Forgione or Canora?
No Caswell or Tsai, but Next Iron Chef winner is one heckuva guy
Commenters responded with a resounding "yes!" — it looks like Ming Tsai's elimination was the most contentious since Gretchen vs. Mondo on Project Runway, even though it was the right call in my view.
But onto the final — Marco Canora versus Marc Forgione. Canora has been the most consistently impressive, notching more challenge wins than any one else this season or any season. Forgione came in clearly as the underdog, having had some slip-ups and near-misses, but when he was firing on all cylinders, he made food no one could match.
He may have been he underdog, but I was on Team Forgione from the start. Why?
- He did his homework. It's not clear if the producers told the contestants this would be Thanksgiving themed (though it seems unlikely) or if Forgione figured out the air date and worked it out from there. Either way, he was a fountain of information, talking all about the original Harvest Festival in 1621, what they ate there and what they didn't (turkey). This history major approves.
- His sous chefs were hotter. Did I say hotter? I meant hot.
- Marco Canora was still being Marco Canora. Which is to say defining any interpretation other than his as heretical and inferior. As he entered kicthen stadium, his voiceover reminded "I don't think great cooking is about bells and whistles," a pretty open barb tossed at Forgione's fanciful, intellectual creations. It wouldn't be as annoying if it wasn;t the same cheap shot he'd been taking since episode one, and no one likes a winner who's also a whiner.
The cooking portion was even more chaotic than usual, and the fact that they were creating a Thanksgiving feast really caused it to hit home how ridiculous it is that these guys do this all in an hour.
There was early drama when Canora cut a finger, some yelling about fennel being too hot, duck sausage that might have been a problem but then wasn't, an awkward interview segment with the eliminated Iron Chef contestants (nice blazer, Caswell!) and a soothing ending of Canora repeatedly screaming for the time.
Forgione's Harvest Festival-inspired feast was up first for judging, with the panel expanded to include Iron Chefs Bobby Flay and Masaharu Morimoto in addition to Donatella Arpaia, Simon Majumdar, Michael Symon and Alton Brown.
Forgione opens with a beautiful sunset-colored clam chowder with mussels, cod and sweet potatoes. The judges pretty much agree it's well-flavored and perfectly cooked but a tad salty.
Next Forgione serves his duck sausage wrapped in swiss chard on a cornbread crouton. Arpaia calls it a "perfect bite," and Majumdar is impressed at how pretty it is, though he describes the sausage as dry.
The third course is a butter-poached lobster with sauce poured from the smoked lobster tail and "sun-choked" spinach, with an underplate of smoked wood chips to simulate the sensation of eating lobster around a fire.
"From a flavor standpoint it wasn't my favorite of the tree you've put in from of us so far, but I love the thought process you put into it," says Symon.
Forgione continues with chestnut-stuffed venison with gin-soaked raisins and butternut squash and lemon confit puree. It gets universal praise, with Flay calling the flavor combos "simple and smart" and Arpaia, speaking warmly of how it made her feel like Thanksgiving.
Finally the desert is an inside-out plum cobbler with candied walnuts and vanilla ice cream. Morimoto finally speaks up and says he really likes it.
But when the overall meal is considered, the lack of turkey is still controversial. Flay says he didn't miss it and commends Forgione for his ballsy decision. Majumdar seems torn, but Arpaia implies the risk paid off since the dishes were successful.
Last but not least, Marco Canora opens with a roasted fennel soup with butter-poached lobster and a sweet pumpkin pickle. Arpaia and Majumdar knock it for it's muddy brown appearance but everyone seems in agreement that the flavors are on point.
He follows with a pumpkin risotto with suash, pumpkin puree and amaretti biscuits. Symon says it's a touch too sweet and Majumdar agrees, saying the flavor combiantion and the sweetness didn't work for him.
"Since we're honoring the tradition of Thanksgiving I very much felt obliged to do turkey," says Canora, who seems to be angling for a win via disqualification after the less-than-positive feedback from the second course.
He serves a traditional turkey breast with gravy, cranberry puree painted on the plate, mashed potatoes and porcini mushroom stuffing. Majumdar likes the moistness of the turkey, but Flay suggests crisping some skin for a bit of crunch would have been nice.
Next up is a pretty plate of venison stuffed with juniper, rosemary and pistacios alongside a corn sformato and huckleberries. Flay likes the word "sformato." Majundar feels there is too much juniper, Arpaia suggests it's the rosemary that's a little overpowering but still cmmends the dish as fun.
Last up is Canora's pecan tart with a cranberry sorbet and squash confit. "This is definetely the best pecan pie I've ever eaten," says Majundar, and he pronounces pecan is that anoying Northeastern way, PEE-cun. Symon just grins and stammers out that he loved it.
The judges deliberation begins, with Flay giving the first nod to Forgione for his elevated presentations. Arpaia and her bountiful cleavage remark on what a close race this is, and compares the early courses between the men, saying she prefers Forgione's lean towards salty over Canora's lean towards sweet. In the head-to head venison comparison, Majumdar prefers Forgione's version for his restraint in seasoning.
Alton Brown describes the decision as between Forgione's "unpredicable brilliance" versus Canora's "consistent soulfulness."
For me, it certainly seems like Forgione has a good shot, but the lingering question of to turkey or not to turkey could be the difference.
After the requisite stalling and tension, the chairman announces the winner is ... Marc Forgione!
If I didn't already like him, the sobbing man-hug with his sous chefs was pretty adorably touching. Canora, to his credit, accepts his loss with grace.
CultureMappers, were you surprised at Forgione's win? Would you have preferred Canora, or is the loss of Caswell and Tsai still too close?