Our suspicions were correct! Jose Garces’s jam-packed Next Iron Chef finale “viewing” party at Distrito turned out to be a raucous victory celebration when the Philly-based chef-restaurateur was pronounced the Next Iron Chef. It was hard to hear the show because the sound system was a little sketchy, but essentially, Garces’s solid technique bested competitor Jehangir Mehta’s creativity, judge Jeffrey Steingarten claimed he wouldn’t pay for any of Garces’s food and Mehta served a raw pork burger. How’s that for a recap? Fellow Next Iron Chef contestant Seamus Mullen and chef Marc Vetri both showed up to offer their support - no sign of Top Chef’s Jen Carroll this time - and were escorted into a private room to watch with Garces and his family. We had a quick chat with Garces before the show (and before he was overwhelmed by throngs of fans), who calmly sipped a Corona and filled us in on who he thought his biggest competition would be and which of his fellow chef’s food most impressed him during the show.
Initially, who did you think your biggest competition was going to be on the show?
I thought [Nate] Appleman was going to be. We were both nominated for Beard Awards two years prior - that was my first introduction to him. I thought he stood out.
Who were you must bummed to see leave the show?
Trevino. But if he stayed, I might have gone. He would have been the Latino guy if the producers were going for that angle. I’m not saying they did that at all, but you never know!
What was your favorite challenge on the show?
The last one, because I had help!
You have a bunch of restaurants now and obviously a lot of help in the kitchen. Was cooking solo harder than you remember?
Yes and no. No, because I cook at home alone a lot. But cooking on a competitive or professional level, it’s always a team with cooks, chefs, what have you. It was harder, but that was part of the challenge for me. One of the main reasons I wanted to do Next Iron Chef was to see where I was at as a chef… how do I cook compared to my peers?
Out of all of the chefs you competed against, whose food did you like the best?
Even though Brad [Farmerie] was only on for a short time, I liked his dishes - I thought they were interesting.
As a Philly resident, I feel compelled to ask you this. Do you think Jen Carroll will win Top Chef?
I don’t know. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t followed it after the first few episodes, but I would love to see her win. It would be great for Philly.
Special thanks to the Lone Paparazzo at Philly Chit Chat for the photograph.