Traci des Jardins

7 Questions with NIC3’s Mary Dumont

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know better.

This October, The Next Iron Chef returns with its fieriest season-to-date. Ten of the country’s most accomplished chefs bet on their skills and put their reputations on the line for the chance to join the industry’s most elite culinary society: the Iron Chefs.  Hosted by Alton Brown and filmed in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York City, season three premieres Sunday, October 3rd at 9pm ET/PT on Food Network and challenges the chefs’ culinary skills and mental toughness as they enter a clash of culinary titans.

For all the info on the new season of The Next Iron Chef, check out this link (has press release, episode descriptions, bios, video, etc).

The great thing about NIC is that all of the combatants are serious, award winning chefs.  Mary Dumont (Executive Chef at Harvest in Cambridge, Mass.) stuck to her New Hampshire family’s restaurateur roots and, after attending Simmons College, got her start in the business working under such culinary talents as San Francisco’s Jardiniere, Campton Place and Elizabeth Daniel. Upon returning to New Hampshire after stints in Chicago and California, she established her signature contemporary New England cuisine with classic French inspiration which she showcases as executive chef of Harvest. Dumont is the first-ever New Hampshire chef to earn the Food & Wine “Best New Chef” accolade.

With the premiere of Next Iron Chef 3 on the horizon Chef Mary Dumont answers 7 Questions.

1.   How old were you when you first started to cook?

Chef Mary Dumont of HarvestI grew up in New Hampshire and was raised in a family of restaurateurs, but being a chef is not what I originally thought I would do. After attending Simmons College in Boston for Literature, I followed a whim and moved to San Francisco at the age of 21. There, I immersed myself in the culture of food and dining and knew it was my calling. Then, I started cooking professionally at age 23.

2.   When did you decide that you could make food your career?

After the sudden death of my mother, I knew that the only way to succeed was to plan a serious course. I started working at San Francisco’s Jardiniere with Traci Des Jardins, and I saw what an amazing job Tracy did and what an incredible life she had; I was truly inspired. I felt deeply that this was what I was meant to do. It aligned with how I was raised and what I thought was important, it made a lot of sense for me.

3.   Which chefs have influenced you the most?

Chef Laurent Manrique of Campton Place in San Francisco taught me so much. He really looked at how I was cooking and taught me the whys of it all – why things are supposed to be certain ways and not others, why it’s important to be a problem solver and how to fix things, why things go together in the kitchen. This greater understanding of food and how everything works helped me see the bigger picture and is now something I try to teach to all my cooks.

Traci Des Jardins of San Francisco’s Jardiniere built a really great empire of restaurants in San Francisco. She is really into flavors and using a lot of local farms, aspects I incorporate into my cooking today. When I was working with her and so young, I was like a sponge and I was psyched just to be there with her, learning from her and even getting yelled at sometimes (she knew I existed!). I just wanted to learn and be better.

I have always respected what Barbara Lynch does. She has an amazing palate and business acumen. Nobody in this area has what she has; nobody can touch it.

4.   If you hadn’t followed this career path, what other career could you see yourself in?

Before I chose literature, I was really starting on the course to be a doctor. Then I realized I just wanted to cook! But, I am still providing a great service and helping people.

5.   How would you describe your cooking style?

Contemporary New England with French influences and farm-to-table focus.

6.   What motivated you to enter the Next Iron Chef competition?

I was excited by the idea of becoming an Iron Chef to share my passions with a larger audience – from my food and cooking style to my passion for sustainable agriculture and farm-to-table food. This is a unique aspect and outlook I would bring to the group.

7.   What’s next for Chef Mary Dumont?

No matter what happens in the competition, I am excited to bring all my experience back to Harvest and someday even have my own restaurant. As far as Harvest, we have our monthly farm dinners and we have many exciting things going on including a great staff and series of special events.

Be sure you check back each Sunday for the NIC Recap.

7 Questions with Chef Michael Symon

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know better.

When the Food Network first went online back in 1993 the talent was made up mostly of chefs who lived within a cab ride of Chelsea Market.  After a few years the network got it’s sea legs and began to recruit talent from around the country.

For a few years the network aired a show called Melting Pot.  It was an interesting idea, a daily show but with a rotation of chef/hosts.  The episodes were themed towards various immigrant cuisines that helped shape the American palate – Caribbean/Gula, Mediterranean, Asian, etc.  There was quite a stable of talented chefs, then no-names like the adorable Cheryl Smith and a fashion model named Padma Lakshmi.

The Mediterranean show was hosted by Rocco DiSpirito who fruitlessly flirted with co-host Cat Cora while the Eastern European show featured a chef Bobby Flay has called one of the great pastry chefs in the country, Wayne Harley Brachman.  His co-host was a shaved headed, soul patch wearing Cleveland chef with a laugh straight out of a mad scientist’s laboratory named Michael Symon.  When Melting Pot left the airwaves many of the cheflebrities went back to their restaurants and regained their anonymity.  Symon was, it appeared, destined to follow this path.

Cleveland was hardly considered a culinary hot spot but Simon’s Lola changed that the moment he and wife Liz opened the doors back in 1997.  That same year, Symon was named a “Rising Star” chef by Restaurant Hospitality magazine.  A year later Food & Wine listed him as one of the “Ten Best New Chefs in America.”  In 2005 he returned to Food Network as a challenger on the hit series Iron Chef: America (ICA).

Though Symon was defeated by Iron Chef Morimoto, the battle was a classic.  Soon Symon’s star outgrew Lola’s seating capacity and he relocated to a downtown address.  But refusing to abandon the Tremont neighborhood that had so embraced him, he opened the provocatively named Lolita in the old Lola space.  This loyalty makes Symon different from the run of the mill celebrity chef.

When Mario Batali wanted to scale back his presence on ICA the Food Network was in a pickle.  Taking a cue from Bravo’s success with Top Chef (with former Melting Pot host Padma Lakshmi), they came up with The Next Iron Chef, a culinary competition where the winner would become a permanent Iron Chef.

The Next Iron Chef would not pit “up and comers” but rather would feature celebrated chefs like Traci Des Jardins, Chris Constantino and former Melting Pot alum Aarón Sanchez.  Symon would also compete.  After boldly proclaiming that he would be around until the end, he almost went home after the first challenge.  The close-call motivated him and as predicted he was in fact there until the end beating out New Orleans’ Chef John Besh to become The Next Iron Chef.

The win was big – mushroom cloud big.  Symon went from being a regional culinary hero worthy of national attention to becoming a genuine national celebrity.  Once America got a taste of his creativity they couldn’t get enough of it.  Symon even took over the reigns of the popular Dinner: Impossible while embattled host Robert Irvine ironed out a few issues.  In his very first episode at the helm Symon created a dish that has spawned a national craze, chocolate covered bacon.

Not everything has been a victory for Cleveland’s finest.  In 2007 Symon forayed into the fickle New York market with Parea which sported only luke warm reviews.  More than one snooty Manhattanite bantered that Symon wasn’t ready for New York.  It’s now 2010 and it seems every restaurant in the Big Apple features roasted pork belly and chocolate covered bacon.  Apparently it was New York that needed to catch up to Michael Symon.

Today Symon has a five restaurant empire adding Michael Symon’s Roast in Detroit, Michael Symon’s B-Spot in Woodmere, OH and Bar Symon located in Avon Lake, Ohio.  More TV appearances followed with guest spots on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, FoodNation with Bobby Flay and The View to name a few and a book with fellow Cleveland culinary personality Michael Ruhlman (with forward by Bobby Flay).  But it is on ICA that Symon has cemented his reputation as the consummate champion with a staggering winning percentage of nearly 85%, the best among Iron Chefs with more than five battles.

The future looks bright as well.  Michael Symon’s “Cook Like An Iron Chef” premieres in July on The Cooking Channel and he is set to open a new restaurant in the Cleveland area at the end of May.

Recently, Michael Symon took time out of his busy schedule to answer 7 Questions:

1. How old were you when you first started to cook?

Michael Symon: Always cooked, cooked with my family while growing up.   I was around seven, cooking with my mom – 15 in a restaurant.

2. When did you decide that you could make food your career?

MS: In high school.  Fell in love with the biz immediately, loved making people happy with food.

3. Which chefs have influenced you the most?

MS: Bobby Flay, Fergus Henderson, Marc Shary, Carl Quagliata and Jonathan Waxman.

4. If you hadn’t followed this career path, what other career could you see yourself in?

MS: Architect, farmer or working with kids.

5. What’s the highlight of your career so far?

MS: Winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef Great Lakes Region 2009.  Food and Wine Best New Chefs 1998. . . it changed my life forever.

6. What aspect of your professional life do you enjoy the most?

MS: Getting to work with my wife, Liz.  The satisfaction of creating new dishes.

7. What’s next for Chef Michael?

MS: One day at a time.  The sky’s the limit.

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know better.

ICA: Symon v. Cosentino – Battle Offal

Originally posted October 26, 2008.

Chris Cosentino is no stranger to Kitchen Stadium.  Chris Cosentino is no stranger to Michael Symon as Symon beat Cosentino among others to become The Next Iron Chef.  So, with a gaggle of experience on his side Chris Cosentino returns to Kitchen Stadium tonight to square off against Symon one more time.  So here’s a little about Chris Cosentino from his web site, offalgood.com:

Growing up in Rhode Island, Chris Cosentino spent his time clamming, commercial fishing, and cranking the pasta machine in his great-grandmother’s kitchen. He was raised on a cuisine particular to parts of New England where Atlantic seafood, Yankee fare and classic Italian cooking fuse into one colorful gastronomy. Creating good food was a family tradition, as Cosentino’s maternal ancestors, the Eastons, were the founders of Newport’s beloved Easton’s Sausage Company.  Today, as executive chef of San Francisco’s Incanto, where he cooks in an earthy rustic Italian style, Cosentino is proving that a penchant for meats may just be hereditary. Cured, raw or roasted; traditional cut or offal, meat is his muse. Incanto’s lauded charcuterie selection, all cured in-house, ranges from mortadella to fragrant fennel salame to a sweetbread terrine and an intense salt-cured pork liver. Cosentino also has an abiding passion for offal, and is currently at work on a definitive cookbook on the subject. At Incanto, he features offal on his daily changing menu as well as in an annual Head to Tail dinner, and in a Quarto Quinto, or fifth quarter tasting menu.

Yet this meat-loving chef does not ignore produce. California is a giant garden, he says, and indeed, he can be spotted at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza farmers market every Saturday morning, rain or shine. His curiosity does not stop at the farm, and Cosentino is an avid researcher of cooking techniques, equipment, and culinary lore through the ages, which he is eager to share with his customers. Everyday I have the opportunity to educate people, just as each day is ultimately an education for me, he says.

Cosentino’s formal education took place at Johnson and Wales. Upon graduation, he worked at Mark Miller’s Red Sage in Washington, DC. “This was the best first kitchen job I could have had”, he recalls, because I learned from Mark that food is deeply rooted in history and is not just something that a chef merely creates out of thin air. He credits Miller with sparking his love of reading and research through the access he gave him to his prodigious cookbook library.

After Red Sage, Cosentino worked at Kinkead’s before moving to San Francisco to work under Traci des Jardins (who also competed on The Next Iron Chef) at Rubicon. He was then tapped by Drew Nieporent to open The Coach House on Martha’s Vineyard. Cosentino returned to California to work briefly at (Alice Water’sChez Panisse, as well as the three-star Belon as sous chef, and as a chef/consultant at Michael Mina’s Aqua group, opening Nob Hill in Las Vegas.

One weekend while working at a gala event in Napa Valley, Cosentino found himself cooking alongside Jean-Louis Palladin. The meeting formed into a friendship that lasted until Palladin’s death, and deeply influenced Cosentino’s outlook on cooking. Jean-Louis taught me never to cook for reviews, but for my diners and myself, he says. An avid hunter, Palladin also taught him to be realistic and respectful about the path an animal takes from farm or forest to plate, sparking his interest in offal cooking.

At Incanto, Cosentino makes his Executive Chef debut. He took over the helm of the one year-old restaurant in 2003, immediately garnering a three-star review from SF Chronicle’s Michael Bauer, the first of many critical accolades.

In addition to spending time with his wife and young son, Cosentino’s other passion is endurance cycling. In between restaurant jobs, he was a professional cyclist, putting his single speed mountain bike through its paces in 24-hour ultra endurance mountain bike races through some of the most punishing terrain in North America. Today he takes his bike around Northern California’s mountainous terrain, always on the lookout for wild edibles.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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