The Next Iron Chef Episode 6: Chef Marc Forgione on Pressure and Pressure Cookers

The chefs are challenged to transform the old school 24-hour Vegas buffet: "The Chairman wants you to razzle dazzle Sin City with your modern version." — Alton Brown

Competitor and native New Yorker Marc Forgione walks us through what happened in Vegas in this latest nail-biter of an ep of The Next Iron Chef. Threatened with a double elimination at the outset, chef Forgione was sweating it out with three of his fellow chefs until the very last minute.

This show is set in Vegas. What’s your opinion about Sin City and opportunities for restaurateurs? Do you aspire to open Marc Forgione LV?

I don’t know if I would ever open a Marc Forgione in Vegas. We have plans for Marc Forgione restaurant expansion, but New York is my home base. However…if anyone is out there reading this, I have always been interested in having some type of restaurant in Vegas.  Vegas is an amusement park for adults, where everything is bigger and fancier. When people go to Vegas they want to be wowed and spend money. It is for that reason that Vegas is a chef’s dream — you can cook with exotic ingredients and take the word “fine dining” to the extreme.

For your first challenge, Jean-Philippe Maury is your judge. He’s a MOF. Did you see Kings of Pastry? Maury strikes me as the quintessential French chef, especially with his razz of Canora’s dessert. Were you intimidated by him as a judge?

I have not seen Kings of Pastry, but, of course, I knew that Jean-Phillipe Maury is a very talented chef. During our 11 days in Vegas, we were able to sample some of his offerings almost every morning — his food was truly great.

I spent a year and half in France and had posts in three of Michel Guérard’s top restaurants. I came away with a deeper relationship with ingredients and a sense of humility in the kitchen that informs my perspective today. I also worked for Laurent Tourondel, who entrusted me to oversee the opening of many BLT outlets. I know and respect many French chefs. The intimidation factor is more of a respect factor.

Fear and Loathing Parfait Cake: Peanut Butter and Chocolate Parfait "Cake," Feuilletine Crunch and Hazelnut Brittle (inspired by his girlfriend...swoon!).

I thought it was cool that you used your girlfriend as inspiration for your dessert, which was obviously very tasty. How important is it to feel like you’re cooking with someone in mind — your restaurant diners, your family, your friends — instead of just trying to meet the requirements of a challenge?

Cooking with someone in mind was actually advice from my mother (Thanks, Mom!). Every single battle that you have watched so far, I cooked for someone I know and love each time.

There was a point a few years back where restaurants were eliminating their pastry chefs to save money. How often have you done dessert, and do you, indeed, have a renewed respect for folks who do pastry?

A pastry chef in a restaurant on paper does not make sense money-wise. Nine times out of ten you don’t sell enough pastries to pay their salary or the pastry teams salary. In my opinion, though, dessert is just as important as any other course and it is a huge component of my restaurant. The desserts at Marc Forgione are a collaboration — my pastry chef, Ashton Warren, and I like to have fun together with different types of classic desserts.

I loved your line about scrambling for ingredients in the walk-in.  “No matter what I have to do, no matter who I have to maim!” Very old-school New York ambition there. Did the threat of the double elimination create this blood lust?

At the time, we thought it truly was a double elimination, half of us were going home. I had my plan and I wanted my stuff. I meant what I said. I was getting to that walk-in first and I did. It may not have been clear when you were watching, but we were not just cooking for the judges, we had to cook an actual buffet for 20-25 people. This is usually something that would take two days and we have three hours. I don’t know if this was stressed when you were watching it, but we also had to set-up the buffet too, put water in the dishes, decorate the table. It was really 2.5 hours to cook and 30 minutes to set-up the table. You had to go into another room to get all the stuff and then from that room to the dining room. It was a lot of running around and lost time that we could have used to cook.

Chilled Garden Vegetable Consomme; Old Fashioned Prime Rib; Coconut Curry Braised Veal Cheeks; Sous Vide Leg of Lamb; Raw Salmon Apple Coriander Nage

Your buffet was very meat-centric. What might you do differently, menu-wise, if you had to do it again?

Put less salt on the veal cheeks. What you didn’t see in this episode, was that my veal cheek was supposed to be served over coconut rice and the lamb leg was supposed to be served over minted cous cous. Time got the better of me and I burnt the coconut rice twice!  I had to go with what I had and at it ended up being meat, meat, meat because I did not get the garnishes that I wanted on the plate. If I had not over salted the veal cheek, I doubt there would have been any issues with what I made. Everything came out the way I wanted it to.

Here’s your pressure cooker moment! I love that you thought it might explode. You were clearly suspicious of it from start to finish. Would you use one again? Could you have used anything else on those veal cheeks to cook them?

This was my first time using a pressure cooker. I could not have used anything else on the veal cheeks to cook them. The thing that I was more concerned about was the rib-eye. Technically a whole rib-eye needs to rest for at least half-an-hour. I took it out with only about 15 minutes to go. In that sense, having the buffet actually saved me because it got to sit there under the heat lamp resting and it came out perfectly. Tune in next week for “Marc Forgione versus the Pressure Cooker, Round Two”…I can’t wait for you to see what happens next.

Chef Canora always seems very emotional in the kitchen while I am continually struck by your steady grace under pressure. You have lots of energy, but you don’t seem to get outwardly rattled. Is there anyone else in the kitchen you enjoy working alongside because they share your cooking temperament?

I actually enjoyed working next to Canora because it cut the pressure in the air when I would listen to him scream and yell. He would complain about the lighting being too bright or the salt being too salty. He was funny.

If you had more time — is there anything you can do to save over salted meat? Could you have cut the saltiness with something?

If I had more time, I am confident that a nice cooling coconut rice would have helped the overall dish. I had the pressure cooker on too high of a flame, so the sauce reduced too much. If I had more time, maybe I would have shredded the meat and mixed it with breadcrumbs or something.

Caswell goes and I will miss him. He’s got such a great demeanor. When you were waiting for the second elimination that never came, did you think you were joining him on the way out?

I had no idea. I knew that Ming had some flaws, Tio had some flaws and I had some flaws. At that point it was just a waiting, guessing game. I knew I had a one out of three chance.


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