After seven weeks of challenges, some grueling and some gross (duck tongues anyone?), Philadelphia resident Chef Jose Garces was crowned the season two winner of ‘The Next Iron Chef.’ Beating out New York City area Chef Jehangir Mehta in kitchen stadium, Garces spoke Monday about his momentous win.
“I’m just looking forward to doing a great job on the show and being a solid addition to the cast,” Garces said about his future as an Iron Chef. He added, “For now I’m just kind of soaking it in and not looking too far out there in the future.”
The road to earning the title of Iron Chef was not easy. In the last challenge the contestants had 60 minutes to prepare a five-course meal. The secret ingredient was ribs and racks with meats including buffalo and pork. Garces said, “I felt comfortable with the ingredient. It suited my style the best. It’s probably one of the best ingredients I’ve had through the competition.”
Once the cooking was in full swing, each man was shown drenched in sweat and running frantically around the stadium trying to complete their dishes. Garces finished strong in the kitchen, executing each dish to near perfection with the one small exception of a carnitas taco that Judge Donatella Arpaia claimed to have bitten into mostly cartilage.
Yet, from his Buffalo Rib Steak cooked Au Poivre to the Baby Back Ribs with Spicy Barbecue Sauce, Garces seemed to be hitting all the right notes with the three additional judges brought in for the finale – Iron Chef’s Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto, and previous ‘Next Iron Chef’ winner Michael Symon.
On having Iron Chef’s as judges Garces said, “I thought it was refreshing, after being judged by three non-chefs for all the other episodes, to have a true culinary perspective. I think it definitely helped me win the finale. They were appreciative of the techniques and the textures and all the flavors that went into my cooking that night.”
The technical aspects of cooking became a key argument amongst the Iron Chefs as a reason that Garces earned his victory. Chef Mehta – who had featured more dynamic flavors in his menu such as Indian style pork spare ribs with a yogurt curry – accidentally served raw pork burgers and undercooked French fries. The argument prompted Symon to ask the judges, “If you’re creative and you fail, are you creative? Or are you a failure?”
Garces — on the other hand — was criticized by the judges for keeping his menu safe and simple. However, he says it was all part of the plan, “Chef Mehta took some risks, took some gambles, kind of went out there a little bit more — but failed to execute those risks.” He then continued, “My strategy all along was to just do really solid technique. I felt that would win.”
So how did he celebrate his victory? With a viewing party at his West Philadelphia restaurant called Distrito. “It was great,” He said. “We had a really nice following through the restaurant and now through the show. It was great to share that moment with close friends and some friends that were not so close but who wanted to come to the party [laughs].”