Chef Marc Forgione is back, surviving a second week, and discussing his big W this past Sunday night on the latest episode of “The Next Iron Chef.”
You have to cook with doughnuts at the start of this episode. Do you have a favorite kind?
I lived above the Donut Pub on West 14th street and, call me old school, but I used to love their old fashioned donut to dunk in my coffee. There is also a place in the Lower East Side called the Doughnut Plant and they do a crème brulée doughnut — really cool.
Doughnut mania has sort of supplanted cupcake mania. What do you think of these food ‘crazes’ in general?
I think people get a little caught up in crazes, but I don’t really pay attention to most of the hype. I think crazes are amusing, overall. The burger is a perfect example of a craze that has taken over the restaurant scene. Today, it seems that every fine-dining restaurant has to have a burger. At my restaurant, we added “The Burger”, which we serve at the bar for $24. It is extremely popular — a 28-day, dry-aged Creekstone Farm prime strip steak, with caramelized onions and bacon, arugula, and tomatoes on a homemade potato roll. It’s served with wedge yukon fries and housemade pickles.
Sounds sublime! You’re cooking in a tight space in this initial breakfast challenge — but is it all that different than many Manhattan kitchens?
The set at kitchen stadium is five times bigger than the station that I have at my restaurant. My kitchen is the size of an SUV!
Chef Dumont slices herself — and it’s a bleeder. What’s the worst injury you’ve ever gotten during service — and were you able to continue?
True story: My first five seconds working at An American Place, I took off the tip of my thumb. I was 16, and this was my first job in a three-star, legendary restaurant. For whatever reason, a cook gave me a cleaver to chop chives with, and, instantly, I took off the tip of my thumb. The chef basically taped it back on and put me back to work. I learned from them, and I hold true to it today, that if it doesn’t fall off, you don’t go home.
It’s often discussed that short-order cooks have the hardest jobs in cooking. Have you ever worked at a breakfast joint? And, are you a big breakfast fan?
I have never worked in “short-order” place, although I always had great respect for those guys. There was a place near my school called “The Hatch.” I was young in my career and had worked restaurants already, but I was amazed at how fast those guys could cook breakfast for a never-ending line. Breakfast is all order, fire — meaning there are no appetizers. People come in, sit down, and order food — and it has to go out quickly. That said, I love breakfast, and at my restaurant, we try and bring something new and fun to the table for our brunch. Not just your cookie-cutter brunch items. A favorite is the egg sandwich — bacon, egg, and cheese stuffed inside a popover with sriracha dipping sauce on the side.
When you’re in the initial peer-reviewed challenge, how much is this like kickball? Are you anxiously waiting to hear your name picked as someone’s — anyone’s — favorite?
Yes, it’s kind of like kickball. I went into every challenge wanting to win. After cooking and tasting each other’s dishes in the breakfast challenge, I thought it was anyone’s game. It is always nerve-wracking to hear what other people are going to think of your food.
The Chairman camps it up as does Alton when announcing the challenges. How do you guys keep a straight face? What’s the mood in the room as you’re learning what you’re all about to face?
The emotions go from being nervous until we find out what the challenge is, to concern because it is something we have never done before, and then you start to relax and have fun with it. At the end of the day, you’re just cooking food. I laughed a lot on the show!
Obviously, you did a terrific job with your classic diner dish, but was there a selection you initially wanted? And is there one you would NOT have wanted?
I was surprised that Joan decided to give me chicken, after the praise I received from cooking chicken the first time. You’d have to ask her what her strategy was, but I was happy with my assigned chicken pot pie. At first, I wanted to do liver and onions, because I thought that had the biggest range of creativity. I did not want to do an open-face turkey sandwich! In an hour, it is tough to get a big old turkey the way I would have wanted, especially because I like to brine my turkeys. The other dish that I did not want was pot roast. I had not yet become familiar with pressure cookers at that point on the show, so I didn’t want to mess with doing a pot roast in an hour.
Your job is to innovate a classic dish. Isn’t this sort of standard operating procedure by now? We’ve been hearing about chefs reinventing classics since, well, almost the inception the of the so-called classic dishes.
Just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t mean it is easy to re-create a classic dish, and I think we saw that in this battle. Some people were very successful, like myself and Chef Caswell. Some people crashed and burned, and I think that that happens a lot in the entire industry as well. A classic dish is a classic dish, because it is delicious. At the end of the day, if you are going to re-invent a classic, it had better be as delicious as that classic!
Pressure cookers are kind of in vogue once again. People who know me know they scare me (irrational fear of explosion). Do you use them? What are the advantages or disadvantages?
I know how to use a pressure cooker now, but I think that I should have looked into them more before the competition began. At my restaurant, I do not use them. An advantage of using a pressure cooker is that you don’t have to start your short ribs at 9AM to have at dinner; you can just throw them in an hour before and forget about them. The disadvantage is the misuse of the pressure cooker, resulting in the product not coming out right.
Simon bitches about too many flavors, too many ingredients. Can you talk about the fine (or not) line between something that is layered with flavor versus something that is simply overwrought?
I think that if you watch the first two battles closely, Simon is not complaining that there are too many flavors on all the plates. What he is trying to get at, in my opinion, is that if your dish is fried chicken and biscuits, like Chef Estes’s, it should taste like that. Even if you use four different sauces, different crust, a different vegetable, at the end of the day, it needs to taste like fried chicken and biscuits; it should not taste like something else. I think that Ming had the same problem with his corned beef hash and eggs, because it didn’t have the soul of traditional corn beef and hash.
Congratulations again on a big win. That dish, which Judge Symon called “sensational” looked just that. I’ll bet your fans are hoping to see it on your menu.