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So many people tell me that they wish they could see what happens behind-the-scenes as we film The Next Iron Chef. So here’s just a little insight into what a regular day might be like as I play my part in helping to decide who is going be the newest addition to the culinary pantheon (read the winner’s interview here).
6:30 a.m. — I head to the gym. A body this lovely doesn’t keep itself (no sniggering at the back).
9:00 a.m. — Being bald has its benefits. I have not visited a barber or bought shampoo in the last 15 years. Best of all, it means that during the filming of The Next Iron Chef each season, I have the latest call time of any member of the cast.
By the time I arrive, poor Donatella has already been in the chair for a couple of hours as our lovely makeup artists, Jackie and Jill, decide what to do with her hair. Iron Chef Zakarian is usually in the next chair telling everybody about the fabulous meal he enjoyed the night before and where he is going for dinner that night. As for me, I just need to choose the loudest tie I can find and have enough make up applied to my bonce to stop it from shining on camera.
Unlike in Kitchen Stadium, Geoffrey, Donatella and I never watch the chefs cooking during The Next Iron Chef. So while Alton and the chefs are hard at work, we wait in our dressing rooms until we are called upon to pronounce judgment.
11:00 a.m. — Around this time, the series’ producer will give us a briefing about the challenge that the chefs have just faced and we are escorted to the set to join Alton at the judging table. The order in which the chefs present is random and almost as soon as we are seated, someone on the culinary team will shout “food walking” as plates are placed in front of us. Although you only see a few seconds of edited comments, we usually discuss each dish for quite a few minutes, both with the chef in front of us and after he or she has returned to the kitchen. I make notes as I go along, which are often just a few key words to help me recall each dish when we come to discuss our top and bottom placing for the day.
1:00 p.m. — By now we have usually tasted all the dishes and a lunch break is called. I rarely need to eat on set, particularly in the early stages of the competition when we may be tasting dishes from 9 or ten chefs. But I take the chance to sit and catch up with my friends on the amazing crew, many of whom I know from previous seasons of The Next Iron Chef and Iron Chef America. The judges rarely speak to the competing chefs apart from a nod of “hello” as we pass on set. Even if we know some of them personally, from the get-go it is very much an “us and them” situation and we know that we are now the enemy, until after the competition, at least.
2:30 p.m. — After lunch, we will be summoned back to the chamber of judgment, prepared to get into an argument. The debates between the three passionate judges are often very heated, particularly when we are discussing which chef should be eliminated. We do, however, make sure to leave our arguments on set and no grudges are ever held once we make our decision. Alton doesn’t vote, but his job is to guide us and make sure that we are focusing on the challenge in hand.
4:00 p.m. — The chefs are brought back to the set to hear the good or bad news and it is always an incredibly emotional time for everybody concerned. We all know how much each chef wants the title of Iron Chef and watching as Alton tells one of them that it is not going to happen can be heartbreaking, for the judges, the crew and fellow chefs . While being eliminated is disappointing for the chefs, it does not alter the fact that each and every one of them is terrifically talented and that we would eat in any one of their restaurants in a heartbeat.
6:00 p.m. — I am cleaned up and ready to head home. The evening is usually a quiet one. I certainly don’t need any supper, except perhaps an antacid, and my head is usually filled with thoughts about what might happen in the days to come. It’s also filled with a great deal of gratitude that I am allowed to be part of this extraordinary cast and crew that work so hard to create The Next Iron Chef.