Exclusive: Giada's Rundown of Battle Octopus on Iron Chef Gauntlet
Iron Chef Marc Forgione and Co-Judge Giada De Laurentiis judging Chef Mike Gulotta's dishes, Soy Sauce Octopus Salad with Fresh Tomato Curry with Fried and Grilled Avocado, Charred Octopus with Crispy Potatoes Chorizo Squid Ink Aioli with Tomato Olive Citrus Marmalade, and Paella Negro Risotto, for the Secret Ingredient Showdown, as seen on Iron Chef Gauntlet, Season 1
One half of the esteemed judge-mentor duo on Food Network Star, Giada De Laurentiis is no stranger to evaluating chefs. She's quick to offer feedback to competitors, in terms of their work both on the plate and on camera. But when judging Iron Chef Gauntlet Sunday night, her sole focus was the food, as she and Iron Chef Marc Forgione came together to oversee Battle Octopus and ultimately decide whether Chef Shota Nakajima or Chef Michael Gulotta would earn the right to advance to next week's competition.
We checked in with Giada after the battle, and though one rival was forced to go home ( check out Chef Gulotta's exit interview here), and she was indeed pleased with both competitors' offerings. "Those guys can cook," she said simply. "I just about cleaned every dish." Read on below to hear more from Giada to find out why she was "a tiny bit intimidated" on that judges' panel, and get her take on what went down the last time she was in the world of Iron Chef, when she competed in Battle Cranberry on Iron Chef America.
Did being on set bring back any flashbacks to Battle Cranberry, in which you competed with Iron Chef Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America?
Giada De Laurentiis: In those kinds of competitions, it’s all a matter of opinion. And it’s [a few] people’s opinion on your food. It might be fantastic, but [if] they don’t like it, they don’t like it. ... Standing there, listening to criticism, looking at my dish and thinking, "Well, I think they’re pretty good zeppole with cranberry inside, and I think the texture’s fantastic." I think that I had made pumpkin ravioli with amaretti cookies on top in a brown butter [sauce] with sage. And one of the judges didn’t like the amaretti cookies; they didn’t think that it should be with pumpkin ravioli. And I’m like: "Of course, it should. It is classic Italian. The mixtures work perfectly together." He didn’t like them. So what happened? Bobby and I lost.
How does it feel to be on that side of the battle?
GDL: I had never had better food. ... That food was phenomenal. Those guys can cook. ... I just about cleaned every dish. ... It was so much more technique-driven, obviously, which is not necessarily my strength, so I did feel a tiny bit intimidated. Marc Forgione — I sort of put him on a different level than I’m on. ... I watched him, and I think I learned a couple things from him.
What’s your take on octopus as a Secret Ingredient? What challenges are involved in working with it?
GDL: Octopus is tough to cook very quickly. People think it’s easy to cook quickly, but it isn’t. It can be very tough and dry. I guess it can be a main ingredient, but you have to really season it. And you have to be creative with what you put on the plate. The guys did [that], for sure. But, I think for some of [the dishes], they didn’t make it the star. I just think the cooking process is the toughest thing for octopus — really getting a tender, flavorful bite is not easy in a short amount of time.
Host Alton Brown with Iron Chef Marc Forgione and Co-Judge Giada De Laurentiis judging Chef Mike Gulotta's dishes, Soy Sauce Octopus Salad with Fresh Tomato Curry with Fried and Grilled Avocado, Charred Octopus with Crispy Potatoes Chorizo Squid Ink Aioli with Tomato Olive Citrus Marmalade, and Paella Negro Risotto, for the Secret Ingredient Showdown, as seen on Iron Chef Gauntlet, Season 1
All of the Iron Chef Gauntlet competitors are at the top of their culinary games. What kinds of flavors, techniques and skills did you need to see on the plate when you were judging, and were there things that you simply could not forgive?
GDL: If I don’t see finesse from those cooks, I do not forgive that. Finesse on the plate is number one for me, cause you eat with your eyes first. I don’t know what it tastes like; I just know what it looks like. So, I really wanted to see some beautiful food. ... Number two, aromas. And the food was hot, so [that was there]. And then number three, flavor. ... What I’m looking for is development of flavor as you eat it. So first maybe you get some heat, and then little by little you get a cooling effect, and then little by little you have a salty effect. And those chefs should be able to give you different levels of flavor as you take each bite. I think both Marc and I were looking for those things. And different textures — really important.
What would you say to the home cook who's watching Iron Chef Gauntlet and hoping to pick up a few kitchen tips here and there? What advice would you offer?
GDL: I would say watch how the challengers hold a knife. Cause I think that’s the one big mistake people make. They don’t control the knife the way they hold it. They let the knife control them. And once you can get confidence in holding a knife, the slicing and dicing and chopping goes so much easier. It’s so much easier that you build confidence as a cook in a kitchen, and then the rest will just fall into place.