Endless Questions: The Next Iron Chef Contestants Jose Garces & Jehangir Mehta
We’re in the home stretch in the competition to select The Next Iron Chef, and the finals will feature two East Coast chefs with backgrounds quite different from much of the people you typically see on Food Network. There is New York-based Jehangir Mehta, a native of Mumbai, India and Philadelphia’s Jose Garces, Ecuadorian by birth and a practitioner of a variety of Latin cuisines. He’s also the proud recipient of the official TVFF foodie man-crush, even if he doesn’t know it. You can get caught up with the competition on the Food Network site and be sure to tune in this Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern to see who brings home the title.
Endless Simmer had a chance to chat with Chefs Mehta and Garces about the Next Iron Chef experience:
ES: During the first season of Next Iron Chef, the contestants got tripped up a little bit with the fundamentals. Did you do any brushing up in preparation for this competition?
Mehta: I unfortunately have not seen a single episode, so I don’t know. I didn’t see anything of the first season, but even when I was there, I had asked a couple of people, “Does anyone have any tapes, or anything for me,” and I don’t think anyone did, so I never watched a single episode.
Garces: You know, I can answer at this point, there’s really not much you can do to prepare once you start the show or even beforehand. You really have to rely on years of experience, years of cooking, and hope that that’s enough to get you through. So, there was no preparation on my part.
ES: After the first couple of challenges was there any sense you could get from the judges of what they liked and what they didn’t like, and did you adjust your style or your output in any way?
Mehta: I did try to make things less sweet but somehow it didn’t work as much as I tried. I think you must always listen to the negativity that they might give you, but you must also look at the point of what they are saying they didn’t like about others, because you learn a lot from other people’s mistakes. I was just keeping my ears open to what is happening even when others were going down in terms of what they were told, what the judges liked, what they didn’t like. And it could be what they didn’t like of that dish – that doesn’t mean they didn’t like the whole idea of it. You have to just view things and take the best of what you need to do.
Garces: I found the judges to each have their own style and as Chef Mehta said, some may like things a certain way where others may not like things a certain way. I know that Jeffrey Steingarten was really particular about texture and doneness, so after a few battles you knew that he was going to look for both of those things. But overall, with so many different palates and so many different points of view, you really can’t change your style to fit all three, so I found that just going with my gut and what I do best served me well.
After the jump, find out how they think they compare with the current Iron Chefs and why – no matter who wins – this could be an offally good addition to the current roster.
ES: In terms of your philosophy, your style, you personality – who are you most similar to among the current Iron Chefs?
Garces: I would say, from my perspective, I would say I’m a combination between Chef Flay and Chef Symon. Chef Flay and I have similar backgrounds. He does Soutwestern cooking, and I use a lot of chilies in my cooking as well. And Chef Symon has a certain hearty and richness approach to his food that I think is pretty similar to what I do.
Mehta: I would say it would be a combination of Chef Morimoto and Chef Batali for a couple of reasons. One being that Chef Morimoto is very focused, a little more “to himself,” does what he knows best. He doesn’t look around, he just does what he has to do, and I’m pretty much like that. I don’t care what other people are doing, what other people want to do, I just do what I have to do and get the work done. And on the other hand, I am a little closer to Chef Batali as I mentioned earlier in one of my interviews that before Chef Batali puts down the food, he somehow gravitates you into liking it and, also, he has a knack of explaining himself extremely, extremely well. I sometimes know so much about the food and I think that, in that sense, I have that thing of making myself a fairy tale out of what I want to portray out of that dish. And, in those two senses, I think I’m very close and similar to these two gentlemen.
ES: Iron Chef is all about one ingredient. What’s the one ingredient that the American public, the viewing public should be more familiar with?
Garces: I think there’s been a lot of head-to-tail cooking recently. From my perspective, different offal meats, whether it’s from a cow, a pig, some of those by-products can actually be very delicious in the right hands. So I would say, whether it is kidneys, liver, thymus gland – all the different parts – can be delicious if cooked right, and that way we’re also utilizing all the products that are out there.
Mehta: What would be very interesting as a battle would be a battle after, whatever is wasted and left – to make another battle happen from that. To teach the public that everything can be used – any waste can be made into food. And I think we waste a lot of food in life. Just to make them feel that every part of an ingredient can be made use of, I think that would really, really make it very challenging as a battle. If you’re just talking about one ingredient, I would say pomegranate. People do not know the health benefits of the pomegranate and I would be very happy with a pomegranate battle.
Chef Mehta is awesome, so friendly. I’ve been to Graffiti several times, pre and post-stardom, he hasn’t changed. The personal touches he provides to all who eat in his restaurant is superb (he even entertained me in taking a picture with him on my last trip, in the middle of his kitchen).
I’ll be venturing his way again in two weeks when I’m next in NY.
I liked the way Chef Mehta has expressed his thoughts in the interview. They are straight from his heart just like the food he cooks! He has been my favorite since the first episode. I like the way he focuses on his tasks. He knows what he wants to prepare and he does not let anything or anyone distract him from that. I think that is a very admirable quality. From the very beginning I have observed that he never comments negatively about anybody’s food or presentation. That is why I think it was completely inappropriate when Chef Garces and Chef Mullen just walked over uninvited to his station and started criticizing his presentation. Another admirable quality is his ability to take negative feedback and improve on his work. I have seen contestants ridiculously defending their dishes in spite of knowing that they had messed up. In contrast, Chef Mehta has always taken criticism positively and has worked on improving his food. I think the other contestants need to learn these small but important lessons from Chef Mehta!