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'The Next Iron Chef' Winner Is Crowned

by Allison Waldman, posted Nov 22nd 2010 5:30PM
the_next_iron_chef_food_network_logoAfter weeks of challenges and culinary gymnastics, Food Network's 'The Next Iron Chef' competition came to a rip-roarin' finale. In Kitchen Stadium, the last two chefs, Marco Canora and Marc Forgione, faced off to see who's cuisine reigned supreme.

For the finale, there was no obstacle or last-minute challenge to overcome. No, it was a straight-on battle in Kitchen Stadium. In addition to the three judges who've been there all season long (Simon Majumdar, Donatella Arapaia and Iron Chef Michael Symon), two additional Iron Chefs were included -- Bobby Flay and Masaharu Morimoto.

marc_forgione_the_next_iron_chefIt was clear that the extra judges were there to up the ante. The theme of the night was honor, and it would be up to this group to determine which contestant lived up to the theme. The secret ingredients were venison, lobster, heritage turkey, white Peking duck and the challenge was to create a Thanksgiving feast.

The battle was difficult -- five dishes in 60 minutes -- but both chefs rose to the occasion. The difference between the winner and loser came down to the slightest of taste differences: salty vs. sweet. Chef Forgione leaned on the savory side and was more of a risk-taker, while Chef Canora offered sweeter fare and presented a more traditional feast.

Ultimately, it was the chef who rolled the dice by not even serving turkey for a Thanksgiving dinner that snatched the prize. Marc Forgione, son of Larry Forgione aka the "godfather of American cuisine," was crowned America's newest Iron Chef.

The owner of Forgione's in New York City and the proud receipient of two Michelin stars and numeous stellar reviews, he has now joined the pantheon of Food Network culinary masters. Forgione spoke to TV Squad about the competition and his reaction to winning the title:

How much a risk was it for you not to use turkey in a Thanksgiving feast challenge?
The moment that I found out we had to do battle Thanksgiving, it wasn't even a hesitation as to the direction I was going to go. I just didn't know that direction was going to lead me to not use turkey. It just kind of happened. I was very gung-ho in making sure I honored the first harvest festival. Every bit of research I did told me that the first Thanksgiving festival they did not, in fact, have roasted turkey.

Did you really see it as a 50-50 proposition, win or lose?

Yes. I knew my story was either going to literally propel me to the win or crush me with a defeat.

Do you need to display risk to be considered an Iron Chef?

Yes, but that's how I operate anyway. If you watched the whole season and if you knew me on a daily basis, risk is part of my life. If I was going to go down, I was going to go down being me. I wasn't going to go down by trying to be something that I'm not.

So you think the judges forgave your occasional missteps, like the dried halibut or the veal cheeks, and felt your highs were high enough to warrant the title?
I think Alton Brown really said it the best: Do you want unpredictable brilliance or consistent soulfulness? When he said that, I had never looked at it that way, but you either have that wild card or you play the favorites. You always know what you're going to get with one; you never know what you're going to get with the other. What do you want?

You're a very accomplished, award-winning chef. Why was this competition important to you?
Even with all the press, I've never been considered in the conversation of serious chefs. It's always been like, "Oh, he's Larry's kid. He has the restaurant down in Tribeca." So this was my opportunity to stand up in front of the country and cook. Who gets to do that in our business? I had said no to a couple of other TV shows. 'The Next Iron Chef' to me is all about representing you as a chef. It's not reality TV, it's more reality cooking.

Almost like an athletic competition?

Exactly. It's like sports with food. To be able to go head to head in battle with these nine other amazing chefs from all over the country ... you can look at everyone else's resume. These are pretty seriously talented people. To be able to do that and prevail was very humbling and exciting experience.

What was your feeling when you met the other nine that first day, when you saw Ming Tsai there?
Well, first and foremost, when I saw Ming, I don't want to say I got pissed off, but it was more like, "Ming Tsai is here. Jesus Christ! This must be his coronation to becoming the next Iron Chef!" But I think that actually ended up helping me in the competition because I didn't think there was a chance of me winning. I didn't know everybody when I met them, but when I did research on who they were; I knew I was in a pretty serious game.

marc_forgione_marco_canora_food_networkWhich was the toughest challenge in the competition for you?

The toughest was the buffet. I'm not used to making food like that. They didn't show it on air, but ... one of the criteria was that it was food that had to hold for an hour. That's not how we cook. It's not how I cook. We had to do three hot dishes and two cold dishes in just a few hours. Normally you do that with a team of three people and it takes two days. We had to decorate the table, we had to go get the equipment ... it was a crazy, crazy day. None of us were happy at the end of it.

You mentioned your father, Larry Forgione, who is a very famous chef. Have you always felt like you've been in his shadow?
I never really thought about it. I didn't want to be a chef my whole life. When I was growing up, I didn't look at my dad as a celebrity chef. He was just my dad. I didn't really understand the magnitude of who he was until I was 17 or 18 and I started working in his restaurant. That's when I saw people walk into his kitchen and genuflect in his presence. It never crossed my mind not to do this because it might be too tough because my dad is who he is. I just wanted to cook.

Could your father have competed in Iron Chef?
In his younger years, definitely. My old man was a pretty badass cook. Still is. I hear the stories of him back in the day. They're like Paul Bunyan stories.

Are your styles similar?
Very much so. It's funny, I'll get all excited about a dish and I'll tell him to come in and try it. He'll just look at me with a little smirk and say, 'I did that 25 years ago!'

If there was one thing you could say you learned from this experience, what would it be?
Follow your gut. Listen to your instincts. Usually the first thing you think of is the right thing.

Marc will begin his reign as Iron Chef with an 'Iron Chef America' battle on Sun., Nov. 28 at 10 PM ET on Food Network.

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So you think Mehta should've beaten Garces for the Iron Chef title? Hahahaha No. What's your reasoning behind that comment? I think he was much more deserving of the title. Mehta was too focused on the decorative aspect of his dishes and just didn't plate iron chef quality dishes like Garces did. I don't even think he should've been one of the finalists imho. That aside, I'm very happy to see that Forgione pulled it out, though I do think Canora was the front-runner to win it. I think they did get the finalists right this season, and I'm happy with the winner. Iron Chef Marc Forgione FTW!!

November 23 2010 at 12:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think they made the better choice (unlike last time with Jose Garces). Canora is obviously a fantastic chef, which he proved again and again by winning challenges, but he was always over-the-top hyper throughout the competition and it only came through worse during last night's battle. Forgione was calm and collected the whole time.

Forgione also strikes me as someone FN can invest in long term much the same way they have with Michael Symon.

November 22 2010 at 5:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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