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Despite the rivalries and fierce content of the Iron Chef America: Tournament of Champions (Sundays at 9pm/8c) that awaits the Chairman’s Iron Chefs, almost all of Kitchen Stadium’s elite came together at this winter’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival for an informal conversation about what it takes to be an Iron Chef, what privileges and expectations come with the job, as well as their own experiences in rising to their newfound roles. Although he won’t be competing in the series, Bobby Flay was on hand to lead Alex Guarnaschelli, Geoffrey Zakarian, Marc Forgione and Michael Symon in the hour-long chat, moderating the event and posing questions to both the group and the chefs individually that touched upon their histories in the kitchen, battle records, ingredients of choice and so much more. Masaharu Morimoto, the other original Iron Chef along with Bobby, couldn’t attend the panel, but the group quickly agreed that within their circle, Iron Chef Morimoto is the preeminent master of Kitchen Stadium and that a loss in battle to him is practically a rite of passage. “Everybody has to do it once,” Iron Chef Symon joked.
Although these culinary powerhouses may be all business during competition, there was no shortage of laughs and good-natured joking at this gathering, which took place just steps away from the sandy shores of South Beach, Miami. Read on below to hear from Bobby, and find out what Iron Chefs Guarnaschelli, Zakarian, Forgione and Symon had to say about life before and after they accepted their titles, what it’s like to fall in battle and their winning moments on The Next Iron Chef.
Bobby began the chat with a brief one-on-one with Iron Chef Symon, asking him how his career has evolved since winning the premiere season of The Next Iron Chef. Looking back on the time, Iron Chef Symon explained: “When I won The Next Iron Chef, I didn’t think it would make the restaurants any busier. I thought maybe we could do more restaurants, but I didn’t think it would make the restaurants any busier … The very next day, business went up by 25 percent and it held that way for almost seven years now.”
Iron Chef Forgione responded similarly when Bobby asked him about opening his second restaurant, American Cut, and whether he would have enjoyed that venture had he not won Season 3. “I’d like to think so,” Iron Chef Forgione told him. Iron Chef America “puts you in the spotlight and shows the rest of the world what everybody eating at your restaurant already knew.” He added, however, that just because business may improve from Iron Chef appearances, a feature on a television show is not a substitute for quality food and service. “People aren’t going to come back to your restaurant just because you’re on TV. People are going to come back to your restaurant because of the experience that they had actually eating there.”
When the conversation turned to Iron Chef Zakarian, crowned just over a year ago, Bobby questioned him about his record in Kitchen Stadium and what it means to him when he’s not victorious. “I am so pissed,” Iron Chef Zakarian admitted. “It ruins the day; it doesn’t ruin the week. But you get better, you figure out why you lost. And you can’t think about it. You just have to, like, get over it real fast … I think you lose, you kick the can, you get really pissed for a day, and then you get better.” Bobby asked him about some of the “tricks” he employs in Kitchen Stadium. While caviar is likely Geoffrey’s go-to luxury ingredient, it’s not among his most-used ingredients in battle. Two of his most-popular products are eggs and sherry vinegar, “because everything tastes good with sherry wine vinegar,” Iron Chef Zakarian explained.
Iron Chef Guarnaschelli, the newest member of Team Kitchen Stadium, has competed in only several battles since her Redemption victory, and she openly disclosed that, initially, she didn’t want to try again for the title after her disappointing loss in Season 4. How did she decide to fight for a second time? By chatting with Bobby, whom she affectionately refers to as “The Pope.” She explained their fateful meeting to the audience: “I said, ‘Why do I have to do it?’ And he said, ‘Because you don’t think you were robbed of it the first time you did it, and so you just have to go and do it again. And if you do it again and you win, your career will change forever. And why would you turn your back on that kind of thing?’”
Of course Iron Chef Guarnaschelli did ultimately claim the prize, and in the days following her victory, she again looked to “The Pope” for comfort in handling her naysayers on social media. She reached out to him in a text message explaining her frustration and hurt by the negative comments she’d read online, and he replied simply, “OK, let me put this into reality for you. You won and are now an Iron Chef. Everyone else lost. People hate others’ success. Stop reading the freaking Internet, stop replying on Twitter and enjoy your victory. I will not allow you to ruin this for yourself by worrying about dumb and baseless comments. It’s OK to be happy about this. You earned it. Don’t forget, being an Iron Chef means only one thing to everyone else: They can only achieve something if they beat you, not if they don’t,” she noted, reading the message from her phone.
Iron Chef Guarnaschelli isn’t the only chef to have encountered backlash from success. The others admitted to similar experiences. When Bobby asked Iron Chef Forgione about his changed appearance in the eyes of other chefs, Marc responded, “When you walk in, you’re not just Chef Marc Forgione anymore … You walk into the room and some think it’s good, some think it’s bad. Personally I don’t care … At the end of the day, what can you do? All I can do is talk to my restaurant, and cook my food and make good decisions that I want to make,” he explained.
Tune in to the first Iron Chef America: Tournament of Champions battle tomorrow, Sunday, May 5, at 10pm/9c.