Exclusive: Chatting with the First Iron Chef Gauntlet Challenger to Go Home
With the title of Iron Chef on the line, the stakes for the seven Iron Chef Gauntlet challengers couldn't be higher. Of course each of them craves the opportunity to run the gauntlet against a trio of revered Iron Chefs, but ultimately six will fall in their quest to do so. After each week's new episode, check back here to find an exclusive exit interview with the chef most recently eliminated.
All seven chefs put forth a strong showing tonight when they made their debut in Alton Brown's hallowed arena, but with a premiere Chairman's Challenge featuring "wild" Secret Ingredients, it was only a matter of time before the competition got the best of one competitor. If you haven't watched the episode yet, don't read on until you do. We'll be breaking down the episode and chatting with the eliminated chef.
True to its "wild" theme, the Chairman's Challenge kicked off with just 30 minutes — not a more comfortable 45 as originally planned — on the clock, which meant that the chefs had to scurry to execute hearty proteins like elk, squab and quail. Chef Greueneberg found herself in a panic as she realized that her rabbit roulade was downright raw inside with just minutes left to cook, though she quickly recovered and managed to finish plating on time. Her offering, however, wasn't strong enough to keep her out of the Chairman's Challenge, and she faced off against round 1 champ Chef Izard's choice of Chef Arrington in Battle Lobster. Both chefs endeavored an international approach to lobster, opting for all manner of Italian, Mexican, Thai and Caribbean flavors in their three-dish menus. Their presentations to Iron Chef Zakarian and frequent judge Donatella Arpaia demonstrated a mastery over lobster, so much so that just two points separated them after evaluation.
"Being eliminated, it sucks. I mean, I went into this competition super confident. I was very happy with the dishes that I cooked," Chef Arrington admitted after learning the news that she would be leaving the contest. We caught up with her to find out more of her thoughts and to learn her feelings about the judges' feedback. Read on below for the one-on-one interview.
What was going through your mind when you found out that you were in fact leaving the competition?
Nyesha Arrington: Well, I was shocked! I feel very proud of the dishes I cooked, so I wish the best to rest of the chefs.
What was your plan for using the lobster, and do you feel you accomplished your goal?
NA: I loved this challenge. I've cooked spiny lobster fresh out of the Caribbean and brought to me within hours of being caught while I lived in the Virgin Islands. I've cooked Maine lobsters at some of best Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, so I was very comfortable with this challenge.
Do you agree with the judges' feedback about your lobster dishes, or do you stand by the offerings you provided? Please explain.
NA: I think the lobster coconut dish was delicious for sure. The addition of a little fresh lime juice never hurt anyone. In retrospect, I could have used a touch of spice and touch of acid. I used lime zest to finish, but in the midst of [the] hecticness, the lime juice didn't make it in.
Which of your lobster dishes, or which element of one offering, did you struggle with the most? Please explain.
NA: I really wanted to celebrate all aspects of the lobster. So I think collecting enough lobster roe was the most challenging.
What elements of these battles were you least expecting — be it something positive or negative? Please explain.
NA: I was surprised to see that the first challenge winner would be choosing the next competitor to compete again the chef who was in the bottom.
What was your greatest challenge in this competition — perhaps a fellow competitor, a Secret Ingredient, the unfamiliarity of the kitchen or the time limitation? Please explain.
NA: My greatest challenge is always myself. I feel like I produce the best-tasting harmonious dishes when I have time to tweak them if I need to. As an artist, I am very right-side-brain-oriented and love the creative process, so the more I can calm my thoughts and be in the moment, the better the outcome is. Working against a clock is super challenging.
If you've participated in culinary competitions before, where does Iron Chef Gauntlet fall in difficulty level, and how is this contest different from others?
NA: Iron Chef Gauntlet is different from other cooking competitions, for me, because I grew up watching the show with my dad so it's near and dear to my heart.
What do you want fans to remember most about you and your approach to cooking, both in this competition and beyond?
NA: I always want people to feel the love in a dish. To feel a hug from the inside is the most-grassroots level of love you can show another life force.