hollysmith

We have the contestants names for The Next Iron Chef, and Seattle’s Holly Smith is on the list! Smith, of Cafe Juanita and Poco Carretto, recently joined other top chefs in five weeks of worldwide taping, flying ‘from Los Angeles to Japan to New York to compete in the food fight of their professional lives.’ Here’s how the Food Network described the competition, which premieres Oct. 4:

“Whether working with exotic ingredients like jelly fish, creating their own version of international “fast food” or experiencing umami…the chefs must demonstrate their speed, artistry, innovation and leadership in each dish.” Smith, a James Beard award winner whose place is one of the handful that restaurant critics long to visit long after their reviews are done, took on the show along with notables like Nate Appleman and Jehangir Mehta.

I caught up with Holly briefly by phone — she’s in L.A., cooking for the Television Critics Association — and learned a little bit more.

As you might expect, “it’s been an adventure,” she said. Smith took along her young son, Oliver, for the weeks of round-the-world taping, but couldn’t even tell her waitstaff where she would be.

She took on the show despite having turned down Top Chef Masters earlier. When the Iron Chef folks flew her down for an interview, she said, she found “it was fast, and fun,” and she liked the producers. “I love new experiences, so it was interesting to be in all the different places we were — and challenging to do it with Oliver with me.”

Best of all, she said, was getting to know all the others on the show so well, after 16-hour days together and hours of conversation. “I think everyone, all 10 contestents, would say (the same). They’re great. I count them as friends now. That, at this stage of my life, was an added plus.”

It was fun, she said, despite the challenges. As a chef in today’s media world, she had already been reasonably comfortable in front of a camera — “but this is a different kind of thing!”

The businesses ran fine without her, she said — you can’t be there every night anyway, so the staff had some practice — and she was even a little surprised she didn’t get more questions about where she was going. Luckily, “I have an amazing crew.”

(With this, on top of Robin Leventhal and Ashley Merriman appearing on Top Chef, you know what this means? I finally need to get cable.)

Here’s the complete list of contestents, c/o the Food Network: Nate Appleman (Chef/Butcher, New York, NY), Dominique Crenn (Chef de Cuisine, Luce at InterContinental San Francisco, San Francisco, CA),Brad Farmerie (Executive Chef, Double Crown, Madam Geneva, PUBLIC and The Monday Room, New York, NY)Amanda Freitag (Executive Chef, The Harrison, New York, NY), Jose Garces (Executive Chef & Owner, Amada, Tinto, Distrito, Chifa, Philadelphia, PA), Eric Greenspan (Executive Chef & Owner, The Foundry on Melrose, Los Angeles, CA), Jehangir Mehta (Executive Chef & Owner, Graffiti, New York, NY), Seamus Mullen (Executive Chef & Partner, Boqueria Flatiron and Boqueria Soho, New York, NY), Holly Smith (Chef & Owner, Cafe Juanita and Poco Carretto Gelato, Kirkland, WA) and Roberto Treviño (Executive Chef & Owner, Budatai, San Juan, PR).

And, funny thing, I’ve been thinking about Holly this week, but not in any superstar context. I keep thinking about the super-cool tomato soup that I watched her make last year, one of the most delicious, refreshing heat-beaters I’ve ever had. I’m reprinting the recipe below, which I originally wrote on my P-I blog, because it’s a winner all on its own.

Here’s the version I make, her unofficial version, which serves a crowd:

Pappa al Pomodoro

1. Core a big container of the juiciest, tastiest heirloom tomatoes you can find ripening on a blazing summer day. How many? 17? Slice them up like apples and put them in a bowl.
2. Rip up a loaf of good crusty bread. Add it to the tomatoes.

3. Meanwhile, saute a handful of minced garlic in a bath — a cup? more? — of extra-virgin olive oil until golden. Pour the garlic and oil over the tomato-bread mix.

4. Toss in a big handful of kosher salt. Reporter will comment with alarm, “That’s a big ol’ handful of salt.” Reply “I bet it’s not enough.” Taste. Add another handful, about half the size of the first.
5. Shower a spare handful of cayenne over the bowl.6. Pour in a big glug of “good, but not obscenely good” balsamic vinegar.

7. Pour in some good sherry. (Obscenity status not clarified.)
8. Squash it all up with your hands. Yes, with your hands. Smush it all up with controlled strength, as if kneading bread dough. Make sure the tomato flesh is being squeezed out from the skins and the bread is dissolving into bits. Brace yourself for random squirts of tomato juice. It is all part of the Zen. As you start getting handfuls of flesh-free peel, pull some of the peel out, but leave some in for texture. The tomatoes are so incredibly juicy it will start looking as liquid and well-mixed as if you had taken out the blender.
9. Roughly chop a couple handfuls of basil, add to mix.

10. Wait for 30-40 minutes to let flavors blend if you can; if not, serve immediately. Drizzle top of each individual serving with olive oil and a pinch of cracked black pepper. Allow guests to drain their bowls.

And, the official recipe:

Chef Holly Smith’s Pappa al Pomodoro

1 loaf of your favorite artisan bread. A ciabatta or baguette are great choices.
3 to 5 ripe heirloom tomatoes of your choice
1 tablespoon freshly minced garlic
1 small can San Marzano tomatoes — the exact amount used will depend on the depth of flavor you receive from your fresh tomatoes
3-4 ounces best quality fruity extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Tuscan. (You may need more olive oil, again, it is to your taste.)
Kosher salt to taste
Cayenne to taste
Cracked black pepper to garnich/finish
4 basil leaves ripped into small pieces to garnish - feel free to use as much as YOU like.

1. Cut bread in half and rip into small pieces by hand. If the crust is too hard, remove it with a serrated knife and use only the tender center. Ciabatta is nice since it is tender, but still has a caramelized crust for the flavor.
2. Cut tomatoes in half and squeeze them into bread. Chop the pulp well and add to bread. Add half the garlic now as well as 1 tablespoon kosher salt. The salt will help break down the tomatoes and serve as a primary base of seasoning from which to build.
3. Work mixture by hand, adding bread if needed or San Marzano tomatoes as needed until you have a rough thick consistency. Taste now for bread/tomato flavor and proportion. Add half olive oil and taste, season with salt and cayenne as needed. *Note that this should be a thick soup, equally representative of the bread, the tomatoes, and the olive oil.
4. Let the soup sit for an hour, chilling, and then retaste, season and adjust. This would be the time to add remaining garlic, as the first addition should really be showing itself by now. (This is a great way to avoid garlic breath!)
5. Serve in chilled bowls with fruity extra-virgin olive oil, crusty bread, basil and sea salt on the table for your guests to add as desired.

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