and how fast we work for a 30-minute challenge. This was that times six. To have that pace nonstop for three hours was absolutely exhausting, mentally and physically.

Did you want to win so you could be the second female Iron Chef and join Cat Cora up there in the pantheon?

I never thought of the fact that if I won I'd be the second female Iron Chef. I just know I wanted to be an Iron Chef. End of story. People said that I was the last woman standing, but to me I was just one of four finalists.

Would you do anything differently if you could do it again?
During the last challenge, with the moi, in my gut I thought I should add a touch of salt to the braised daikon and I hesitated. I should have listened to my gut and added it. I don't know if it would have changed anything, but I wish I had done it. With that level of competition, it really comes down to minor details like that. In the grand scheme of things, for the kind of cooking we're doing, a bit of salt is really not so minor.

What did you take from the experience?
You know, if you want great things to happen, you have to take chances. Or if you don't take chances, you're going to lead a boring life. You need to put yourself out there. I'm totally glad that I did and I'd do it again and again and again and again. I try not to live my life by ever having to pose the question, "I wonder what would have happened if ..."

The two competitors who will face off in Kitchen Stadium next Sunday on 'The Next Iron Chef' will be Marco Canora and Marc Forgione.

Don't forget to watch 'The Next Iron Chef' next Sunday at 9 PM on the Food Network. And be sure to check back here because TV Squad will have an interview with the winner.

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