As you may have guessed, we’re big fans of chef Marc Forgione here at OpenTable. So, we were on pins and needles watching the latest episode of The Next Iron Chef as this Michelin-starred chef struggled from start to finish. Like every week, chef Forgione shares his thoughts on what went right and wrong in Kitchen Stadium.
The show starts and you look so excited to cook with potatoes. Why do you love them so much? What’s your absolute favorite way to cook them?
Potatoes are one of those ingredients that you can twist and turn, flavor and season. You can turn a normal potato into something decadent or rustic. It is one of those blank canvases that you can play around with, manipulate, etc. My rustic favorite way to cook potatoes is to bake them and serve them with butter, salt and pepper. My fancy way to cook them is to make Robuchon-style mashed potatoes.
Chef Caswell hoards the black truffle. Doesn’t a little truffle go a very long way? Or is this just a good example of game play?
They were not black truffles; they were summer truffles and there were only a few in the pantry. Summer truffles don’t go a long way, certainly not as far as black truffles. Chef Caswell probably needed to use more than you would expect because they are not that flavorful. As far as him game playing, you’d have to ask Chef Caswell that question.
What went wrong with your potato filling — both as a filling and then as the gnudi? I thought this was a brilliant ‘save’!
To be 100 percent honest, I am not positive what happened. I make that filling all the time at my restaurant. The only thing I can say is that I over-whipped the crème fraiche and in the craziness of Kitchen Stadium put it in the fridge and thought it would be fine. I waited until the last second so the pasta could rest as long as possible. However, when I took it out, it was just way too loose and could not be recovered. At that point, I had four minutes left on the clock, so I had to do something. At the end of the day, I made the gnudi, and because of the time issue I didn’t even get to garnish it or add anything else to the plate. In retrospect, I should have just served the filling in the bowl and used the extra potatoes that I had for garnish and done a “chip and dip”.
Let’s talk about the winner. You loved Chauhan’s and called Canora’s “cute” — but I thought Canora’s really did exhibit the most respect in terms of letting the potato shine through. At this level, however, are you all looking for sophisticated technique?
You may have noticed that Marco was trying to hammer home respect the potato, respect the potato. The reason that he was trying to reinforce the respect the potato idea was because all he used in his dish was potato. I think his dish was great, but he was trying to push everyone toward the respecting the potato idea being that this was battle potato. You can see him trying to get everyone on his “battle potato team.”
I picked Chef Chauhan, because she also respected the potato and I thought the flavor was right on. Marco is obviously a big old-school Italian and he made this “cutesy” potato dish, I found it funny and called it “cute” to tease him.
You voted for yourself, yet there was a bit of scuttlebutt around the worst dish voting in the SI Challenge, with some votes going to Tio and then with Caswell voting for Chauhan and not Canora as best because he didn’t want him to get an advantage. Were the votes against Tio’s dishes valid — and how do you feel about game play in terms of the voting process? Shouldn’t people vote with their hearts and not their heads?
I can’t really speak for the other chefs, but I never once used game playing in the voting. As I say every week, I vote honestly for who I think had the best and worst dishes. One thing that was cut-out from the footage was my precursor to my dish, I said, “This goes against everything, everyone ever taught me about competing, but in my heart, I have to vote for myself.” I would not have felt right at the end of the day if I picked someone else’s dish as the bottom. I was hoping that someone’s was worse than mine, but that was not the case. It was only Chef Conora who voted for Chef Tio and his thing was “respect of the potato”, but she had goat cheese and other embellishments. I was surprised that I didn’t get all the votes.
You had to wait in the penalty box for 60 seconds. What was it like to watch everyone scramble while you had to stand by idly?
The hardest part about that minute was that there were some ingredients that I knew I needed to execute my plan — clams and steak. I knew there were limited amounts of both in the pantry, so to stand up there, listening and watching the action, was tough. From my spot, I could not really see what was taken, but when I heard clams hitting the bottom of pans, I was worried. If I didn’t get those clams, I would have to rethink an entirely new dish.
I thought your selections were very inspired, but why have you not dined south of the Mason-Dixon line? Is there a real road trip in your future?”
I would love to take a road trip; it just never happened. The farthest south that I have been, not including Florida, is Washington, D.C.
I thought a couple of the West Coast dishes (Cough. Canora. Cough.) were a little ‘fig on a plate.’ What was your take on them, and can you talk about the impact of the Wolfgang’s chicken salad that sparked a culinary movement?
I didn’t get to taste the other chefs West Coast dishes, but Marco’s dish was his nod to a very famous dish that started the whole farm fresh movement. Alice Waters’ salad, basically garden vegetables with anchovy vinaigrette. There was a lot of thinking behind that dish, it wasn’t just vegetables on a plate. I believe that the Wolfgang chicken salad did spark a movement. I can’t think of too many other dishes that have been replicated the way that salad from Chinois has been.
What happened with this fish? Were you really going to keep it off the final dish? Also, I am going to completely disagree with the judges. If you had served *just* the collards, I’m sure they would have said, “What was missing from this?” Do you feel at all that way?
It is a lot easier to think of things in retrospect versus being in the chaos of what is going on in Kitchen Stadium. If I could do it over again, I would have started off with a plan to go with famous restaurants in their respective cities. I should have just made a nice lobster soup and gone with Jasper White’s restaurant in Boston as an influence. With the South, I should have used my father’s dear friend Paul Prudhomme as an influence and used a nice piece of black fish.
At the end of the day, our job is to make good food. I had a serious technical flaw in that fish, and it was not something I would have ever served at my restaurant. I should have just scrapped that whole dish and put the shortcake as the dish from the South. I guarantee it would have helped me. The judges said that I lost confidence in my story. If I went with what I knew, it may have resulted in a better standing. At that point, everyone is cooking at a very high level; one mistake and you are screwed.
You are literally beating yourself up as you stand in the bottom two. And you have a very physical reaction to being saved to compete another week! As you’re processing this, what’s the takeaway from this experience?
That was the first time that I had tasted anything other than positive feedback, so it was a whole new experience. It was extremely humbling and made me realize that I am not invincible. The takeaway…go back to what got me that far. Stop thinking too much, and just cook your food. It felt a lot better being at the top.