When you take three Iron Chefs out of Kitchen Stadium and place them before a live audience of avid listeners, they are very willing to forget their TV rivalry and battle scars. That was quite evident when Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto and Jose Garces traded quips on a Times Talk panel during the TV Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival on October 9. With New York Times food reporter Kim Severson moderating, the trio dished about restaurants, cooking, trends and what it’s really like to compete on Iron Chef America.
Q. What is your biggest challenge as a restaurant chef today?
Flay: I can feel overwhelmed running all my restaurants, but when I do, I put on my chef’s whites and go into the kitchen and cook. That’s where I get my inspiration—I just changed 22 dishes on the menu of Mesa Grill, which I opened 20 years ago.
Garces: While I’m juggling the restaurants, books and TV, the hardest part is to keep everything in front of me and constantly motivate my people.
Morimoto: Keeping my employees happy. If my employees aren’t happy, the customers aren’t happy.
Q. Why do you like competing on Iron Chef?
Flay: I see it as athleticism. We shoot two episodes a day and it’s very physically intense.
Garces: I like the thrill and honor of competing on a national stage.
Morimoto: I just want to cook.
Q. Do you have a winning strategy?
Flay: I stay really focused and don’t let the microphones or cameras distract me. I also order pretty much the same ingredients for every show. That way, I can build a menu around anything they throw at me.
Garces: I bring along a great team—the chefs de cuisine from each of my Philadelphia restaurants. We cook what we’re comfortable cooking.
Morimoto: I pick an experienced crew; people who are relaxed being on TV.
Q. What was the least favorite “secret ingredient” you had to prepare on the show?
Flay: Goat. It was tough to get it tender; I had to make it in a pressure cooker.
Garces: Melon. It was hard to highlight it in a savory application.
Morimoto: Dairy. It doesn’t fit well into Japanese cuisine.
Q. Where do you seek culinary inspiration?
Flay: Travel and the change of seasons inspire me.
Garces: I agree. I also get ideas eating in other people’s restaurants.
Morimoto: Kitchen emergencies. You have to get creative fast!
Q. What’s next?
Flay: More Bobby’s Burger Palaces. Burger places are not a trend or positioned for a bad economy; they’re good for every economy. Burgers are what Americans eat and they’ve been popular for a very long time.
Garces: Growing our own produce. Farmers have trouble getting food to the right markets, so I just bought some farmland. We have a built-in market of eight restaurants for everything we grow.
Morimoto: I want to do a sushi truck.
Bobby Flay’s restaurants include Mesa Grill, Bar Americain, Bobby Flay Steak and Bobby’s Burger Palace.
Jose Garces’ restaurants include Amada, Tinto, Distrito, Chifa, Village Whiskey and Mercat a la Planxa.
Masaharu Morimoto’s restaurants include Morimoto, Wasabi by Morimoto and Morimoto-XEX.