With the title of Iron Chef on the line, the stakes for the seven Iron Chef Gauntlet challengers couldn’t be higher. Of course each of them craves the opportunity to run the gauntlet against a trio of revered Iron Chefs, but ultimately six will fall in their quest to do so. After each week’s new episode, check back here to find an exclusive exit interview with the chef most recently eliminated. Today, we’re set to break down the latest episode, so if you haven’t watched it yet, don’t read on until you do.
It was just a few weeks ago that Chef Sarah Grueneberg found herself in the first Iron Chef Gauntlet Secret Ingredient Showdown, facing off against Chef Nyesha Arrington for the chance to remain in the competition. After Chef Grueneberg’s victory in that premiere battle, she redeemed herself right away, earning back-to-back Chairman’s Challenge wins in Weeks 2 and 3, and proving her longevity in the contest. Tonight, though, her journey to the gauntlet ultimately ended just before reaching the finale, as she fell to Chef Stephanie Izard, a fellow Chicagonian, in Battle Egg.
We caught up with Chef Grueneberg following her elimination, and she shared her thoughts on why this contest is “a total personal battle.” Read on below to get her thoughts in an exclusive exit interview.
Take us back to the moment when Alton reveals that Chef Izard has won the Secret Ingredient Showdown. What’s going through your mind?
Sarah Grueneberg: I’m so happy to hear Chef Izard’s name. At the end of the day, I don’t think I made the best three dishes today, and I think it’s totally fair that she gets the opportunity.
Were you able to execute everything you wanted to in Battle Egg?
SG: Eggs are one of those things. They say you can be judged as a chef by your egg cookery. So there’s already a layer of nervousness when a chef cooks an egg, because it’s something that was beat into us as young little cooks. It’s also an ingredient that you cook every day and that you don’t think about as much. I love eggs. They’re so versatile, and they’re delicious. I think that when choosing my three dishes I could have done a better job choosing one of the dishes.
Do you agree with Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli’s and Ching-He Huang’s feedback, or do you think there’s something they may have missed, something you don’t agree with?
SG: I agree with their feedback. I think they were equally positive. The negatives were not. I mean, there were some negatives, but not like: “This was a terrible dish. What is wrong with you? You shouldn’t even be here.” I think, ultimately, I came here to do what I had to do. I came here to teach people, to teach myself, to cook great Italian food, to cook great pasta. I think pasta is such a beautiful thing, and I hope that people watching get to have a little bit more idea of what pasta truly is.
In Week 1 of the competition, you landed in the Secret Ingredient Showdown, but later you rallied to win back-to-back Chairman’s Challenges. What kind of growth, personal or professional, have you experienced in the past five weeks?
SG: It only took once for me to feel really nervous, like, “I could blow this.” Being in that Secret Ingredient Showdown and winning — I don’t think I looked back. I think I really persevered. I won two Chairman’s Challenges back to back, and we’re not all perfect, and an egg is a perfect thing, so I guess it’s kind of fitting.
Iron Chef America and Iron Chef Gauntlet — they’re like no other competitions out there.
SG: I have never done anything this hard in my life. I think that because you are truly standing strong on you, there’s no one else that you can blame. There’s no one else that you can say that it was their fault. It’s a competition that judges you as a chef and who you truly are, and I think you have to be confident with who you are as a chef. And I think that Chef Izard is totally confident in where she’s going and what she cooks, and I think I have a few more months, a year maybe, then if there’s a redemption challenge, I’m there.
What was the greatest challenge for you, perhaps the clock, the other competitors or the Secret Ingredients?
SG: It was that I did too much. I really pushed my boundaries every challenge. I had to see if I could do it. I mean, to make a pasta in 30 minutes is unheard of. You don’t do that. I feel like I mastered pasta, which is why I was able to do it. But still, there’s little things that happen that mess you up. There’s really no time that you can create for you to troubleshoot. In the restaurant, we troubleshoot all the time. Cooks make mistakes, dishes don’t come out the way you want, you’re constantly adapting, and going and fixing things on the fly. And here there is no fly. The fly is the amount of time you have.
What was your proudest moment of the competition?
SG: I would say my proudest moment was my pasta today — the simple pasta — and making it to the final two with Chef Izard. I wanted to come here and show that female chefs can do it, that we are a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen, and that we could totally do it. And I think she’s incredible.
Do you feel like you were able to show everything you wanted to show in the time you were here, to demonstrate who you are as a cook?
SG: I’m definitely not leaving with any regrets, however, looking back, I can always see ways I would fix the dish or re-do it. … But I do think my only regret would be that I allowed myself to get in the way of myself, that I chose dishes that were humanly impossible to execute for me — not for everyone but for me. I push myself every day, and I guess that’s just who I am. In other words, I don’t have any regrets, because if I just came over here and made scrambled eggs, sunny side up fried egg and a boiled egg, that wouldn’t have done it. I would have been more disappointed in myself for that.
It sounds like as much as this is a battle against the Secret Ingredients and fellow challengers, it’s also a very personal battle.
SG: I think it’s a total personal battle. I never looked at a chef and thought, “How do I beat them today?’ That’s not something that ever comes to my mind, because I was always looking at myself going: “Can you do it today? Can you physically do this today? Can you come up with a dish that Alton is going to love in the time?” Your brain goes: “Oh my god. What do I make? What if it’s an ingredient that I’ve never even seen before? What if it’s an ingredient I don’t really know how to cook?” There’s so many what-ifs that if you listen to those, you’re going to find yourself at the bottom, and I think that’s what happened in the first episode for me.”
All the challengers here want the same thing and everyone is in competition against each other for it. But it seemed like you all formed friendships throughout this experience. What was life like behind the scenes here?
SG: You know, the one thing chefs know how to do is have fun, and when we get out of the kitchen, we all turn into kids. We laugh, we entertain, we enjoy some wine and beers. In these competitions, every emotion is at the highest. You laugh, you cry, your fear — it’s all so much bigger. And I think that’s what’s great about this, is getting to know chefs and learning things to put them into your restaurant. There’s a lot of ideas and tips that you definitely don’t get just going into your day-to-day.
Tune in to the finale of Iron Chef Gauntlet next Sunday at 9|8c.