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. Today, we’re set to break down the latest episode, so if you haven’t watched it yet, don’t read on until you do.
Fresh off back-to-back battles (and ultimate victories) in the Secret Ingredient Showdown, Chef Shota Nakajima was feeling “a little exhausted,” he revealed, as he looked ahead to his third Showdown this week. He’d been faced with both bananas and octopus as Secret Ingredients in the past, but this time Alton unveiled the humble chicken, which Chef Nakajima explained is tricky not because of its limitations but because of its possibilities. “Chicken’s one of those ingredients that you can think of too many dishes [to make with it],” he said. Both he and his Showdown rival, Chef Stephanie Izard, managed to plate trios of chicken offerings, but ultimately his missteps, no matter how slight, were enough to cost him the competition, as he fell to his competitor in a nine-point defeat.
We checked in with Chef Nakajima follow his elimination, and he shared what it was like not only to compete in this contest but also to get to know his fellow challengers. Read on below for an exclusive interview.
What was going through your mind when you found out that you were in fact leaving the competition?
Shota Nakajima: Honored to be there. Won more than lost. Got to meet a lot of amazing people and made some great friends.
This was your third consecutive week in the Secret Ingredient Showdown. How were you feeling going into that battle?
SN: Honestly, I was starting to get used to it.
Tell us about your approach to Battle Chicken. What was your plan for using the poultry, and do you feel you accomplished your goal?
SN: I got a little startled and should have kept focusing more on what I was working on instead of trying to figure it out as I go. I guess this is the difference in experience though.
Which of your chicken dishes, or which element of one offering, did you struggle with the most? Please explain.
SN: I think the meatball in the soup broth was a little hard to accomplish, to keep the temperature and texture correct.
Do you agree with Alton’s and the judges’ feedback about your dishes? Do you stand by the offerings you provided? Please explain.
SN: He knows his food, and at the end of the day, he’s the judge of the food. I probably would have done the same thing, because that’s just the way I cook food, but hopefully he can try my food again someday.
What elements of these battles were you least expecting — be it something positive or negative? Please explain.
SN: The bananas, for sure! Jason Dady said the funniest thing the other day, “Shota’s been working hard training in Michelin-starred restaurants in Japan, but now he’s known for bananas.” This comment killed me.
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.
SN: Definitely the difference in cooking under a different kind of pressure. It was fun because it was different, but at the same time, it didn’t make it easy — but who wants something easy? That’s just boring.
Which of your dishes from this competition are you most proud of? Please explain.
SN: Banana Miso! That moment when your brain twists but can come up with something that I wouldn’t mind serving in the restaurant was the best feeling.
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?
SN: The pressure from the cameras and everything made it intense, but at the end of the day, we are just cooking food. We’re not saving lives, you know?
What do you want fans to remember most about you and your approach to cooking, both in this competition and beyond?
SN: That there’s a lot more to Japanese food than just sushi. That’s my career goal: to convey Japanese culture through food that hasn’t been shown yet.
There’s a lot of down time between takes on set — how would you spend your time behind the scenes?
SN: Joking and laughing with the rest of the competitors and staff that was there. That was honestly the best part of the show.
Any fun outtakes or behind-the-scenes moments with your fellow competitors you can share?
SN: I think sitting with chefs and doing makeup together was hilarious, and there was this other moment where everyone started playing flip bottle which was pretty darn ridiculous! Plus, eating out every night with the competitors.