After stints in the kitchens of Alain Ducasse, Rocco Despirito, David Bouley and Ferran Adria, the jocular Eric Greenspan made a quick leap from sous chef to executive chef at Joachim Splichal's Patina, then opened a place of his own, The Foundry on Melrose, two years ago at age 32.
Now the culinary wunderkind may just become the next Iron Chef.
This Sunday, Food Network's reality competition The Next Iron Chef pits Greenspan against nine other chefs in a cooking challenge inspired by cult-classic TV show Ryori no Tetsujin. In that Japanese oddity, chefs from around the world battled for glory in Kitchen Stadium by creating multi-course meals that incorporated a secret ingredient, revealed on the spot. And that ingredient could be anything from pink grapefruit to baby eels.
So what does Greenspan face in his TV debut?
Let's start with the grasshoppers.
Squid Ink: How did you deal with such a crazy ingredient as grasshoppers?
Eric Greenspan: That's the whole point about being an Iron Chef. They throw you a curve and you just swing at it. The hardest part of that challenge for me was to create something that the judges would want to taste. Nobody wants to eat grasshoppers. Nobody. Grasshoppers are not considered delicacies anywhere. We've done over 800 dishes at The Foundry since we've been open, and not one of them had grasshoppers in it.
SI: How is cooking on the show different from cooking at The Foundry?
EG: It's a totally different experience. Cooking on that show is about cooking on the fly. I had to figure out how to make a mole in an hour. A good mole takes three days. It's not really a challenge of how well you can cook, it's a challenge of how well you can cook under the circumstances. In a room full of 10 highly accomplished chefs, with 10 different ingredients, you can just sense the creative energy that's going on in everybody's heads.
SI: Have you seen the original Japanese TV show?
EG: I grew up watching that show, and I'm stoked that they brought it to America, and that it's been so well received. It's exciting to watch America become a food country, and I think Iron Chef had a lot to do with that. It's only been happening for the past 10, 15 years. There's always been fine dining, but I think the people in my generation are finally considering eating out as entertainment, as opposed to necessity. It's fun watching this country become a foodie country.
SI: What's your guilty pleasure that you wouldn't want people seeing you eating?
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EG: I have no shame. If I'm gonna eat it, I've got no problem with the whole world seeing me eat it. You wanna watch me eat Jack in the Box? Come watch it. I think that's what's served me well in my career. I've got no preconceived notion of what's good and what's bad, what's fine dining and what's not fine dining. You can make gorditas sophisticated. You can make a burger and a grilled cheese sophisticated. You can also make a braised beef short rib accessible. I think so many times a lot of chefs hold themselves back because of that 'Oh, no, I can't have them see me eat chili fries.' Fuck that. I'm gonna put them on my menu, in a way that represents my restaurant. I've got nothing to hide. I've got plenty that I probably should hide, but fuck it.
SI: What inspired your new Dr Pepper-marinated pork gordita?
EG: As a chef, you can make pretty much anything taste good. You can make grasshoppers taste good. But you have to make it sound delicious before somebody wants to eat it. No matter how you put it, grasshopper gremolata sounds about as good as it's gonna get. Dr Pepper just sounded fun.
The Next Iron Chef premieres on Food Network, Sunday, October 4, at 9 p.m.