On book tour and a bit squishy here in Seattle so will try to be concise. As Andrew Knowlton comments on his post, we all tasted the food. I pretty much agree with his assessment. Donatella I’m sure would too. Where I differed with my fellow judges was the degree by which Besh bettered Symon. I would say Besh edged Symon whereas Donatella and Andrew felt he beat Symon by a wide margin.
We were taking into account the entire course of the competition with our decision. We offered our overview of the competition to the iron chefs Had you been able to see the entire discussion, you’d have heard, after our overview, Alton’s asking me if I had decided. I told him no, because I hadn’t. It was too close. I wanted to hear what the judges said. Had they overwhelmingly praised Besh and said his dishes were definitively better than Symon’s, I was prepared to give my vote to Besh. What’s fair is fair. I certainly couldn’t simply give it to Symon because he’s from Cleveland—I know it’s only a TV show, but I just couldn’t do it. Again, I was prepared to vote for Besh if the iron chefs persuaded me that Besh far outshined Symon (as Donatella and Andrew believed, and frankly, as I thought they might, given that they seemed to clearly favor Besh in their comments on the food as we heard them during the tasting). But they did not. And so I voted for Symon.
While I think that my being from Cleveland and knowing Symon well was, if anything, a detriment during the competition, can I say that it was a detriment here? No, clearly it was not. In an even contest—and I can’t imagine two chefs who are more evenly matched in technical skill and culinary imagination—if they had been even in every single respect, I’d then have given my vote to Symon. I would have no other choice. As it happened, I chose the person I thought would make the best iron chef given what I saw and tasted throughout the entire competition.
What was interesting to me was how pissed Donatella was. Andrew was as well, but he didn’t seem to take it personally. Donatella accused me off camera of knowing Besh beat Symon and casting my vote for Symon anyway. I think she’s a woman who’s used to getting her way. That’s just a guess. She furthermore accused me of being the swing vote, which I wasn’t (had it been 3-3, nto 4-2, it would have gone to the Chairman/FN execs to make the call). Then she had it out with Flay and Cora, both of whom defended their vote.
So there it is. Know what you should do now? Next time you’re in Cleveland or Louisiana you need to go to their restaurants and taste the real work of these excellent chef-restaurateurs.