If you watched the final episode of The Next Iron Chef last night, you know by now that Chef Jose Garces will take his place on the Kitchen Stadium podium, next to Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto, Cat Cora and Michael Symon. In fact he's already on the Iron Chef America website banner. It was a contentious finale, with not a little tension between the Flay, Symon and Morimoto, who were on hand for the final judging, and the judges, particularly Jeffrey Steingarten, who seemed not a little put out by the whole thing. While the Iron Chefs seemed to favor Garces and his solid technique, the judges were more impressed by Jehangir Mehta's flamboyance and artistry. But after all the grousing, it was Garces who won.
Turns out that concentrating on the fundamentals of cooking was Chef Garces' plan from the beginning. “That was my strategy all along,” said Garces by phone this afternoon. “I don't agree that I played it safe. In 60 minutes to do all those things was not really safe.” As for what it feels like to be an Iron Chef, Garces stayed in ballplayer 'I'm just happy to be here' mode.
“I'm looking forward to being a solid member of the [Iron Chef] cast,” Garces said. As for whether it was difficult to hear the judges' comments (“I would not pay for that food,” said Steingarten), Garces stayed on point. “The criticism was hard to take. I tried to block it out, to be honest.” Garces said that so far his life hasn't changed much–although he spent the entire morning doing phone interviews in his room, so maybe give it some time. He's working on a new cook–his first, Latin Evolution, was published last year–which will be more “home oriented.”
Garces' biggest surprise of the competition? When Nate Appleman was eliminated early. “I saw him going to the end.” And, since we had to ask, his favorite Kitchen Stadium gadget? The blast chiller. He'll get plenty more opportunities to use it now that he's a regular.