Inside Look: Next Iron Chef w/Marc Forgione
Who knew that when the Food Network started airing old reruns of the hit Japanese reality series Iron Chef back in the late 90’s that it would create a whole new genre within a genre? That of course is the reality cooking competition. After years of watching the overly dramatic, overdubbed and often sub-titled cooking competition the Network began wondering if they could pull off an American version of the show. Thus we have Iron Chef: America.
ICA has proven to be such a hit that other networks began doing their own versions. Bravo brought us Top Chef, Top Chef: Masters, and Top Chef: Just Desserts. Fox has produced Hell’s Kitchen and MasterChef. NBC produced the short-lived Chopping Block. Food Network, not to be out done, added Ultimate Recipe Showdown, Chopped, Next Food Network Star and Food Network Challenge to name a few.
But the problem with most of these shows is that they have tried to dazzle viewers with bizarre ingredients, screaming hosts and insultingly stupid challenges. They also have forgotten that at its crux ICA was still a show about food not personalities. To date, only one show comes close to matching the intensity and integrity of ICA and ironically it is the spin-off Next Iron Chef.
Next Iron Chef pits some of the best chefs in the country against one another to earn the title Iron Chef. To date the contest has produced Michael Symon who is currently the winningest champion in the show’s history and a bona fide star. It has also produced Jose Garces who has only tasted defeat twice.
Marc Forgione (chef/owner of Marc Forgione in New York) is the son of the “godfather of American cuisine” Chef Larry Forgione. The younger Forgione has long been known as Larry’s son but that ended eight weeks ago when NIC began airing. Today if you Google “Chef Forgione” the first page of results yields only one article about Larry and the rest are about his talented son.
Marc’s forte is New American cuisine of which Gael Greene says, “Not a molecular burp anywhere. Just real food most food-obsessed New Yorkers want to eat.” High praise from a high priestess of haute cuisine. Though he began cooking professionally at age 16 with his famous father, Marc also did some time working with Michel Guerard in Eugenie les Bains, Patricia Yeo at AZ and Pazo, Laurent Tourondel at BLT Steak and with Puck disciple Kazuto Matsusaka . He also graduated from the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at UMASS Amherst.
I was lucky enough to get to talk with Chef Forgione just days after his victory aired so that I could give fans an Inside Look at The Next Iron Chef. So what was it like competing to the show?
To find out I started off my questions by asking Chef Forgione to describe the process beginning with his first contact with the Food Network to which he replied, “I got a phone call one day while I was at work. They said this is the Food Network. I wasn’t really sure where that was going to go. The first interview was over the phone about a half an hour of me just speaking to a talent agent or talent scout. And I guess I passed that test.
“And then they call you in for the second round. And in the second round you actually go in there, it’s pretty weird actually they take you into like a dark room and shine the light on you and you answer questions. And then I just played the waiting game. I didn’t find out until three days before the flight that I was going. I was the last one on there.”
I then asked what emotions he felt as he entered the kitchen for that very first challenge. He offered, “You know we were already in LA for two days at that point, maybe three. We were all staying at the same hotel so we all got to meet each other and we went out to eat. At that point we were just hanging out.
“Then all of a sudden the Chairman comes out and when he looked at all of us and said, when I heard the sentence, you know what I mean, one of you will be the next Iron Chef I got goose bumps and all of the hair stood up on my neck. It was go time.” And then he described his feelings for that first challenge, “It was adrenaline, passion, excitement, a little bit of anxiety.”
On what makes the title Iron Chef special Forgione said, “When you hear the word Iron Chef to me the words that come up right away are respect and honor. I’m a very competitive person by nature anyway. So for me this is one of those things where it’s either put up or shut up with your food. There’s no gray area.” He added, “Anybody can talk the talk but this is actually your opportunity to get up there and show your stuff.”
According to Forgione the nightly group meals were almost as interesting as the on-camera battles, “You think it’s hard to cook for maybe one chef that’s coming into to eat at your restaurant imagine that 10-top coming in to eat at your place.” Adding, “Obviously once a couple of drinks got into everybody it always got interesting.”
Asked which challenge on the show was the hardest Chef Marc quickly answered, “By far the hardest for me was the buffet challenge.” He then revealed that half way through that battle he ripped his pants wide open, “They don’t stop the clock for anything so I had to adjust my apron to cover my derriere.”
Chef Forgione then describe his final battle with Chef Marco Canora, “Sitting back here the other night watching it. You know I knew we were doing two opposite things obviously while it was going on but to really watch it. It wasn’t just a battle of Thanksgiving it was almost a battle of like, well Alton Brown said it best, ‘Which do you want to go with? Do you want to go with unpredictable genius or safe and soulful.’ He cooked safe and soulful and I cooked unpredictable genius. It was kind of a microcosm of the whole thing.”
When asked if he had changed his approach in his first defense as an Iron Chef, Forgione replied, “I actually made a point to attack it exactly the same – I don’t know if gusto is the right word – but I made sure to stay true to what got me there.”
Chef Marc Forgione enters Kitchen Stadium for the first time as an Iron Chef Sunday night to do battle with Chef R J Cooper. The episode premieres on the Food Network at 10/9 central. For more on that click HERE.
All photos courtesy of the Food Network.