How Cooking On Iron Chef Is Like Martial Arts, According To Mark Dacascos - Exclusive

If there's one thing you can always look forward to in an episode of "Iron Chef," it's the preliminary pep talk and battle cry from the infamous chairman. Before you see which cuisine reigns supreme, the one and only Mark Dacascos is there to summon the chefs and send them off into Kitchen Stadium with the words of his uncle ("Allez cuisine," of course) and a high-powered karate chop.

Have you ever wondered what's behind that martial arts move at the start of every battle? For one, it's a part of Dacascos's style through and through. The chairman is a master of martial arts, having practiced throughout his life (via Kung-Fu Kingdom). He has also demonstrated his martial arts knowledge and skills in a range of TV series and movie appearances throughout his decades-long career (via IMDb). 

But there's more to it than that, if you ask Dacascos. In many ways, the free-flowing creativity mixed with meticulously practiced technique that is martial arts can be found in the artful discipline that defines professional — and competitive — cooking. In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Dacascos explained the ways in which practicing martial arts compares to battling in Kitchen Stadium and shared how those disciplines help chefs cook their way to victory on "Iron Chef."

Cooking well is a practiced style, just like martial arts

Cooking is an expansive form, characterized by endless styles and techniques. In that general sense, it is already similar to martial arts. Cooking cannot merely be compared to karate, judo, or jujitsu. Case in point — when we asked Mark Dacascos what kind of martial arts disciplines cooking is reminiscent of, he responded, "All of them."

Dacascos says certain cooking styles are reflective of different types of practices. "For example, the African-Brazilian martial art Capoeira, with lots of dance and acrobatics. No real stance. Everything is a movement, transitioning from one to another," he explained, adding, "You can apply that to some of the chefs, which [have] more of a free flow." On the other hand, some martial arts disciplines involve more intentional movement "from stance to stance and are very specific [about] where the fingers are and the wrists," said Dacascos. He compares that to "a chef that's more classical."

Regardless of their cooking style in Kitchen Stadium, the chairman says the mark of a great chef comes down to instinct. "A great martial artist can take his or her style and then free flow once they have it so well in their bodies. These chefs do the same thing," he told Mashed. Whether you're moving your body or moving through the kitchen, it's all about leaning into your skills and trusting where they take you. As Dacascos put it: "You have to know the rules before you break them. These chefs know the rules very well, and they break them all the time and it works."

"Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend" is now available to stream on Netflix.