In the world of Food TV, it doesn’t get any bigger than “The Next Iron Chef”. Sunday night Seamus Mullen lost the battle leaving Jose Garces and Jehangir Mehta as the last chefs standing. The final 2 will meet at Kitchen Stadium, Sunday on The Food Network, to compete for the supreme culinary title “Iron Chef”.
Since opening his first restaurant Amada, in Philadelphia in 2005, Chef Garces has opened 4 other restaurants in Philadelphia and is the executive chef at Chicago’s Mercat a la Planxa.Â In 2007 Chef Mehta opened Graffiti in the East Village of New York City after gracing the kitchens of Aix, Mercer Kitchen and serving as pastry chef of Compass.
Chef Mehta and Chef Garces spoke with me about the “Iron Chef” challenge, their inspirations and all things food.
Is there any preparation for “Iron Chef” knowing you won’tÂ have the ingredients until the last minute? Is it as spontaneous as we see on TV?
Chef Garces I think the preparation you have is years of knowledge in the restaurant business and dealing with similar situations, obviously with not as much magnitude, but having the knowledge and background information is the best prep for any challenge.
Â Chef Mehta Thinking about what you have to do very thoroughly and then making it work for you in a spontaneous fashion is what IÂ think is important. Instead of just jumping into something, just think about it and then act like a very thoughtful army. It is spontaneous, it is what you see, but again you do have something to think about while you’re cooking…what you want it to be could change to something else.
Both Chefs agreed that professional training is imperative and that being open to all cuisines makes a well-rounded chef. Chef Garces admits that beating Bobby Flay on “Iron Chef America” gave him confidence but he still relies on his training. “There’s not much you can do to prepare…years of training will get you through.” Come Sunday he is “focused and ready to win.”
Chef Mehta sees “Iron Chef” as a challenge and feels that it’s helpful to take risks. ” I will prove myself and try to get the job. I will put in my ultimate best.” Surprisingly, he confessed that he had not seen the show previously.
What would be some of your dream ingredients and is there anything you don’t enjoy cooking? Why?
Chef Garces As a chef I appreciate and love all ingredients and our task is to make everything taste good. Whether it’s grasshoppers, sea cucumbers or jellyfish, our task at hand is to make these things taste good.
Chef Mehta For me, Indian spices would be the first thing that comes to me. There is always something that you would gravitate towards but that does not mean that you can’t come out of your comfort zone and make things happen. It’s like food, some will make you dance versus some which will not.
Compared to other “Iron Chefs”, Chef Garces sees himself as a cross between Bobby Flay and Michael Symon due to his love of spices combined with rich flavors. Chef Mehta feels connected to Masaharu Morimoto because of his ability to focus on one thing at a time. He also admires Mario Batali because “heÂ convinces you to like something before you’ve tasted it.”Â
What is the biggest challenge of the show?
Chef Garces Being away from my family was the hardest, one of the hardest, parts of the show and being able to block that out and still focus on the competition was the most challenging.
Do the strengths of other competitors create problems for you?
Chef Mehta The minute you think about someone else’s style, then you’ve lost.Â I’m not bothered by what other people can do, I’m just bothered by what I can do and what I can get to the table.
Chef Mehta, as an acclaimed pastry chef, what is your favorite dessert?
Chef Mehta I think if I didn’t say ice cream everyone would kill me…but I don’t think ice cream is my favorite. I wouldÂ make something with fruit.
In Philadelphia and New York respectively, where do you dine if you’re not at one of your restaurants?
Chef Garces I love Osteria for a moderately expensive Italian meal. A friend of mine, Marc VetriÂ is the chef there. On the inexpensive side I like a middle eastern restaurant called Sahara Grill.
Chef Mehta I really like The French Laundry [San Francisco]Â as a restaurant. In the city [New York]Â I would say Per Se because of the attentiveness to the whole meal. The whole meal as an experience is very important. It’s not just the food.
Yes, both chefs would like to compete against one another again. As far as flavors they want to see more of, Chef Garces wants us to know that “meat by-products like liver and kidney are delicious if cooked right.” Chef Mehta would like to see more recipes for pomegranates because of “the enormous health benefits.”
After the show, they both want to get back to their families (Chef Mehta’s wife gave birth while he was away) and concentrate on being great and influential “Iron Chefs”.
Both men have a lot to be thankful for this year. Chef Garces is making his famous deep-fried turkey on Thanksgiving while Chef Mehta will dine on lamb.
Tune in Sunday 11/22 at 9 pm ET on the Food Network to meet “The Next Iron Chef”.
Episode 7 Recap - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2szYrfiskeQ
Finale Sneak Peek - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iamqIYPF_wQ