Do's and Don'ts for Successful Cooking on Iron Chef Gauntlet

An Iron Chef battle is unlike any other, so succeeding in these competitions requires an extra-special set of skills that only the most highly trained cooks have. Hear from current Iron Chefs and the judges of the Gauntlet to find out what it takes.

Photo By: Todd Plitt

Photo By: Anders Krusberg

Photo By: Anders Krusberg

Photo By: Eddy Chen

Photo By: Todd Plitt

Photo By: Todd Plitt

Photo By: Anders Krusberg

Photo By: Todd Plitt

Photo By: Todd Plitt

Photo By: Janet Rhodes

Iron Chef Forgione

You have to stick to your gut and stay true to yourself. Whenever you try to be something you're not, you usually mess it up.

Iron Chef Guarnaschelli

Definitely keep it simple but very heavy on technique, which, I think, is hard to do. How do you keep it simple and loaded with technique? That's like having a stack of cards but only holding one card. Hone in on an ingredient and its various features. If you get an ingredient that only has one side to it, figure out what other ingredients illuminate that one ingredient. It's really a very ingredient-driven competition, and it's driven by imagination, resourcefulness and technique. And there's just no way around that. That's like — you're not going to drive through the road block, no matter how hard you punch the gas. Don't overthink, in a way. Go with your first thought. Make the first dish that pops into your head. Is that easy to do? No. That's why it's a don't. Don't cook for the judges, as much you want to. Don't stare at the judges. Don't pay any attention to Alton. Don't pay any attention to Alton. Don't pay any attention to Alton. It's all an optical illusion, and you have to just get zen with it. You have to go to the back of the pantry and find a cabbage and the onions, and skip the truffles and the foie gras and the lobster, and make humble, down-home dishes jam-packed with technique, creativity and modernist thinking, and you should be fine. 

Iron Chef Symon

That last five minutes goes really quick. Don't underestimate how quickly it goes, and start getting your food on the plate as quickly as you can. Cook the food that got you here, not the food that you think someone else wants you to cook. Keep your flavors very simple and clean, but remember that the judges are only going to take probably one or two bites of your dish, so ... you can't cook subtly. I think you have to have nice, poppy flavors that are going to excite the judges with one bite.

Donatella Arpaia

I call it the Iron Chef Effect. A young chef coming into Iron Chef, they think: "Oh, my God. I have to take it to the next level." And they lose themselves and they just start going a little too crazy instead of staying true to who they are.

Alton Brown

Keep your station clean. Plate simply and honestly. Season your food properly, because at any level of cooking, that tends to become a problem. Don't overthink. The food's already delicious. It's your job to just help it be more so, not to take it over, not to conquer it.

Iron Chef Flay

I think that time management is really important, not trying to overachieve. ... Do something that is simple. Something really well-executed is important, 'cause these judges know what they're tasting, so taste, taste, taste. Make sure you have contrast of textures and then some surprises as they're eating it.

Iron Chef Morimoto

Focus. Don't have too much focus and forget about normal potential. 

Iron Chef Garces

Focus on the Secret Ingredient. Make sure your cooking is solid. And that's all you have to do.

Iron Chef Zakarian

Focus on what you're going to do and commit to it. Don't pile on the ingredients. And just cook that one battle. If you think about the next battle, how you're doing, how she's doing, what's next, you're going to be sunk 'cause your head can't fit all that information in at the right time and perform at the same time — because of the competition and because how good they are. A little wavering in your brain and you're out; you'll just make a mistake.

Iron Chef Cora

You've got to strategize, and you have to keep your focus on not worrying about what the next person's doing. I tried really to never focus on what my competitor was doing and just zone in on what I was doing in my team. And I think that that is a big distraction — and ... part of the success of being good at Iron Chef is to not get distracted by your competitor.

Anne Burrell

There's a certain flair that an Iron Chef needs to have while they're doing it. ... You've got to tell us your story. You've got to sell your dish. ... Plus, it's the use of the Secret Ingredient. At the beginning and the end of the day, that's what will win you the battle.

Giada De Laurentiis

I think [the judges] are looking for the star ingredient to actually be highlighted in as many ways as possible in the dish. And I think that sometimes that's difficult and you get lost in the moment of creating your dish.

Anya Fernald

The chefs that make an effort to make small amounts that look really elegant — I think that's a winning technique. Sometimes they try to make a big thing, and the plating on a big thing just never looks as elegant and cool as a small thing. So I always feel like it's an easy, dumb thing of, like, just make a super-petite portion of it. It's going to look cooler on the plate. And we're only going to taste a bite anyways.

Ching-He Huang

Try and keep the dishes simple and coherent so that we can see exactly what you're aiming for. And then in that process, obviously put [in] as much creativity as you can and push it, but [do so] without losing the basic cooking.

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