Photo Courtesy Food Network
It came down to Marc Forgione and Marco Canora duking it out for the privilege of joining one of the most coveted cooking fraternities in television, that of the Iron Chef. The final contest on The Next Iron Chef -- "Battle Honor" or "Battle Thanksgiving" -- was held in the famed Kitchen Stadium. The task at hand, to create a five-course Thanksgiving meal. Chef Forgione took that idea of honor and brushed aside the traditional turkey-and-dressing component in favor of stuffed venison. The son of "the godfather of American cuisine," Larry Forgione, Marc Forgione stated from the outset that he wanted to be known for his own work, not merely as his father's son. We're confident that being an Iron Chef will put any feelings of dwelling in the shadows to rest.
This Sunday, chef Forgione steps into Kitchen Stadium for the first time as an Iron Chef, where he faces Washington D.C.'s R.J. Cooper.
Slashfood spoke with chef Forgione about his nerves going into "Battle Honor,' his inspiration behind his Thanksgiving course and which Iron Chef dishes are in store for patrons of his Manhattan hot spot, Restaurant Marc Forgione.
As an Iron Chef, are you supposed to introduce yourself as a doctor does?
MF: [laughs]. I don't know. I guess so, right? Like I should put an "I.C." at the end of my name.
In the final episode, "Battle Honor," were you nervous going in?
MF: At that point I wasn't nervous anymore. It was more ... I can't even describe the adrenaline, the anxiety ... I felt like I was fighting for my life, literally. When you're standing there and he's about to pull that curtain down, if you didn't see your face, you might as well have been told you were going to jail for the rest of your life. It was that intense, at least for me.
Did you play sports when you were growing up, or are you into sports now?
MF: I played football and lacrosse and had been in some pretty big pressure situations in sports, but I gotta tell you, they didn't hold a candle to what we were going through in that final.
Do you have any pre-competition rituals you performed?
MF: I always made it a point, even if it was for thirty seconds, to meditate before each battle. To remind myself of what I do, who I am, thanking the great spirit for giving me the opportunity. Guide my hand, guide my soul, guide my palate. People have been saying to me throughout the whole competition that I looked so calm, so grounded. I think [the meditation] had a lot to do with it. Everyone else would be jumping up and down and I'd have my eyes closed, giving thanks for being there.
Was it odd that you didn't do a secret ingredient for the final challenge?
MF: Technically, it was a secret ingredient. On the altar, there was duck, venison, turkey and lobster. Believe it or not, the rules said -- and I made sure I asked this very clearly -- you didn't have to use the things from the altar. You only had to cook a Thanksgiving feast.
Which was very critical in the way you approached it.
MF: Well, Native Americans are very dear to me, I guess you could say. I think they're a race that almost gets forgotten, which blows my mind. When I was a kid, my father took us to pow-wows and was always very respectful of the land we're on. So when I started "Battle Thanksgiving," it was without a doubt.
You knew the history and had the knowledge, so it made sense.
MF: You have to remember, every battle had a theme. And the theme for that battle was honor. I wanted to honor not only the Native Americans, but the first Pilgrims that made it through that winter. Most people don't realize it, but the reason for the first Thanksgiving was the fact that they had actually survived the winter. The Native Americans had showed them how to farm and grow crops, and they had a beautiful bounty right around late September, October. When they saw that the crops were working, they decided to have a three-day party in celebration of joining forces.
You had a few low points throughout the season. Was there a dish you served that you thought was going to send you home?
MF: That halibut I served with the collard greens ... not to get too into the action behind the scenes, but you make the one dish that everybody sees, and then when it's your turn to cook for the judges, you cook for the judges. For some reason -- I don't know what the hell came over me -- I precooked the halibut thinking I wasn't going to have time. My other one was the veal cheeks being too salty. I threw a pinch of salt into the pressure cooker right before I put the lid on; I had the pressure cooker going at full blast the whole time. I later figured out you're supposed to turn it down to low or medium heat and let it do its job.
Throughout the season, they highlighted the idea of you making a name for yourself, in knowing that your father was Larry Forgione. Did you showcase techniques that were very different?
MF: My father laid down the tracks for pretty much every American chef you know today. I'm riding on those tracks, but I've decided to go the route of not just things produced in America. That was his big thing. It had to be from America. To me, America, and especially New York -- it's a giant melting pot. So on my menu I have Asian influences, Italian influences, French influences -- to me, that's what America is.
How many Iron Chef battles will you tape over the next year?
MF: From what I understand, they film over one month. You can do ten battles in five days and then you're done for the year. But I've heard horror stories of Morimoto doing like four days of double battles each day. I can't even imagine it.
The first one airs this week with you. Are there any secret ingredients you're scared of?
MF: No, I'm not really scared. There's only one food that I can really even think of that I don't enjoy, and that's monkfish liver.
Is there anything you made during the competition that you'll be putting on your menu at Forgione?
Come January, we're actually going to do a "greatest hits" from The Next Iron Chef tasting menu.