Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen might not have won her recent "Iron Chef America" battle with Food Network celebrity Bobby Flay, but she doesn't consider it a loss.
"What we cared about was making food that represented North Carolina and the food we do at the restaurant," said Christensen, who owns Poole's Diner. "We had the opportunity to share our story with the entire nation."
Christensen is the third Triangle chef to appear on "Iron Chef America." Chef Walter Royal of Raleigh's Angus Barn won against Cat Cora in 2007, and chef Ricky Moore, formerly of Glasshalfull and Giorgio, lost to chef Michael Symon in a Thanksgiving battle that same year.
In the episode that aired July 24, Christensen battled Flay in creating a five-course meal using chum salmon, also called "dog salmon," a challenging ingredient because it has the lowest fat content and is considered the least flavorful of all salmon.
"It's pretty terrible," Christensen said later about the secret ingredient.
Christensen ended up on "Iron Chef America" because she auditioned for "The Next Iron Chef." She didn't make the cut for that show, but they called her July 4 last year to compete on "Iron Chef America." Twenty days later, she was filming in New York.
As part of her team, Christensen took her sous chef at Poole's Diner, Juan Esparza, and chef Matt Kelly, an owner of Vin Rouge in Durham and one of Christensen's closest friends.
Christensen declined to say much about what might have been revealed ahead of time about possible secret ingredients or the process of taping the show, citing the confidentiality agreements she had to sign. (Royal said after his episode aired that he had been given a list of five possible secret ingredients before taping.)
But Christensen did say that the hour of cooking time you see on television is for real. It was a stressful, competitive hour in an oddly arranged kitchen: She and her two sous chefs had their backs to one another, which would never be the case in a restaurant kitchen.
She did come up with the most creative dish: salmon skin beignets, or fried doughnuts, atop pineapple. She had planned to serve it with black sesame ice cream, but her team ran out of time; a fact that was craftily edited for a laugh during the show.
Overall, Christensen said, her favorite moment from the experience wasn't being on "Iron Chef America" but getting to watch the show at Kings Barcade with 200 friends, fans and loyal customers. The viewing party raised $3,500 for the Frankie Lemmon Foundation, one of Christensen's favorite charities. "The viewing party was one of the most special nights of my entire life," she said.
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