The Next Iron Chef: Eric Greenspan Dishes On Cooking With Grasshoppers

Eric Greenspan (Food Network)

Eric Greenspan (Food Network)

The second season of The Food Network’s ‘The Next Iron Chef‘ kicked off Sunday night with a slew of new chefs from all over the world all competing for a shot at winning the prestigious title of Iron Chef.

Catch up on full episodes of The Next Iron Chef here

During the episode, the chefs were fired up for two challenges, one of which had food ingredients more likely to be seen on ‘Fear Factor‘ than ‘Iron Chef.’ While some had the fortune turning their stinky tofu into something delicious, Eric Greenspan was not as lucky. He had the tricky task of making grasshoppers suitable for the picky pallets of the judges.

In the end the judges didn’t seem to find his mole infused critters all that delectable and Eric was given the boot. Here Eric talks about his difficulty cooking the creepy crawlers, keeping in touch with the other chefs, and how he might have done better with duck tongue.

What was it like watching the show and seeing your elimination?

I didn’t realize I was that pale. I guess I’ve got to take advantage of the make-up next time. It was a lot of fun though, I like the way it was edited, I like the way they kind of set it up with all the tension. It was really interesting to relive it through the eyes of a camera than through my own eyes.

It looked like you had fun on the show, like when they first unveiled the kitchen to all the contestants you looked all wide-eyed and said, “All I could think was awesome!”

I tend to have fun with most of the things I do and the coolest thing about the show was how much fun it was to do.

So how did you feel when you found out you had grasshoppers for the fearlessness challenge?

I’ve done about 800 different dishes since we opened up The Foundry on Melrose [] and none of them had grasshoppers in them. So not something I was used to cooking, but I don’t think anyone got something they were used to cooking. You know insects are rough but that was kind of the fun of the whole challenge. I think the way whole world works is if you’re thrown a ball and you have to swing at it.

Did you see anyone else’s dishes and think “Hmm I could’ve done something with the duck tongue or eel”?

There were some other dishes that I looked at and there were some ingredients that I had cooked with before. When Garces was looking to choose who to swap out and everyone was sitting there going, “Oh I hope he doesn’t choose me.” I was just like, “Spot me out brother!” Alas, no such luck. It is what it is. I’ve cooked with cockscombs before, I’ve cooked eel before, and I’ve cooked duck tongues before. So there was no distaste in my mouth. So that was kind of the fun of the challenge, see what you could do with something wacky.

What did you think of the judges’ critique of your final dishes saying that you used the grasshoppers as more of a side garnish or that you “didn’t transform” the ingredient?

Well some of the other ingredients are considered delicacies in other areas. I’m pretty sure grasshoppers aren’t considered delicacies anywhere. I know they’re eaten but cow dung is also eaten sometimes when you got to. I definitely made them an integral part of all the dishes, but I think the judges would’ve had a hard time taking a big ‘ol bite of grasshopper let alone doing a big plate of just grasshoppers. I don’t know how well that would’ve gone. They said, “Oh you didn’t put them enough in the forefront.” I thought if had I put them up to the forefront then that would’ve been your problem.

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Then they probably would’ve said something about your presentation.

Yeah, it would’ve been like [impersonating Judge Jeffrey Steingarten] “Oh this really could’ve used a better garnish.” [Laughs]

You mentioned during the first challenge that you wished you paid more attention to your mom in the kitchen when she was cooking matzoh. Did she have anything to say about your matzoh ball dish?

Yeah, mom was proud. I think the matzoh ball dish came out really well. I mean the matzah balls could’ve been a little less dense perhaps, but the soup was really good and I liked the way the vegetables and chicken were cooked. At the end of the day I was raised on hard matzah balls so no harm, no foul.

A lot of people were having trouble with the kitchen. You had a broken blender and you also had to help Chef Mehta with the truffle oil bottle. Did you run into any other problems or did it just all happen because everything was rushed?

You know any kitchen you step into it takes getting used to. Even if you’re the best chef in the world, if you’re in someone else’s kitchen you’re going to struggle for a day or two. So you’re in this kitchen working next to someone you don’t know and there’s all this pressure and it takes a while to work out the kinks. Jehangir had problems with the sorbet machine and some people had problems with the stoves and yadda, yadda, yadda but that’s kind of the idea of the show. It’s not about being in a perfect environment, it’s about dealing with what you got and goin’ for it. At the end of the day I think my biggest issue was not the equipment and not so much my abilities, it was the bowl of exoskeletons in front of me.

So is there any Chef that you’re rooting for now that you’re not on the show anymore?

I’m rooting for all of them. One of the good things about getting thrown off first is that I didn’t have any time to piss anybody off and nobody had time to stab me in the back. I made a pretty good friendship with all of them. Now that it’s all said and done and all the anxiety is gone, now I’ve got nine really good friends on TV every week. Very few people involved have that experience. So I’m going to be able to watch the show with far more intimate details about the people involved and it’s going to be really exciting.

Do you still talk to any of the other contestants?

I talk to almost all of them Everybody kind of sat down and mass texted messaged each other yesterday. I’m going to see them when I go to New York City this week for the Food and Wine festival. We all keep in touch. You’ll see obviously as the show goes on, everyone’s competitive nature coming out but what’s really good about the show is that it’s really, really, really about the food and challenges and not about us all living together and getting into fights over who is wearing what underwear. At the end of the day we all kind of had our moments but we all have a professional respect for each other and I think that’s what sets it apart from other food shows.

That’s very interesting that you say that because, I feel like they’re trying to turn Chef Appleman into the villain of the series.

You never know what’s going to happen next turn. I feel like Chef Appleman is a fiery, focused, gangster of a little chef. He’s really talented and he’s really focused you wouldn’t be able to accomplish in this business what he’s accomplished already at such a young age without fire and without focus. Villain or not you can’t fault a guy for wanting to get on the show and wanting to win. Does that make him a villain? Nah it doesn’t make him a villain, it makes him focused. It makes him hardcore. If people have a problem with that, then why are they there? He’s not sleeping with anybody’ sister on the show. He’s just cooking great food.

Is there anything you’ve taken away from the competition just from being there with other chefs? Did you learn anything about yourself or your abilities as a chef?
I don’t know about myself but it was great to be apart of the creative energy that was going on there. It was great to see ten chefs, with ten different viewpoints of how to cook, what they cook and what they like to do. To see how they go about executing their vision and how everyone cooks in a different way. I think the show highlighted that really well. I’m glad they showed all the times everyone tried to help each other. At the end of the day it was fun to get back to cooking and being a cook.

I noticed that after you won the Grilled Cheese Invitational in 2008 you included the award-winning sandwich on the menu at your restaurant The Foundry on Melrose. Any chance you’ll be introducing a grasshopper dish soon too?

I would say no, I think not. I think the most poignant quote from the show yesterday was from Chef Mullen when he said, “As a chef, I don’t like putting things on the plate I don’t eat myself.” I think there are a lot of good things out there but grasshoppers ain’t one of them. I focus on cooking good food as opposed to making bad food taste good.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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