Chef Curtis Stone Dishes On The Iron Chef Reboot And The Pressure Of Competition - Exclusive Interview

After a four-year hiatus, "Iron Chef" is back and better than ever. Netflix's reboot of the popular show, "Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend," is bringing fans a brand new set of Iron Chefs, leveled-up challenges unlike you've ever seen before, and some of the most talented challenger chefs to ever compete on the show.

One of those Iron Chefs happens to be the one and only Curtis Stone. You may know him from his appearances on "MasterChef" and "Top Chef" as well as plenty of other food TV shows he's been featured on or hosted (via IMDb). Now, the Michelin-starred Australian chef has claimed his rightful place among the culinary greats and is ready to defend his new Iron Chef title.

In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Chef Stone opened up about the pressure of cooking in Kitchen Stadium and revealed his strategy for approaching the challenges as an Iron Chef. Plus, Stone also shared the Iron Chef matchups at the top of his bucket list.

Iron Chef Curtis Stone says there's no competition like Quest for an Iron Legend

"Quest for an Iron Legend" is being called the toughest culinary challenge a chef will ever face. What are your thoughts on that?

It's the truth. Any cooking competition that you walk into where you have 60 minutes and you're expected to produce a five-course menu, and you have to work with an ingredient [where] you don't know what's coming your way, and then there's added little things thrown in throughout the challenge ... it's nuts. It's crazy. But you're also up against chefs that are amazing — in some cases, we're even challenging our own Iron Chefs. It's two Iron Chefs versus two Iron Chefs, and you're like, "My God, these guys are sensational cooks." It's daunting, to say the least, but it was a lot of fun.

What would you say it takes to actually win an Iron Chef-level competition?

You have to stay super composed. You need to make quick decisions and then continue to improve that dish. It's very easy to start doing something and be like, "You know what would've been better?" You've got to quiet the noise in your brain, because you have this ridiculous internal dialogue of jumping around from spot to spot. Somehow, you've got to calm that down so you can focus exactly on what it is that you're cooking and do a good job of it. It is a whole lot of fun, but keeping composed is important. Making sure you execute really, really well, too, is very important.

Standout Iron Chef moments, according to Curtis Stone

Were there any standout moments from this season that you can share?

Oh, my goodness — so many. You walk into that stadium, and you're like, "Holy crap, I'm an Iron Chef, and I'm in here and I'm doing this." There's a moment that you pinch yourself. But then you're like, "Right, let's get down to it," and away you go.

When you're serving judges like Andrew Zimmern and Nilou [Motamed], and these ... [Masaharu] Morimoto was in one of the episodes, [and he] gave me the most beautiful compliment about a crab dish. When you get high praise from people that you've looked up to and you have such respect for their opinions, it's a very humbling moment where you're like, "Whoa, I can't believe that just happened."

I was talking to Ming Tsai before, and I think Wolfgang Puck had said to him that his dish was better than sex. Well, you've got to say maybe Wolfgang's doing something wrong in the bedroom ... but when someone like Wolfgang says that, you're like, "holy sh*t" — that's something for you to keep for the rest of your life.

As someone who's already a recognized Iron Chef, are these cooking challenges still just as intense?

In some ways, they're even more intense. First of all, it's a real competition. It's a strict 60 minutes. You don't get any access beforehand. It's legit, which is great. There's a lot of other things on television that you watch that you're like, "Do they really do it like that?" Or do they stretch the time or ... some of that stuff probably does happen. 

It's interesting to be in something that's super focused. They also don't ask you to cook with marshmallows when you're on "Iron Chef." Sometimes, you see these cooking contests and they're with silly ingredients, and this is to show off your talent, but it also means that the person you're cooking against also has wonderful ingredients to choose from.

It raises that bar as to what's expected of you. Kitchen Stadium's bigger and better than ever before. I remember when they made the announcement, they were like, "You can ask for whatever equipment you want." I was like, "Can I get a wood-fired spit roast?" They're like, "Yep." Then they roll it in and you're like, "Where'd you get that from?" It's pretty rad. The production is really amazing.

Iron Chef Stone dishes on his strategy to dominate Kitchen Stadium

Given that experience, how do you approach your strategy and the dishes that you're going to make under these circumstances?

You obviously have a giant repertoire of things you've done in the past as a chef, and your sous chefs are on that same page — at least, you hope they are. As soon as you see the ingredient, it starts triggering all these different ideas. Then you've got to try and rein it in to, "What can I achieve in 60 minutes? Am I going to go for five knockout dishes? Or am I going to go for three knockout dishes and two really simple things, so that balances there?" Because at the end of the day, you've got to get it finished.

We do five or six of each dish. It's 30 plates that you have to plate. At the end of this competition, you've got to plate out a ton of food. It's like running a little mini restaurant in there. You're not just doing one thing. That's interesting as well, because it's not just, "Does it taste delicious?" It's got to look right [and] you've got to get the volume done, which is part of the fun.

How does the fast-paced environment of "Iron Chef" compare to other shows that you've done in the past?

It's the OG cooking contest for a reason. It started in Japan, and they legitimately went out and found master chefs to be on that show. Everybody was like, "Whoa, I get to watch those guys cook? That's insane." Netflix has brought back that grandeur of the show where they've kept it true to what it initially was, and if anything, amplified it. I've never done a cooking contest that's anywhere near as intense as "Iron Chef." It's for sure the most challenging.

Chef Stone reveals his favorite dish from Quest for an Iron Legend

What was the most difficult dish you made during the competition, or the one you're most proud of?

I did a dish — and I had no idea whether it would work or not — but I took an entire parsnip and dropped it into a deep fryer. It was for a medieval battle. When you think medieval, you're like, "Oh, my God, what did they even eat back then?" I don't think dairy was around in medieval times, so I can't use dairy. You're trying to figure that out as you do it, because you know you're also cooking for these food historians who are going to be like, "Oh, you used cream? They didn't start milking cows until [whenever]." In some ways, you err on the side of caution.

But I had this quick idea that, because in medieval times people used to forage for food, maybe I can create a dish that looks like a foraging scene. I had this idea of creating a parsnip that looked a bit like a log, and then I was going to stuff it, and I was going to have mushrooms look like they were growing around this log. But the parsnip would be a delicious fried parsnip chip.

To do it, I fried the whole parsnip, and I took it out and then I removed the skin. Then I refried the skin and got it super crispy, but I had no idea whether it would work. Like I said, I had to do five or six of them. Trying to get that done in time — and the whole time not knowing whether the dish was going to come out or not — was ... I knew all of the elements would taste right, but I didn't know whether ... With that nervous energy, you are cooking, hoping and praying that you're going to get it all done in time.

How did the judges react to that?

They loved that dish. They thought it was pretty cool. It was a good one to do. Parsnip's one of those unsung heroes. It doesn't get much love, but if you treat it right, it can be quite delicious.

How often do you find yourself in moments in the show where you're like, "I'm going to have to try something I've never done before"?

Regularly, because you also might have a process that takes four hours or two days and you're forced to be like, "Can I cut a corner that would allow it to happen in 20 minutes?" The answer is, you don't know, because you've never tried to do it, because you're never trying to create a five-course menu in 60 minutes. 

You do things, and sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't work as well as you wanted it to, or sometimes there was a reason it was a four-hour process to begin with. Sometimes you learn something and you're like, "I've been wasting all that time doing it that way when I could do it this way." There's a nice learning moment in it.

Chef Stone says this is who he wants to compete against on Iron Chef

If there's anyone on your bucket list that you could compete against on "Iron Chef," who would it be?

The vain part of me says, "I want to compete against people I can beat because then I look better." But Grant Achatz is one of my food heroes. He's such a creative dude, and he creates such brilliant stuff, but I wonder what he could do in 60 minutes. I would love to cook against him — what an honor.

There are so many. I've got lots of chefs that I admire. To be honest, I've always had a crush on Dominique Crenn. She's the most incredible chef. She cooks the most beautiful food, and she's so soulful and artistic, and she can dance and she can sing and her food's just magic. To be cooking beside her or against her or whatever, it's a dream come true.

"Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend" is available to stream on Netflix starting June 15.

This interview was edited for clarity.