The Next Iron Chef: Go Over the Top, Symon Says

by in Shows, November 21st, 2010
Michael Symon stops by Dish headquarters
Next Iron Chef Judge Michael Symon is all smiles, three years into his tenure.

Just three years ago Michael Symon sat where Chefs Marco Canora and Marc Forgione are today, battling for a permanent place on the roster of Iron Chef America. Now he frequently dons his jacket and defends chefly honor in Kitchen Stadium. He also serves as a judge on The Next Iron Chef, hosts Food Network’s Food Feuds and hosts Cook Like an Iron Chef on Cooking Channel. Clearly that long-ago Next Iron Chef winning moment was the end of one battle but the beginning of so much more.

“I went through the competition myself and I know how hard it actually is,” Symon said recently at Food Network’s New York City headquarters. “But you know, I feel that the winner is coming into our club, and we need to protect the club, just like Bobby and Mario and Morimoto did when I came through.”

Who will be the next chef to have a jacket hanging here?

So this season, Symon has enjoyed food from “some of the greatest chefs in America,” and is sympathetic to the fierceness of the competition, but he’s also clear eyed and critical. From battle to battle, even the smallest details made a difference in which chefs stayed and which went. In the wake of last week’s double elimination, Symon compared dishes from Chef Tsai and Chef Tio with those from the two remaining competitors. “Chef Forgione and Chef Canora’s food was just a little more over the top. And because of the nature of this competition, sometimes you have to go a little over the top to win.”

And once you do, expect to go over the top some more. “My food tends to be very simple and straightforward, and lets the ingredient speak for itself,” he says. “There cannot be enough pressure for me, and the competition cannot be tough enough for me. I thrive on competition.” And apparently, he also thrives on being busy, given not only his duties for all these shows but also his responsibilities with his own restaurants and family.

“I love people, I love food, I love my family,” he says. “My whole world really revolves around those things. I just try to keep it real and take it a day at a time, and cut loose–you know I don’t take anything too seriously.”

In good humor, Symon takes an impromptu challenge: We need an idea of what to make for dinner–or even tonight’s finale, Iron Chef style. So we head downstairs to Chelsea Market. His eyes twinkle at the sight of Dickson’s Farmstand Meats.

Iron Chef Michael Symon at Dickson's Farmstand Meats in New York City
Michael Symon in Dickson's Farmstand Meats, picking out finale fare.

Inspired, he bought: two legs and thighs of duck confit, two bratwurst, a smoked ham hock, some spaetzle, cooked sauerkraut, beer mustard and two marrow bones. Then he rattled off what to do.

“Take your marrow bones, your duck confit, your bratwurst, and your ham, and cover it with beer and a little bit of stock. Cook that; warm it up for about 30-45 minutes at a simmer. Meantime, cook your spaetzle separately. When the spaetzle’s done, toss it with the sauerkraut. Your meat will be warm. Scoop some mustard into the beer stock, and stir it in so you have a mustardy broth. Then take all that beautiful, luscious meat, place it on top of your cabbage and kraut, and top it with your mustard sauce.”

No secret, no challenge: Just on-the-fly meal prep with an Iron Chef.

Are you up to the challenge? The results are hearty, meaty, lusty, simple, memorable. “Dinner fit for a king,” he says. (Maybe even three or four of them.) No matter who is crowned tonight.

Catch tonight’s finale of The Next Iron Chef at 9 pm/8c on Food Network.

Plus, watch for Chef Symon on Food Feuds (cheesesteak and cheesecake!) on Food Network and Cook Like an Iron Chef (secret ingredient: scallops) on Cooking Channel this Thursday, post feast, at 10 pm/9c.

Keep up with Chef Symon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Comments (9)

  1. So does the feeling that, “I feel that the winner is coming into our club, and we need to protect the club" include removing chefs who cook better than you, have a more sophisticated palette, are more well-traveled, have decades more on-camera experience, have a better presence on camera, are more eloquent, and are better spoken than you?

    Because it sure looked that way when you antagonized Chef Tsai throughout the competition, until you finally kicked him off in favor of a working class guy who has trouble forming complete sentences. Someone kind of like a poor man's version of yourself.

    I thought Iron Chef was about the best, not making yourself look better by comparison.

    • freemymind says:

      well said! Twilight ! This is about the best chef, not a fraternity club to stroke each others ego. You were adamant on Garces over Mehta year, so what happened to that sorry mistake? In the end it is still who Symon wants and Symon says. I'm sorry to see FN executives leaving the NIC selection to Flay and Simon. These two were the precise reasons why I watch less of food network.

      • Greg says:

        Well said…. I think the FN "Brass" have made mistake after mistake this season, and I'll be watching less and less of it… FN is partly Flay's baby anyway… and it wouldn't shock me to learn the same about the Cooking Channel… I'm sure Forgione has some skill somewhere, but I can't and won't shake the feeling I have that this whole thing is and was a politically-motivated setup, given his father's "status" (sic) …

        All of the competing chefs involved are good in their own ways and rights… I just believe the faults lie with the "judges" … and the lot should be scrapped.

        • Thanks, freemymind, and Greg. I wonder if the entire contest was rigged based along: 1) The sell-your-soul-to-food-network contracts that every FN chef has to sign (hence everyone of talent leaving). 2) Symon not wanting to work with the most qualified chef, Ming Tsai.

    • luvcookin says:

      You're so right! So far I've seen Chef Tsai beat an Iron Chef and recently Eric Greenspan who was on NIC the year Garces won beat Flay too. So is FN really looking for the best chef or just to add to their "club." How many challenges has Garces won?

  2. Gary says:

    This is a business- and the chef's need to fit in and be a team when needed. The finale looked so one-sided for Forgione that the food just had to be that much better. This is the only time the chefs actually get to pick and choose- and to plan with their sous chefs that menu- the other competitions seems to be much more staged. The final seems to be just mano & mano- and it was clear that the planning and execution of Forgione's team just worked for him and the food.

    What is absent for almost all the Iron Chef competitions is the team aspect of the kitchen- and Canora (who I sort of like better) just didn't seem to have a great grasp of the bigger picture.

    Any of us that have real kitchen experience know it's all about planning and teamwork.

  3. Very Disappointed says:

    I absolutely love Iron Chef and I think the Next Iron Chef is just making a joke of how worthy the first group of Iron Chefs were. i think that being an Iron Chef should be an honor chosen by the same type of group that chose the first Iron Chefs: Flay, Batali, Morimoto, Cora. Being an Iron Chef does not mean that you should be able to impress 3 judges for about 10 competitions or so and then because they have to chose one, someone becomes an Iron Chef. It should be an honor to be chosen b/c you were recognized with your career as being the best of the best. At the rate this show is going, there will be 20 Iron Chefs pretty soon and then that title won't really hold that much honor anymore b/c anyone who can at least make it on The Next Iron Chef could become a real Iron Chef if they get lucky enough. I think it looked liked the judges didn't really want to chose anyone the year Chef Garces won, but again, they had to chose someone whether he truly deserved the title or not.

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