With dozens of cameras catching every glimpse and grimace, a gallery of excited onlookers and smoke billowing across the set, I could begin to see what all the fuss had been about.
It was my first visit to Kitchen Stadium and I was nervous enough. I could only begin to imagine how Chef Canora and Chef Forgione must be feeling as they walked into the arena. They had not only to impress the three judges one more time, but also to persuade Iron Chefs Morimoto and Flay that they were ready to join the pantheon of the greats.
When given their final task, to prepare for us the finest Thanksgiving feast imaginable, the way they approached it summed up their performances in every challenge to date. Chef Forgione was cool, calm and collected as he followed his story of recreating the first turkey-free Thanksgiving. Chef Canora, on the other hand, was all drama and nervous energy as he dipped into his family cookbook to bring us a traditional Thanksgiving meal. It was not long before he was literally leaving his blood, sweat and tears on the floor.
Sixty minutes later, the cooking part of Season 3 of The Next Iron Chef was over and it was time to make the big decision. Chef Forgione was the first to present. We all felt that there were seasoning problems with his food, as there had been a number of times before, and I was not particularly taken with his main dish of venison. However, his turkey-free story hung together well and in his dish of lobster and dessert of plum cobbler he produced two dishes as good as any we had tasted in the whole competition.
Chef Canora had arguably taken the safer route, depending on soulful cooking rather than fireworks to see him to victory. Unfortunately, for me his sweet pumpkin risotto was a flop and his venison dish came close behind in the disappointment stakes. His turkey dinner, however, rocked and his pecan pie was the best I have ever tried. Which meant it was all to play for as I tallied up my scores.
On plating and presentation, I had Chef Forgione as a narrow winner. On creativity, he was farther in front. Although things were much more even when it came to the final category of taste, when I added up the points for each chef, there was one clear winner.
It would appear that the majority of other judges agreed with me and when The Chairman revealed who would join the ranks of the culinary greats, Marc Forgione (or should I now say Iron Chef Marc Forgione?) had rightfully earned his place amongst the elite.