"I went in knowing that statistically challengers rarely win," Andrew Zimmerman said of his bout on Iron Chef America, which aired Sunday night and pitted him against Iron Chef Marc Forgione. "Even with that knowledge, I resigned myself to not winning." Fortunately for Zimmerman, he didn't take a defeatist attitude during the competition because in the end, the Sepia chef found himself triumphant.
The episode, "Battle: Cream Cheese," was shot a year ago in July, and each chef had to prepare five courses all incorporating various types of cream cheese, including the classic Philly style. Zimmerman, joined by sous chefs Adam Zosack and Sam Henderson, who left Sepia shortly after taping to return to New York's wd~50 as a sous chef, kicked things off with rye gnocchi with a dill cremeux that Zosack had to make three times because the rye dough kept getting messed up. Even with that misstep, Zimmerman never lost his cool.
"I've worked with Adam a long time and I know he was doing his best," Zimmerman said. "Being encouraging seems to be the best course of action ... and I was a little busy with my own stuff. I don't think I realized he had to make it three times. I may have been a little more nervous."
Zimmerman followed up the gnocchi with a cream cheese lobster rangoon served in a traditional Chinese takeout package complete with handmade sauce packets. Next was salt cod brandade-filled pierogies topped with Australian winter black truffles; tandoori lamb loin with cream cheese raita; and finally, for dessert, he served a yuzu cheesecake with a ginger snap crust topped with blueberries and served alongside a carrot cake ice cream.
Forgione joked he was going to prepare five courses of breakfast, but instead got a lot more creative with dishes like brioche everything bagel crisps served with sockeye salmon and cream cheese croquette; cream cheese-stuffed morels that were deep fried with goat cheese (the judges said they could have done without the goat cheese); tortellini with cream cheese and veal topped with truffles; chili lobster and cream cheese risotto; and a cream cheese ice cream with carrot cake.
While it may seem like the teams have to prepare everything on the fly with the announcement of the secret ingredient, Zimmerman said the production team gives the chefs a list of possible ingredients so they have an opportunity to prepare before the taping. "If you didn't have any idea of what you'd be cooking, the show would be terrible," he said. "No one could figure out what they're cooking that fast."
When judging was complete, the score was close, but in the end, Zimmerman took it by two points with a 49 to 47 win. When asked how he felt when the Chairman called his name, Zimmerman said, "It was great. What's not to like about it?" He added their shoot was the first of the day and started around 6 a.m. When they finished around 2:30 p.m., his team had a celebratory brunch at the Breslin then "I think we all took naps."
To celebrate locally, Sepia is offering a limited-time five-course Iron Chef tasting menu running through Friday. The menu will feature Zimmerman's dishes from the show paired with selections by wine director Arthur Hon and costs $85 a person; wine pairings are an additional $50. To reserve your spot, call 312-441-1920 or at Sepia's website.
"It's something we did over a year ago and now I've lost some of my notes and had to redo some of the recipes," Zimmerman said about the tasting menu. "What will be fun is when we plate the first couple and you look at it in its entirety. Hopefully people will come in to eat it and enjoy it."