I was lucky enough to catch Iron Chef Marc Forgione right before he jetted off to Mexico for work, research, and hopefully a little relaxation. We met up at his namesake restaurant in NYC, where we discussed his extensive travels, his new restaurant at Revel in Atlantic City, his favorite produce item to combat steak house overload, and of course, his experiences on the Food Network’s hit show Iron Chef.
EPS: So I know your dad is quite the famous chef, did you grow up cooking with him when you were little?
MF: Kind of, I mean food was always a part of our house, but when you’re an eight year old kid, you don’t really understand or care about it, your just a kid and that’s just your dad, you know what I mean? But I think it was more like in the movie Karate Kid when he's teaching him how to paint the fence and wax the car and he doesn’t realize he’s learning how to cook, I mean do karate. I didn’t realize I was learning how to cook but when I actually got serious about it and started cooking I realized I already knew a lot more stuff then the average seventeen-year-old kid.
EPS: Is your mom a good cook too?
MF: Yeah, she's great. Growing up my dad was really busy, so my mom was the one making us dinner.
EPS: Was it a natural choice for you to pursue a culinary career or did you consider other paths?
MF: No I tried to do a bunch of things but cooking was always calling me. I went to UMASS Amherst and studied Hotel/Restaurant Management, so that was always sort of the direction I was going in. But I majored in forestry, psychiatry, economics, business, a bunch of different things before I finally settled on that. I only did those for one semester and then I realized I didn’t like it.
EPS: I read that you spent time cooking and working in France. Did you get to travel at all while you were there?
MF: Yes I did; I did the whole backpacking thing right out of college, so I did, I think it was something like thirty-two cities and twelve countries. And then I lived in France, and while I lived in France I also spent some time in Spain, towards the end of that trip.
EPS: Did you have a favorite city?
MF: I mean for fun reasons, actually like all together, fun, the people we met there, the ambience, we had a great time in Cinque Terre, in the south of Italy.
EPS: Do you draw culinary inspiration from your travels?
MF: Yeah, I mean my style is very American melting pot, and I’ve worked for a bunch of different chefs from different cultures, so it kind of all ties into one; kind of like New York City.
EPS: What's it like cooking on Iron Chef? Is it as nerve-wracking as it looks on TV?
MF: Yeah I mean you start to get a little used to it, but I don’t know if its nerve-wracking but its exciting, you get those butterflies and you feel like you're about to go into a boxing match or go play in a football game. You get that adrenaline rush, it’s a lot of fun.
EPS: Do you get more accustomed to it with practice?
MF: Yeah but you know, for somebody like myself, you always try and keep pushing yourself, so it doesn’t get easier because you're trying to do more in that hour then you did the last time. You don’t want it to be too easy because then you know your not pushing yourself hard enough.
EPS: Was there one ingredient that really threw you on the show? Some of them are so out of the box.
MF: I didn’t like the battle Tilapia just because I don’t like the fish. Its really hard to cook with an ingredient that you don’t think tastes good.
EPS: Chef’s don’t get much free time, what do you like to do on your days off?
MF: Now, travel. I drive back from Atlantic City a lot, and in the summertime I try and get to a beach or a pool as much as I can. I love being outside in the summer. In the winter I’ll try and fit in some snowboarding, I have family that has a house in Killington, so I try and get up there. I didn’t last winter, but I try and get a bunch of my college buddies together and we’ll go out west or something. I try and live a normal life, but its tough, especially now.
EPS: If you could open up a restaurant anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
MF: Anguilla for sure; its where I go for vacation every year, so if I could have my vacation tied into like a house and all that kind of stuff, that would be great.
EPS: What would you want your last meal to be?
MF: Delicious. I get asked that a lot, and I always go back to a beautiful pasta, with a rustic Bolognese sauce, some bread, extra virgin olive oil, simple.
EPS: Do you cook a lot at home?
MF: Yeah, I like to cook whenever I’m home, and I usually do the cooking in my house, either for my fiancé, or when I go back to my parents’ house I cook for them. I grew up in Long Island, but my family just moved to Napa. Lucky for them, but it kind of sucks for me; its not exactly right around the corner.
EPS: Do you have a most memorable meal?
MF: I had one meal, when my father came to visit me when I was living in France, and we went to this three-starred Michelin restaurant, and the seats were kind of underneath a veranda, and it was like an open porch. So basically a hurricane came in while we were eating, like wind blew out all the candles that were lit, but we were under this veranda, so we could kind of see the storm; it was pretty intense. They came out and asked us if we wanted to move inside, and we were like no we’re good here, and we proceeded to have a two or three hour, three Michelin star meal in the middle of a hurricane.
Chef Marc Forgione with Elizabeth Palmer StarnesEPS: You have a new restaurant that just opened at Revel in Atlantic City; what's your menu like?
MF: It’s a steakhouse menu, so we have our steaks and our fish; but we’ve kind of revamped some of the classics: the shrimp cocktail, the wedge salad, making them fun and fresh again. And we also do some creative stuff too; chili lobster, BBQ oysters, we do the best serf and turf you’ve ever had.
EPS: Is there one produce item this summer you’re most excited about?
MF: This year, I’m really into Kirby cucumbers. Believe it or not I’ve kind of been on a diet; because I’ve opened a steak house I needed to kind of relax a little bit. So Kirby cucumbers have kind of been my go to snack. At home I just put salt on them, maybe a little sriracha, but here at the restaurant I’m using them in different salads, and appetizers and stuff.