Last night’s episode of The Next Iron Chef was all about seduction — and elimination as two of the final four were sent packing. Chef Marc Forgione takes us behind the scenes on how he survived to cook in Kitchen Stadium next week.
First, do you always cook in black? And, did you always wear black — or not until you were in charge?
Pretty straight-forward answer to this question: Black is my favorite color. I have been wearing black chef coats ever since I had my own restaurant. I have even instilled my color preference onto my staff — we all wear black in my kitchen. It has become a signature style choice at the restaurant!
This show has been very challenging, obviously. Can you name another time in your career that you were under as much pressure to prove yourself?
I have faced different kinds of pressure ever since I became a chef and started my career in the restaurant industry. Opening a restaurant with your name on the front door creates more pressure than most would choose to deal with. However, the emotions that I endured throughout filming, both mentally and physically, were unlike any others I have ever felt. They were all-consuming and challenged my very nature as a chef. I think I mentioned on the show that the entire process felt like a science project. As contestants, we were being experimented on to see how much the human body and mind could actually endure.
What’s your favorite cocktail? And, do you do much mixology at your restaurant? Are you involved in helping create ingredients/infusions or making suggestions?
My favorite cocktail is honestly the one I made on last night’s show (Mezcal with Kumquat and Mint Simple Syrup with a float of Champagne). I know Mezcal is not for everyone, but I really love the taste especially mixed with the ingredients I chose to pair it with. At the restaurant, I work very closely with my sommelier and mixologist in helping to develop our cocktail and wine menus. We instill the same philosophy behind the bar as we do in the kitchen when it comes to product. We choose ingredients that are peak in season and then mix them with liquors to create refreshing and interesting profiles. In fact, our mixologists shop at local markets for fresh products just as much as our chefs do.
If you could have chose any of the luxury ingredients outside of the lobster, which might you have selected? And, have you ever tasted Mangalitsa pork?
If I had had my choice, strictly because of time and familiarity, I would have gone with the Wagyu Beef. The lobster and Hawaiian moi both are more involved in terms of prepping and butchering, so that consumed a lot of our 90 minutes. In the end, like I said in the show, I was happy with lobster because it truly played to the seduction aspect of the challenge. Before the challenge, I have never tasted Mangalitsa pork, I but got to try it out that day. It was very good and had a lot of flavor. I might even consider using it in future dishes at the restaurant.
When you and your competitors are making these dishes, is there any opportunity to taste what the others have made?
Sometimes at the end, after everything has been plated and gone out to the judges, there will be remnants of a competitor’s complete dish left for you to try. Pretty much whatever is left in the pan is fair game to try out. We tend to all walk around with spoons after the cooking is done and grab a mouthful of whatever we can find left over.
What is the sexiest dish you’ve ever been served (that wasn’t your own) and what made it so?
Hands down it would have to be the Uni/Sea Urchin Custard from 15 East, a restaurant in Manhattan. It all has to do with the combination of flavor, texture and smell, and the personal feeling these sensory components stimulate. When eating this dish, I find myself literally closing my eyes and letting out a little moan of satisfaction. There are not many foods that induce this reaction in me — Uni is definitely one of them!
Okay, you used the pressure cooker again. Are you nuts? It ended well, but that took cajones!
What you need to know beforehand is that I take pride in my braised items at the restaurant. Ask any of my cooks! It’s a big component in my restaurant, and I am meticulous about preparing and cooking the meat perfectly. The fact that I screwed up a braised item on the show did not sit right with me. I did not want to leave the competition failing in a process that I respect and know I can do well. So more than anything, I was challenging myself to put out another braised item before the judges that would prove my abilities. Take that, pressure cooker!
What is it like to cook in that narrow kitchen with cameras in your face and people yelling and all that? And, also, what is the kitchen like at Marc Forgione? Calm? Some yelling sometimes?
My kitchen at the restaurant is actually not that big, so I am pretty much used to working in small spaces. All of the contestants on the show work in environments that are bustling and high stress situations. Enter our kitchen on any Saturday night and you will find the same scene you see when we are preparing for the judges — people running around and screaming for missing items! What I believe is that the people who were able to make it far in this competition are the ones that strived and were able to uses the pressure packed situation to their advantage. The cameras were obviously an added component to get used to — they were everywhere. But, after awhile you learned to work around them.
The pasta — you’re a paisan! How rough was it when that didn’t come out precisely as you’d hoped?
It was rough. I tried to explain what happened on the show, but when you make pasta, the dough is supposed to rest for an hour so the water hydrates the flour. I obviously did not have the luxury of waiting for the dough to be ready with our time constraints. I also wanted to make sure that the dough was thick enough to hold my filling which was more liquidly than typical fillings — I wanted to obviously avoid the same mistake that I made a few shows back during a secret ingredient challenge. Just couldn’t get it quite right either time.
You’re through and it was very emotional. How tough was it to stand there with Ming?
Throughout the whole show, a major advantage I had — and the reason why I took so many chances while cooking — was my belief that the show was built around making Ming the Next Iron Chef. Most of us believed he had it in the bag when we found out he was a contestant. So, I went in with a reckless abandon and cooked with excitement pushing me through each round. When they announced that Ming would not be the Next Iron Chef, the thought that initially ran through my mind was not that I had mad it into the finals but that I now had a real chance to win the entire thing. It finally felt real at that point. Next up: Kitchen Stadium!