Silver-tongued Chef Nate Appleman was on the receiving end of the second axe in last night’s double elimination episode of ‘The Next Iron Chef.’ Known for his biting criticism of fellow contestants and his impeccable talents as a chef, Appleman became somewhat of a villain on the series.
Does he see himself that way? Appleman talks to us about his brutally honest approach, becoming a memorable character, and why he’d never do ‘Top Chef.’ He also has some choice words for judge Jeffery Steingarten.
So the judges were very critical of your final dish saying that it was “too American” for the Indian feast aspect of the challenge.
You know what my argument for that is, Jeffrey Steingarten, just because he’s been to India thinks he knows everything about India. For the judges to sit there and say I didn’t cook Indian food is complete B.S. in my opinion. Just because it’s not on your take out Indian food restaurant menu doesn’t mean it wasn’t inspired by India. So that’s what I have to say about that.
Yeah I got the bad luck of the draw that week.
You would often was give a fake back-story on a lot of your dishes and make them really sentimental. One time you claimed that your mashed potatoes were lumpy because that’s how your mother made them, your dish was a twist on her recipe. That was one fib you made up on the spot. Was that part of your strategy with the judges?
There’s some prep that goes along with judging and the producers and everyone. It’s a show; it’s not just cooking. Generally, I let my food stand on its own. If you like it, then you like it. If you don’t, you don’t. I’m not going to sell it to you. But given the fact that it was a national television show, it’s a little different. I can’t just stand up there and say, “Here eat my food” [laughs]. I had to go out there and I felt the story was as important as the food. I didn’t really have a story to go along with it, so I just had to make one up. Whether it worked or not, I don’t know, but it made it interesting to watch for me.
You were often brutally honest about other chefs’ food during the peer criticism part of the opening challenges.
Just because I sit there and lie and tell stories about my own food doesn’t mean I’m going to do the same for others.
Have you always been a straight shooter kind of guy?
Yeah, I take that approach with almost everything I do. I feel like honesty is the best way to go in most situations like that.
Why did you choose to do ‘The Next Iron Chef’ as opposed to another food competition/reality show like ‘Top Chef’?
I did a battle for ‘Iron Chef America’ and I loved it so much. I loved being a part of that whole thing. Not to bash any of those other shows because I watch them. I watch ‘Top Chef.’ I think ‘Top Chef’ is a great quality show. It’s really food focused, but at the same time you have to live in a house with other people. That’s not me. I’m not 21 years old and want roommates [laughs]. That’s kind of how it came down. Like I said, I had such a good experience working the first episode I did that I couldn’t imagine not wanting to do it again.
Have you heard other people’s reactions to watching you on the show? Have you heard from your friends and co-workers about it?
Yeah, I hear from everyone. Facebook opens the channels for everyone to give you their opinion. I’ve heard everything from I’m “such an a-hole” to “you’re great.” So you can’t put any validity to any of it because they weren’t there, they don’t know what went on and all I have to say is — editing. Who I am in that show and who I am in real life is probably different.
So do you feel like they were a little unfair in the editing room toward you? Like they were trying to make you the villain of the show?
Oh I don’t want to say unfair because it made me stand out. People are going to remember the villain. It’s like when you talk about the ‘Real World’ franchise on MTV. Who does everyone remember? Everyone remembers Puck. You can just say, “Puck” and people will say, “Oh ‘Real World: San Francisco.’ Yeah of course I was made out to be a villain in the first episode but a lot of people are going to remember that, and whether they like it or not they’re still going to remember me. Hopefully they’ll come to my new restaurant and eat some food.
Chef Mehta might be taking over your villain role now. For the past few episodes he’s done things to stop people from completing their dishes like hogging the grape leaves from Chef Trevi–o or blocking Chef Mullen from using the pressure cooker.
See I still don’t believe that. Maybe it’s because I’m under his spell [laughs]. I look at him as Gandhi. So it’s hard for me to think of him as a villain. I mean he is truly the nicest, sweetest guy you will ever meet and could not hurt a single fly. To see him on the show — and like I said I’m under his spell — it’s very, very, out of character.
What was the hardest challenge for you on the show? Was it last night’s five-course Indian meal?
I was watching that episode last night and I kept thinking, “Wow I’m kind of making a mockery of this whole thing.” I don’t like to do that with food but at the same time I kind of fell out of my element. I was a fish out of water. That wasn’t the hardest though. The hardest was probably the tamarind challenge. I don’t know why, I did fairly well. It wasn’t because I burnt my soup. It was just so hectic. It may have been because we went out and had to buy all of our ingredients and containers. I don’t know what it was, but the tension in the kitchen that day was just brutal.
You were able to salvage the soup you made even though the bottom was completely scorched. The judges loved it.
I don’t know how. You could not taste a hint of burn in the soup. I don’t know how it happened. It was an act of god of some kind. It was a really fantastic, delicious soup and if I ever open a Mexican restaurant, it will be on the menu.