We’ve been following his every move for weeks, so we were so pleased to see the talented Marc Forgione claim the title of Iron Chef! Chef Forgione — or, ahem — Iron Chef Forgione talked to us about the last episode, his judges and co-competitors, and the first Thanksgiving.
Marc, it’s neat that you brought up your dad. First, his ‘American Place’ cookbook is, literally, prominently displayed in my home. BUT…I actually think of you absolutely discretely from him. Have you ever felt that you’ve cooked in his shadow?
Throughout my entire life, no matter where I have worked or who I have worked for, I have always heard the comment, “I heard you are Larry’s kid.” Most people would think that this puts me at an advantage, but that could not be farther from the truth. Every time I would slip up, I would have to hear a barage of questions, comparing me to him: “Would your father serve that? Would your father eat that?” and so on. Having said that, I obviously respect my father immensely and everything he has done for the restaurant business. I can only hope that one day they will be asking my son the same exact questions.
Bobby Flay and Morimoto are sitting in judgment. What are you thinking in terms of cooking for these two chefs?
Bobby Flay and Morimoto are legends in this business and cooking for the two of them definitely ups the ante for the task at hand. Morimoto commented during my first few dishes that he thought some things were salty – that definitely got me nervous. I loved hearing Bobby’s feedback throughout my courses. He was not just tasting the food but was truly judging everything that was going on throughout the battle. He broke down every single aspect of the dishes I put in front of him, and I valued all of his insights.
Honor is the theme and you went way old school — and honored the original harvest festival. Whoa! You seemed to have thought about this holiday. What does Thanksgiving mean to you as a chef?
What’s interesting is that my family, in general, has always been fascinated with and honored the Native American culture. It was not just a focus on Thanksgiving, but all the traditions that Native Americans contributed to our country. When I found out that our finale challenge was Battle Thanksgiving, there was not a doubt in my mind that I would be cooking courses that paid tribute to these people. Without Native Americans, we would not have this country that we call home today, and I think we need to realize that more often.
You’re not using turkey. Are you nuts?!? Is it Thanksgiving without turkey?
No, it’s most certainly not. However, I was not trying to recreate Thanksgiving with the meal I put before the judges. I was honoring the first gathering of the Native Americans and the Pilgrims as accurately as I could. I would have loved to cook turkey. I think you can deduce from my previous competitions on the show that I know how to cook poultry well. However, in the year 1621, when this first Thanksgiving gathering occurred, any research I came across indicated that there was not a domesticated turkey present. Therefore, to really pay tribute to tradition, I had to cook with the ingredients I was dealt. I believe we used about 20 ingredients throughout my five final courses that had been present during the first gathering.
Who are the dudes helping you and how did you choose them?
Barry and Chris were the one’s by my side at Kitchen Stadium. Barry is my sous chef at the restaurant and Chris is one of my cooks. When you are going into Kitchen Stadium, you need people you can trust and rely on to get the job/task done that you are putting before them. If I could have, I would have taken everyone that works with me at the restaurant. I would have loved to share the experience of cooking in Kitchen Stadium with every single one of them. But I could only bring two.
Did you get unnerved by Canora making a similar dish? Or does that make you just up your game?
We both had to use the items on the altar that day – turkey, venison, duck, and lobster. So obviously, our fishes would be based around these main ingredients. When I saw Marco pounding out the venison just as I had, and then heard he was stuffing and wrapping it, I could not help but laugh a little. Having said that, at that point, it became a true venison battle of whose was better both in terms of taste and presentation. And, I was most definitely up for the challenge!
Of all the people who have judged your food throughout this competition, is there anyone along the way by whom you were very intimidated or whom you wanted to please most?
Cooking for Bobby Flay and Morimoto got me pretty excited. I had been cooking for Symon the whole time so I was a little less unnerved standing before him. Cooking for other chefs in general is always more exciting to me. You want to demonstrate what you are capable of and it forces you to up your game to gain their approval. Chefs are able to recognize all the little differences in the plate you put before them – they can tell how long something has been cooked for, how much it has been pounded out, how it was seasoned. They have a deeper appreciation for all of the minor details than the average diner, so you are facing a much tougher and critical patron in a fellow chef. And, I love the challenge.
Is it weird that the chairman is really an actor? C’mon! Dish!
Not at all…the movie Mark Dascascos starred in, American Samurai, was one of my favorites as a kid! I love the Chairman! His presence on the set always made the mood a lot lighter. And, whenever he was delivering instructions to the rest of us, it made everything seem more official somehow.
Was there any dish Canora put out that made you especially envious?
I don’t know if envious is the right word to you. I always admired Marco’s food the beginning of the competition up until the very end. He was an amazing competitor.
So happy you won it, Forge! Congratulations! Okay, so you’ve been lauded by Michelin and the media — and now this. What does winning this mean to you?
I think I mentioned this on the show last night, but I will say it again. Throughout my entire career, I have always been the guy under someone else, whether it be my father or other chefs. I have always held the role of chef de cuisine. And, I think this win will show the entire country, and world, that — with my own two hands — I did it!
That you did! So, you’ll be cooking on Thanksgiving, but what does your family do on Christmas day? Do you take the day off? Do you cook? Your dad?
Christmas day is always spent in the kitchen — but in more of a celebratory way than actually working. We celebrate at my parents’ house, and after opening presents, we all make our way into the kitchen. The food starts coming out and it doesn’t really stop until we all fall asleep.
Thanks again to Iron Chef Marc Forgione for indulging our answers. Taste his fabulous food for yourself by dining at Marc Forgione in Manhattan.