‘The Next Iron Chef’ Episode 1: Chef Marc Forgione Talks Sammies and Slides

Alton confesses that he wouldn't have worn a hat if his hair were as cool as Marc's.

Move over, Mad Men. Sunday nights have even more must-see TV for foodies, thanks to the premiere of season 3 of The Next Iron Chef. Competitor Marc Forgione has signed on to help shepherd OpenTable diners through every episode this season, win, lose, or draw (and we’re going to hold you to that, Chef!). We’ll find out what’s behind Chef Forgione’s thinking as he takes on the world’s best chefs, as well as get a look behind the scenes of this exciting, high-stakes competition.

Thanks for joining us, Chef Forgione!  NYC has become the city of the sammie. And, you had to make one straight out of the gate. Do you have any fave sandwiches in NYC that you eat when you’re not at your restaurant?

The Banh Mi from The Saigon Bakery on Grand Street.

Speaking of sandwiches, can we talk about the reality of 30 minutes for a challenge? This is a new kitchen. You have a surprise ingredient. How fast does the time go?

People say 30 minutes isnt that hard, but it’s not like we were putting cold cuts on bread. We had no idea what the ingredient was until Alton said we had to make a sandwich. There was no pool of possibilities — it all happened in the moment. We make everything from scratch, right down to the last second. Yes, this was a new kitchen, we had never been in there to practice before, never even turned on the stove. It is all real! We all knew we were going up against nine very talented chefs, so we did not want to hold back on the first challenge. I chose to make sausage and peppers from scratch, Marco had a gorgeous vegetable bruschetta, and Maneet made a sandwich that had two different dipping sauces. I was very impressed with everyone’s dishes, considering we only had half an hour. I knew from the first challenge that this was going to be a serious game.

I was really pleased to see the camaraderie in this kitchen among all the chefs. VERY cool and very un-‘Top Chef’ like.

We all made a pact that there would be no sabatoge, ingredient hoarding, or stealing. But…whoever is going to win this thing is going to win it against everyone’s best. Nobody wants to win it any other way. No cheating. On other shows, chefs may hide ingredients, stash things away, but we made it a point not to do that. If someone wants limes, I’ll give them limes.

How well acquainted are you with your fellow contestants? Any friends or foes?

I knew most of the my fellow competitors by name, but I did not know any of them personally before the show. This includes the New York chefs; I had never met Marco or Maneet.

What is it like judging your fellow contestants? Also, Chef Estes judges her own sandwich as the best. That’s so ungracious – I’m not digging her at all.

I think it is cool that we judge ourselvers for the first challenges, for two reasons: one, judging yourself keeps everyone honest, and two, because we actually got to taste each others food. As far as Estes voting for herself, I thought it was ballsy. I wouldn’t have done it. I told her that, too.

Someone mentioned the word housemade in describing a part of their sandwich. I’m so tired of hearing that! Please tell me you don’t do this on your menu.

I don’t do it on my menu….it is implied that we do everything from scratch.

Whew! Can you talk about why you chose chicken as your desert island ingredient – and would you choose that again? Also, um, limes? That was a weird D.I. choice.

When they asked the question, I pictured being on a deserted island. What is better than chicken roasted over an open fire? Yes, I would select chicken again. Mario Pagan is from San Juan, Puerto Rico, so limes are a huge part of his culture.  They use limes in the Carrribean the way we use ketchup.

That puts that choice into perspective. Loved your Hank Aaron slide! What’s going on in your mind as you’re racing to get ingredients? Did you really get sand in all the herbs? Also, did you play baseball as a kid?

You couldn’t see this on screen, but we were in a semi-circle around the ingredients. I was the farthest away you could have been from the ingredients and for what I had planned, I knew I needed coconut milk, mint, and cilantro. There was definitely a limited amount of those three things, so getting there first was what was going through my mind. And, the sand slide worked! I got there first. I did get sand in all the herbs, but I had to wash it out, too…so I also made it harder for myself. I did play baseball as a kid, but that had nothing to do with the slide. It was a competitive move; a full-on sprint to the ingredients helped.

Where was this beach located? Was the wind a big factor in cooking?

We filmed in Los Angeles (at a top secret location). Wind was a big factor for this challenge. In particular, I was chopping some mint and the wind blew it off the cutting board. I had to just do it again, do it fast, and hang on to the mint a little harder.

The final feedback on your dish was both that you “cooked a perfect protein” and “made one ingredient inedible.” Clearly this is an example of the totally subjective nature of judging. What do you do you take away from these disparate comments and the judging on the elimination challenge as a whole?

One interesting thing for me while watching last night is that we didn’t get to see any of the judging during taping. It was the first time I had heard their comments and I was surprised that I was on bottom. It was interesting to hear Simon say that he didn’t think honey and chicken go together. I am pretty positive that people dip chicken fingers in honey. At my restaurant, we serve quail and waffles with a peppercorn honey for brunch — it is very popular. I knew that Simon did not like the dish when we filmed the show, but I didn’t know I was at the bottom of the challenge. Everyone tastes something different, which is why it is valuable to have three judges.

That was weird because my all-time fave chicken marinade has honey in it. And people love it! As in they-ask-for-the-recipe love it. Anyway, Simon seems kind of crabby. His headshot doesn’t even make him look particularly friendly. Okay, well, thanks, Chef Forgione. We’ll see you next week, as you continue to compete!


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