- Michael Chiarello - http://michaelchiarello.com -

Why Did I Go on Next Iron Chef?

Posted By mchiarello On December 10, 2011 @ 8:11 am In Commentary | 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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