8:11am | December 10, 2011

Why Did I Go on Next Iron Chef?

15 comments

Most of the people who know me well have asked me, “Why on earth would you choose to compete on Next Iron Chef?”

What makes someone with a thirty-year career and a busy restaurant decide to toss his toque into this ring?

The short answer is my competitive streak got the best of me. While the masterminds at Top Chef Masters sometimes asked us to do things that didn’t mesh with how I see my profession (make a meal from a vending machine?), Next Iron Chef has always been about skill. When I was asked to be on Next Iron Chef, part of me wanted to see if I had the chops, and a bigger part wanted to be included in a group for which I have enormous respect.

That’s the same reason I appeared on Top Chef Masters. I was interested in appearing on a popular show but I held out until there was a “mature” chef version. Then the thought of not cooking with that first season’s group – which included Rick and Hubert, Anita and Cindy – bothered me almost as much as not being in my restaurant for six weeks. (Oh, yeah, and worrying that I’d come off looking like an ass by the end of the show – there was always that concern.)

I thought about it for a long time before choosing to compete. Even while shows like Top Chef Masters and Next Iron Chef have possibly elevated the profession, there’s a kind of circus aspect to it that’s hard to ignore. On the one hand, my being on television does help fill the seats at Bottega. On the other hand, I’ve cooked in restaurant kitchens for thirty years – why do I want to take the risk, when it sometimes feels like I’m trying out for high school football all over again?

That, right there, might be the main reason why I decided to compete: I wanted to prove to myself – and the people watching – that my skills haven’t been put out to pasture.

I have a question for all you Next Iron Chef watchers: does an appearance on a television show change your opinion about a chef whose work you follow? If you were me, would you have chosen to compete on Next Iron Chef?

-Michael

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  • Posted by Scott Arhart - December 12, 2011

    First off, I had the pleasure of meeting you at The Mall of America a few years ago and have been a big fan for a while now. Seeing you compete on Top Chef Masters did change my opinion, but in a positive way. Knowing that the show was for charity was a wonderful idea. So, if anything, it made me appreciate your skills, dedication, and generosity even more. Seeing you compete on The Next Iron Chef has also been quite enjoyable, because we get to see the creativity and knowledge that a renowned chef like yourself must possess in order to cook with such bizarre ingredients and under sometimes quite unusual circumstances. Although at times I wish they would abandon some of the bizarre themes and concepts, and rather follow the more tradition Iron Chef format allowing each chef an hour with a cherished ingredient. This would truly let the food speak for itself without the twists. As for me, I would probably choose to compete just to see what I am capable of and how my skills match up with my peers. Best of luck, and I will be cheering for you the entire way!

  • Posted by Kathie Lou Eldridgehe - December 12, 2011

    Michael, I am so sad to see you go. All of the competition on this season are at the top of their game. That said, I have tired of the reality show formats of Food Network. I think some of the challenges this season demeaned all of the chefs. Some of you have really inspired me and now I am in culinary school at my local community college. What watching this season has bought me is that even the best chefs get hurt when someone doesn’t like their food. That said nothing gives more satisfaction in life than having people enjoy your food. I will always consider you one of the best, and I would love to work for someone like you someday. You will always be a culinary hero to me.

  • Posted by Naj - December 12, 2011

    Hello Michael

    I must confess, prior to watching The Next Iron Chef, I had not come across you or Bottega. However, having seen your style of cooking and witnessed your enthusiasm, Bottega is on the to do list the next time I am California.

    It was thoroughly enjoying to see you create some wonderful, colorful dishes that not only delight the eyes – they must tantalize the nose and the taste buds too.

    Good luck in everything you do!

    - naj

  • Posted by Cara Dunaway - December 14, 2011

    Michael,

    I was psyched to see you in the Next Iron Chef competition, although somewhat surprised as well. After weeks of routing for you, I was sad to see you go. My husband and I recently moved to California and have been to Napa 5 times in the last year, dining at Bottega 3 times! After years of dreaming of living the “Napa Style” through your beautiful show “Entertaining with Michael Chiarello,” I was drawn to your town and restaurant within my first few minutes of my first trip to Napa and Yountville. You have such a beautiful way of not only creating magnificent Italian culinary cuisine, but also of making the meal an experience of heart and passion. I have spent years entertaining friends and trying new recipes and techniques with you in the back of my mind. Now that I live in California and have access to your part of the world, I am even more drawn in. Congratulations to you for your success in you career, your show, your store, and most importantly, introducing all of us novice chefs to the world of Napa Valley entertaining.

    Hope to meet you someday in town!
    Cara Dunaway

  • Posted by K - December 15, 2011

    Hi Michael,

    I was so sad to see you leave Next Iron Chef. I was hoping that you would make it to the end with Chef Zacharian. I love these competitive cooking shows, especially the ones with the Master Chefs or Super Chefs. It’s a privilege to watch the great chefs at work.

    I love seeing you on these shows. Your professionalism, dedication, passion for cooking and amazing skill set that you display only enhance my opinion of you. I wish that you had a regular cooking show I could watch and hope that you continue to appear on more shows.

    It’s too bad that you don’t have a restaurant in Ontario, Canada. Maybe you can make an appearance up north sometime?

    Best wishes and happy holidays.

  • Posted by Mary - December 16, 2011

    Hi Michael,

    I have watched your show for many years and yes I was surprised to see you on The Next Iron Chef, but then I thought the line-up was amazing. And as another reader said, her opinion of you did change, but for the better. I could not agree more. I had not seen you reveal your personality the same way and I just think you are that much more likeable. I live in New England so will not have a chance to get to Bottega anytime soon, but won’t miss it next time I am in the San Francisco area. Hopefully you will be in the house!

    Best wishes, you did yourself proud!

  • Posted by Nancy - December 17, 2011

    I really enjoyed your stories and your creativity on Iron Chef. I was stunned and sad when you lost that last challenge. I thought you should have won, as you are the most innovative and creative chef! It was very gutsy of you to put yourself out there like that, and I for one was glad to see you do it! Just because you didn’t win, so what?! I have watched your shows (all reruns now) for years on the food network channels and I’m even more interested now. Wish they would do some new ones with you. I always come away from your shows inspired by greatness, very informed with new information, and amused by your stories.
    Just wish I could intern with you!
    Happy holidays chef!

  • Posted by Laurie Booth - December 19, 2011

    I LOVED seeing you on the Next Iron Chef. In fact, in my mind, you absoLUTELY should have won! I love, however, that you did put yourself ‘on the line’ so to speak, when you really had nothing to prove to anyone. I’ve been a fan of yours and your food for a very long time. I watch you all the time when I workout, and it’s one of the things that actually GETS me to the gym every day! Go figure! I had the pleasure of meeting you the first time I was at Bottega a couple of years ago. I think television has an enormous impact on the way people view others. You however, always have a genuine personality, you seem very real, and your food believably reflects you. In my mind, you will never have to prove yourself, but I truly appreciate that you DID put yourself out there in this competition – you took time out of your very busy life, and allowed your loyal viewers to get to know and appreciate your food even more. Thank you for that. You SHOULD be the next Iron Chef. But in many of our minds, you already are!
    ps. Cabernet Pearls? I mean….! Really? Genius!!! :-)

  • Posted by jill cordes - December 19, 2011

    Hi Michael,
    your appearance on Top Chef did not change my opinion of you one bit!
    I have followed you for years and had the joy of dinner at Bottega this spring.
    It was my sister’s birthday and she received your Bottega cookbook and dinner at Bottega from me! From you, she received a great meal and a visit to our table.
    That would have been my only concern with you participating in Top Chef;
    People LOVE seeing you at the restaurant! I wonder if your numbers were down with you out of the restaurant for so long….
    …… It did break my heart a little every time one of the judges said something bad to you and you looked so crestfallen!!
    Hoping to head to Napa again this spring and look forward to another dinner at your restaurant! ….. was sad that you didn’t have the caprese salad with balsamic caviar on the menu when we were there! …. But the raviolo with black truffles & the polenta under glass…. ooo thank you!!!
    OO one more thing! I have enjoyed seeing you on all the morning talk shows since the Top chef show!
    ~Jill

  • Posted by Irene Tower - December 22, 2011

    Michael, have been a fan since you were on PBS. I love your Mediterranean cooking. I thought the competition would come down to you and Zakarian and that you would win. In many of their competitions, it seems like the Food Network is sure to eliminate someone just before the final round so that person doesn’t interfere with their pre-chosen winner. Anyway, doesn’t change my opinion of you, and I was glad to see you enter the fray.
    My favorite recipe of yours that I have made(many many times!): Cioppino. Thank you for that!

  • Posted by George Jardine - December 22, 2011

    “does an appearance on a television show change your opinion about a chef whose work you follow? ”

    Not at all. Qualifying for status as a “TV Chef” is related to, but distinctly different from being a “real” chef. Of course there is the appeal of being a tv celeb. But getting there is validation of certain chemistry and looks and moves that is very much NOT related to being a great chef.

    Fun to watch you try. No disappointment at all to see you return to your craft.

    Sincerely,
    A home chef.

  • Posted by Eric - January 8, 2012

    Dear Michael,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post about the decision to go on The Next Iron Chef. My wife and I were rooting for you from day one, and we were so sad to see you go. We visited Yountville on our first trip to the Napa Valley last July, mainly because of YOU. We wanted to visit Napa Style and we wanted to eat at Bottega. Once in Yountville, because of you, we FELL in LOVE with the town and the tasting rooms there. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that you have your own vineyard and enjoyed tasting and buying your wines at Napa Style.

    It was GREAT to see you on TV again, and YES we think it was a great idea for you to have gone on the show. My wife, who otherwise does no social media, followed your comments on Twitter regarding the episodes and we were cheering for you each Sunday night. You are a true gentleman and great competitor. You, as well as other celebrity chefs, have done so much for food and for the average person. Thank you for bringing the gifts of food and wine to everyday people, who otherwise would have been likely to miss out on so much joy.

    Admiring Fans,

    Eric & Jen

  • Posted by Susan - January 23, 2012

    Dear Michael,
    Both my husband and I have been fans of you and your show, and we were very pleased to see you participating on the Next Iron Chef. Your appearance made us appreciate your skills, talent, and personality even more! We were really rooting for you and were sad when you were eliminated near the end. Actually, we felt you were cheated out of being in the finals. We didn’t think the elimination process was completely fair. It was also obvious that the producers wanted a female in the finals. You handled yourself in a professional and gracious manner. You did yourself proud!
    So, yes, it was a great idea for you to compete in the show. Thank you for your cooking and teaching skills. Thank you, too, for competing in such a respectful way.
    Sincerely,
    Susan

  • Posted by Paul Bryant - April 5, 2012

    Michael,
    It was a pleasure meeting you yesterday at Bottega. Thank you so much for approaching my boys, Quin and Enzo, introducing yourself and asking how they liked their meal. Very gracious and they were thrilled. We treated my wife and their grandparents to one of the best meals I can remember in a very long time. Very impressive.

    As far as your appearance on the Next Iron Chef, we were rooting for you throughout and I, personally, was impressed you had the cajonies to to even go on that program, but understand the obvious benefits of doing so. You’re correct, it can be such a circus with Alton acting ringmaster, but the level and expertise of the chef’s is impressive. I thought it might come down to you and Zakarian, not knowing who might emerge victorious. You handled yourself masterfully throughout and should be proud.

    Thanks again for your graciousness and a fabulous meal.

  • Posted by Adam - May 2, 2012

    Chiarello,

    “does an appearance on a television show change your opinion about a chef whose work you follow?”

    Kind of. But positively. Watching you and the other chefs on that show to me is like watching Jordan talking about his thoughts behind his game-winning shot against the Jazz, or listening to how an actor related to his character on shows like Inside the Actors Studio. Reality shows like that – that are unpredictable, and extreme, and dynamic – absolutely highlight the knowledge and skill chefs like you have that I don’t think any other medium can. Even the circus aspect of it is necessary to show you guys off, that drama forces us to examine your details and appreciate those details rather than miss them if the vibe were more lax.

    I’m not a chef or even a good cook. But I have my own career which I’m competitive in. A lot of different factors make us great for one reason or another but validation for the right reasons goes a long way. It was great watching yah cook and hearing the interpretations behind your meals. Live no where close to Napa (Toronto) but look forward to getting there one day.

    Cheers to your career brother, job well done and all the best