'Next Iron Chef' winner Marc Forgione talks turkey, Ming Tsai and Thanksgiving
"I have nothing against turkey. I love turkey. I think turkey's delicious," Forgione tells Zap2it. "I have turkey every Thanksgiving and we serve turkey at my restaurant."
"They just didn't eat it at the first Thanksgiving," he continues, explaining his final battle menu to honor the tradition of Thanksgiving. "It had nothing to do with me not wanting to cook turkey or that I couldn't cook turkey. I was just sticking to my Harvest Festival of 1621. In 1621 the domestic turkey that we know was not there. Again, the word was 'Honor' for that battle and I was honoring the first party that those guys had."
Forgione's personal Thanksgiving tradition involves turkey, his family and a sweet treat he can't resist.
"Sweet potatoes. Maple-whipped sweet potatoes," he admits. "You can look it up online. It's my family's recipe. It's unbelievable how good it is."
Forgione debuts on "Iron Chef America" proper on Sunday, Nov. 28 at 10 p.m. ET.
"I'm battling R.J. Cooper from Washington, DC," reveals Forgione. "The funniest part about it was when these guys are walking in, they're told, 'Hey, you're battling Marc Forgione.' They're like, 'Marc Forgione? Isn't he that guy, Larry's son? What do you mean that I'm battling Marc Forgione?' Nobody knew. I won two days before my first battle. I think that was the most fun for me. Me and R.J. had a great time meeting each other. It brings everybody together."
Forgione also talks to us about how his parents, meditation and Ming Tsai helped him win; his lowest point of the competition and the one Secret Ingredient he hopes the Chairman will never unveil.
So you were celebrating last night? Have you recovered from the festivities?
Marc Forgione: A little bit. (laughs) We were at the restaurant till a couple hours ago. [ Note: The interview took place at 10:45 a.m. ET.]
How has your dad Larry Forgione's support been during the competition? Is this something he'd like to participate in?
Forgione: I don't know if he'd physically want to participate in. Throughout the competition, him and my mother were really great people to have around and their tutelage was just something that I think gave me a big advantage in the competition having two parents push me through the way that they did.
How did it feel when you found out you won?
Forgione: Yeah, I more or less passed out. I don't think they got it on film. I don't know exactly what happened on the show. I didn't really watch it much last night. When I saw my face up there, not to sound cheesy, but I got weak in the knees. My sous chefs picked me up. It was an amazing finish to an amazing journey. It was like running a marathon, you know? It's like there's two feet to go, and you don't think your body could do it. You make those last two feet and collapse. I didn't pass out cold, don't get me wrong, but my knees definitely gave out. If my sous chefs weren't behind me, I definitely would have fell.
Did you have time time relax behind the scenes between challenges?
Forgione: I don't know if "relax" is the right word. It was a crazy, almost a science experiment on the human brain and body to see how much you could endure before you actually imploded. It was wild. I really think the mental part of it was harder than anything else. You weren't only cooking. You had, let's say the week of "Respect." You had to figure out what they wanted for "Respect" and then you'd look around the room and think of a dish and go, "Ah man, I can't put that with the guys I'm competing against. I gotta do this, add that, take this away." It was nuts, the hardest thing I've had to do in my life.
Were you the youngest competitor this time around?
Forgione: I'm 31. I was the youngest on the show. Ming [Tsai] was the oldest. It was 47 to 31.
What was your reaction when you first saw Chef Ming Tsai was going to compete?
Forgione: I was actually p****d off because I thought, "That's it. This is Ming's show. They're going to coronate him as the next Iron Chef, blah blah blah." But having said that, it kind of helped me in a weird way because -- it's not that I didn't take it seriously -- if you watch the whole season, I took a lot of chances, did some great things, did some stupid things. The reason you could say that I was so loose with what I was doing was because I thought the whole show was for Ming Tsai. When Ming got voted off, if you go back and watch my face, it was like, "What?" That was the moment I realized, "Holy s***, I can actually be the next Iron Chef."
Your "looseness" or calm focus has been remarked upon. Were you really that calm?
Forgione: Going back to what I said, my parents did help me. But I also meditated before every battle. It's a new thing that I just started a year ago, incorporating it into my life -- not just on "The Next Iron Chef" but in life in general. You know, you've got to keep your feet on the ground and your head in the clouds.
So was Chef Canora really as wild as we saw him on the show?
Forgione: To be honest ... yes. (laughs) Again, I love Marco to death. He's like a brother to me. I had the honor and the pleasure of working next to him many, many battles throughout the show. He wears his emotions on his sleeve.
What was the most mentally grueling, low point of the competition for you?
Forgione: When we did the battle buffet. I didn't want anything to do with that battle. I didn't want to cook that food. I don't know anything about a buffet, I never cooked for a buffet. One thing they didn't show is that the food not only had to be finished, but it had to be food that had to sit in a sterno for an hour. I don't know how to cook food like that. I mean, it's just not what we do. Not just me, but all the other chefs as well. So that battle was a little nerve-wracking or annoying.
Who else among your competitors behind the scenes was the biggest jokester?
Forgione: [Chef Bryan] Caswell was a lot of fun to hang out with. But we all were joking. Marco was a little instigator. Everybody had their own little thing.
Which judge most intimidating?
Forgione: I'm not trying to be overly correct, but each judge had their own agenda. Michael Symon was kind of for the chefs, a voice of reason. Donatella [Arpaia] was very critical and on point with what she want or what she thought was good. And [Simon] Majumdar was very serious about everything: salt, pepper, technique.
Was Alton Brown similarly intimidating?
Forgione: Alton wasn't allowed to influence the judging. He was very present though with what was going. Smartest guy I've ever met, by the way.
Were there other Food Network personalities you were excited to meet?
Forgione: Yeah, I was very excited to meet Michael Symon. I think what he does and how he does it is something I'm going to use in my career. Bobby Flay I've met him before, but it was cool to meet him. Chef [Masaharu] Morimoto I'd never met before. That was interesting. These are all people you kind of grow up watching.
What's your favorite culinary show?
Forgione: I've been watching "Iron Chef" either Japan or America since I was a teenager.
What secret ingredient would you hate to cook with the most?
Forgione: I'm not a big fan of monkfish livers. Now that I've said that I'm sure I'll be facing Battle Monkfish Liver.
So have you finally mastered the pressure cooker?
Forgione: Yeah, yeah. I can do it in my sleep now.
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Photo credit: Food Network