Chatting with Iron Chef Gauntlet Judges Geoffrey Zakarian and Donatella Arpaia

Iron Chef GauntletThe quest for gauntlet glory begins this Sunday night, when seven of America’s most-esteemed chefs will face off for the ultimate culinary title on Iron Chef Gauntlet (premiering at 9|8c). There’s no telling what challenges host and Chairman Alton Brown will have in store for these fearless hopefuls, but one thing is certain: To outlast each other and to prepare to run the gauntlet against not one but three Iron Chefs in the finale, these challengers must come prepared with both kitchen savvy and the fiercest of ambitions.

Ahead of this all-important premiere episode, we caught up with Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian and Donatella Arpaia, who together will be judging the Secret Ingredient Showdown in Round 2. Read on below for what it’s like for them to return to the world of Iron Chef and what missteps they simply won’t forgive on a challenger’s plate.

Geoffrey, how does it feel to be on this side of the battle, judging instead of competing?
GZ: Well, I judge a lot, so it’s very familiar. But this is a very high level of judging, and I relish it.

Did being on the Iron Chef Gauntlet set bring back memories of past battles, Geoffrey?
GZ: You can bet your life it does. All the battles from Iron Chef came flooding back. Mostly the stress and exhaustion I felt.

What missteps on the plate from a competitor will you simply not forgive as a judge?
GZ: At this level they need to present complete thoughts, not bits and pieces. They are chefs and have to cook with skill, and the dish has to resonate and have a purpose.

DA: Sloppy presentation and improper cooking techniques.

As an Iron Chef and a longtime judge on both Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef, you two know better than most what it takes to win in the world Iron Chef. What’s your best advice for the challengers?
GZ: Don’t worry about your competition. Compete with yourself. Focus, focus, focus!

DA: Chefs should stay true to their voice and vision of food; it should be their unique perspective. Remember technique is of utmost importance — it needs to be perfect to be an Iron Chef. And in the heat of the moment, don’t forget to do a final taste test of your food. Battles are often so close and can be lost because foods lack a final dash of salt.

What are some chef-y tips or techniques that home cooks can utilize?  
GZ: Certainly Sous Vide is terrific. Have plenty of cast iron on hand.

DA: Dare to try a new cooking method or technique, and have fun — you’re not being judged on TV! Pay attention a little to presentation; you don’t need chef-knife skills to add some care to how you present your food. Remember we eat with our eyes first.

What’s the first dish for an aspiring chef to master?
GZ: Eggs, any way you can. Get to know the first meal of the day.

DA: I often say the best way to test a chef is by asking for the simplest of dishes. That way you see if they have sound technique. For me, being an Italian chef, I always ask a chef I am testing to make linguine in white clam sauce. It’s a simple dish that requires a high level of skill. Another test is cooking eggs; making a perfect omelet is a dish all chefs should aspire to.

Tune in to the premiere of Iron Chef Gauntlet on Sunday, April 16 at 9|8c.

This article was originally posted on the Food Network and can be found here!