Earlier this month, we saw DC chef Rock Harper rise to victory on Hell’s Kitchen. Now another local chef is ready for the reality-TV spotlight. Ricky Moore, executive chef at Georgetown’s Agraria (3000 K St., NW; 202-298-0003)—a restaurant owned by the North Dakota Farmers Union—will head up to New York City to compete on the culinary-battle show Iron Chef. He’ll be the fourth local chef to hit the kitchen stadium (Roberto Donna of Crystal City’s Bebo Trattoria, Morou Ouattara of Alexandria’s Farrah Olivia, and Jose Andres have done it before); the episode is slated to air sometime this fall. Though he’s not the camera-hogging type, Moore admits he’s “all fired up.”
It was last Monday that the Food Network called Moore at Agraria—he wasn’t even scheduled to be at the restaurant that day. “I was just there for a meeting, but I believe in karma,” he says. “That stuff is real, man.” With one month to prepare for the taping, Moore has already pulled together his team, which includes Agraria sous chef Aaron Scales and pastry chef Todd Miller. Mondays are now “Iron Chef Academy” Mondays—which the three lovingly call ICA—and are devoted to studying old episodes, brainstorming, speed-cooking and mastering communication skills.
We chatted with Moore in Agraria’s dining room to find out what advice he’s gotten from Donna and Ouattara and whether he has any preshow jitters.
Were you an Iron Chef addict already?
I watched it the first season and earlier episodes, when it was all Japanese. Morimoto is too funny. I love Food Network—it’s become such an important tool for chefs to stay up on business news, food history, and innovations all around the world.
So how does it work? Did you apply or were you just chosen?
Oh—no applying. I got a cold call back in the spring. The show’s casting directors asked me to drive out to Virginia for a video conference with the producers. They wanted to know what I thought about the show and the other chefs and how the show should evolve. I was excited but not overly caught up in the hype. I wanted to be genuine, and I wanted that to show.
Good thing we have some DC chefs like Morou Ouattara and Roberta Donna who’ve already been around the Iron Chef block and can help. Have you guys been in touch?
Oh, yeah. I called them up right away, and they’ve been briefing me. I’m not a man who’ll just walk in there and think I know everything. Humbling myself and asking the masters is important to me.
What did the wise ones have to say?
Morou said to start plating at ten minutes to the hour—no later. Also to practice talking while cooking. It’s harder than it looks! Donna said to go over recipes inside and out. And everyone has said that practice, practice, practice is key. If we can nail speed down, we’ll be fine. And I am going to finish this race—I know that already.
Any other advice from the pros?
Donna said to bring vessels or pots that have special significance. It may not seem as important as the dish, but the judges actually pay attention to that, too.
So it’s BYO kitchen appliance?
Yep, but they must be approved by the show ahead of time.
Got any special ones in mind?
It all depends on the menu. The show is more theme-driven than ingredient-driven now. They pick specific holidays or, say, a concept such as farmers markets—the ingredient revolves around that. With farmers market, for example, the ingredient might be local produce. So the pots or other kitchen appliances will have to evoke that theme.
Speaking of props, have you picked out a special chef’s coat yet?
Ha—I guess this one. They said no large emblems, but our Agraria ones aren’t too large—more like medium-size. Definitely jeans, though. That’s Agraria’s policy. We wear what our owners wear. And our North Dakota farmers are out there wearing jeans in the field.
Have they heard the big news yet?
Oh, yeah. And let me tell you, it’s a huge deal in North Dakota. A huge deal. One of Agraria’s farmer-owners is a huge Food Network person. He’ll probably get one of my audience passes.
How many do you get?
I think six to eight.
Bringing your wife and daughter, I assume?
My wife will absolutely be there. She’s so supportive. But Hunter, my three-year-old, is a bit aggressive. She’d be running around the stage, screaming, “Go, Daddy!”
The farmers must want to scream, “Go, Daddy!” or something similar, too.
This is so powerful for us, especially since it could segue into something greater. Maybe I can bring big crates with signs and the farmers’ names?
So are you excited about New York, New York? What’s the day of production supposed to be like?
Basically we arrive at the studios at 7 AM to survey the kitchen. But the actual battle is one hour and one hour only—that never changes. There’s no cutting. Then they’ll get a bunch of “B-roll” film of me entering the stadium. And I’m sure we’ll do so many takes—I can’t keep a straight face!
Sure enough, we were forced to snap multiple shots of Moore posing with his “mean face.” The giggle was out of control. He’s got the crossed-arms part down, but the scowl? Needs some work. When we finally agreed on the photo here, he jumped back: “Whoa, who’s that? I even scare myself in that picture! I know I was in the military and all, but shoot—look at those arms.” Watch out, Morimoto. Chef Ricky is coming to town.