Following in the footsteps of many knife-wielding warriors, chef Michael Smith stepped into Kitchen Stadium on Sunday night to do battle with a fearsome Iron Chef.
His culinary skills were praised. His status as host of two shows was lauded. His use of ingredients from Prince Edward Island, where he lives, was noted. But ultimately his cuisine did not reign supreme in his head-to-head battle against Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America.
Mr. Smith served five dishes: a soft-shell crab sandwich, guacamole three ways, a stacked tuna and avocado snack, oysters on the half-shell with an avocado pearl and a dessert. The Globe and Mail reached him in Vancouver where he is cooking up a storm for the Olympics.
What was it like to compete in Kitchen Stadium?
We had the time of our life down there [in New York]
The original motivation for doing it was to go down and do it with my two buddies, chef Bill Pratt and chef Paul Rogalski. We approached it as one more little notch on that old totem pole. It's a silly show. You can't take that stuff too seriously.
Was it something you've always wanted to do?
Oh yeah. The thing looms large in the world of chefs. You make or break a restaurant in the States with a win on this show.
Why did you decide to compete against Bobby Flay?
When I was a young cook he was very much an inspiration to me. He was one of the first guys in North America to really step up and be proud of his own regional cuisine at a time when all of us were doing French.
As someone who's made so much out of regional cuisine, were you disappointed by the choice of avocado as the secret ingredient?
No, not at all. I came down there with a whole bunch of stuff from Prince Edward Island. Everything you saw, herbs out of my own garden, the oysters, the crabs, the strawberries, we just brought it on spec just to figure out a way to wind it into what we were doing.
But weren't avocados difficult to cook with?
I said to the producers, "Look, I'll do the show, but I do have one condition. Whatever the secret ingredient is, it cannot be some weird, obscure ingredient that my fan base wouldn't be used to seeing me cook with." I didn't want to be the quail's egg guy. I approached it very much from that Chef at Home [his TV show]perspective. You saw, for instance, the guacamole served up in the food-processor bases. That's kind of the way you would do it at home.
How far in advance are you told what the secret ingredient is?
You've got about 10 minutes.
You're obviously an accomplished chef, and you're no stranger to cameras and lights. But what was it like to be under the show's time constraints?
The hour was no big deal, really. It is a real hour. But there's three of us and we're only making 25 plates. And the simple fact that I am familiar with television and the process and all that was definitely an edge for us.
How do you feel about the final results, which had you lose to chef Flay 54 points to 40 points?
I think my food speaks for itself. I'm very proud of what we produced. It had a nice balance of the simplicity that I'm known for, the Canadian ingredients that I'm known for and the creativity that I'm known for.
What was your goal with your menu?
Show off PEI ingredients, be creative, and have fun.
Did you have a favourite dish?
The dessert. That Southwestern-style strawberry shortcake. That was a lot of fun. That avocado white chocolate mousse rocked.
What was it like taking criticism from Antonio Sabato Jr., the former soap opera star who appeared as a guest judge?
I didn't like it one bit. The guy was a knob. He didn't know food at all.
What's been the reaction from friends and family?
We have received so much support from across Canada. I think we represented Canada very well, represented my style very well and represented Prince Edward Island very well. You watch the show. Form your own opinion. We were clearly robbed.