Michael Symon: Iron Chef!

FSB's correspondent triumphs in Kitchen Stadium.

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And the next Iron Chef is ... Michael Symon! The mission for last night's grand finale of The Next Iron Chef: "Attain Greatness."

Finalists Symon and John Besh went head-to-head in an Iron Chef cook-off in Kitchen Stadium, a challenge that, as all fans know, requires speed, creativity, skill, and fearlessness.

The secret ingredient, swordfish, was not for the faint-hearted. The goal: to create five courses highlighting this ingredient. The two chefs hauled the heavy, glistening whole fish back to their work stations with both bare arms. At one point Symon even whipped out a saw to cut the flesh.

For the home audience, the competition could have gone either way. Both Symon and Besh churned out five dishes that looked and sounded fabulous. But only great taste can bring home the prize. With the reigning Iron Chefs - Bobby Flay, Cat Cora, and Masaharu Morimoto - paying a special visit to do the judging, our competitors were fiercely determined to outdo themselves. Their pride - as chefs and owners - was at stake ...

Of all the challenges, this was the most real - it was all about the cooking and at the end of the hour, one guy wins and the other goes home because of his food. But when they announced swordfish, I wasn't thrilled. It's not something I work with on a daily basis. We tend to work with meat, but hey, you gotta go with it.

We had no warning that we were going to cook for the Iron Chefs instead of the three judges we had the entire time: [restaurateur Donatella Arpala, food writer Michael Ruhlman, and Bon Appetit restaurant editor Andrew Knowlton] But when I heard that, I was ecstatic. Chefs love being judged by other chefs.

I decided I wanted to show my versatility and cook dishes that would pay homage to their style of cooking. And it worked, for the most part. Morimoto liked the marinated swordfish with lamb's tongue and champagne-sake-yuzu drink. People don't think of using lamb's tongue,and it usually takes hours to cook - but we used the pressure cooker and got it all done within the hour. It was a nice complement to the fish. I admit, the tongue was a bit of showing off, but as for the yuzu sake - I just always like starting off with a little cocktail.

I came up with the roasted spicy swordfish with roasted pineapple salsa for Bobby, and I think he liked it. For Cat, I did the crispy swordfish over skordilia. She said she preferred garlic, but I didn't want to overpower the dish. I think if I were to do it over again, I would have done it the same way. My favorite was the swordfish collar, which is the part between the head and loin. People usually throw it away, but there is so much flavor there. I wanted to show people that we could use a piece that they wouldn't think of using.

Actually, I didn't hear Morimoto mentioning swordfish dessert. [Besh did, creating a fried concoction with berries that received a lukewarm response from the judges.] If I did, I don't think I would have made one anyway. A great swordfish dessert is impossible. You can make it but it won't leave people thinking, this is the best dessert I've ever had - and that's the reaction you want whenever you put a dish together.

Being a business owner was an immense help for this challenge. You deal with pressure every day and you attack the problem calmly. I always tell my employees, the busier it gets, the slower you should cook. When you run around like a crazy person, that's when things go wrong.

I'm thrilled about being the next Iron Chef. I've already shot three battles and the first one airs next week. I don't think it'll take too much time away from my business. People complain that chefs aren't at their restaurants anymore, but I don't think that's the case at all. You see them on TV and you assume they're not working but they are. Ninety percent of the time I go to Babbo, I see Mario. Same with Flay's restaurants. And I know those guys are no different from me. If I worked six days and took the seventh day off before, I'm still gonna work six days now and travel on the seventh. I don't take an extra day off just because I'm filming.

Besides, it's been really busy over the past couple of weeks. Business has shot up 20%, and people are really being adventurous about what they're ordering. I think this is spectacular. Now everyone knows they can visit Cleveland and get a good meal. I think it may even encourage people to come here not only to eat but to open up restaurants. And that'll be good not only for my business, but the city of Cleveland.  To top of page

Should Besh have triumphed over Symon? What was Symon's most appealing course, in your opinion? Tell us what you think of the competition's finale.

Want to read Symon's own feedback on past episodes? Check them out:
Episodes 1-2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5

More about "Choosing the Next Iron Chef" on the Food Network.
To write a note to the editor about this article, click here.

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