Utah chef Viet Pham took down celebrity chef Bobby Flay on the Food Network's "Iron Chef" Sunday night.
With ground meat as the secret ingredient, Pham and sous chefs Bowman Brown and Luke Fowles tested their culinary mettle with a soft-scrambled egg, sausage and syrup tucked inside an egg shell; lamb sausage and a riff on beef borscht; and prawns and halibut soaked in hamburger-infused whey.
The last dish, beef fat ice cream with cherries, sprinkled with powdered beef fat, seemed to wow the judges with its innovation.
"When I saw this dish, it looked like Christmas," said judge Donatella Arpaia, who commended Pham for his "smart use of the ingredient." Judge Simon Majumdar said the dish sounded "Ridiculous ... never even considered it, yet I could eat every bit of it. It's delicious. Incredible."
"Our strategy was not to deviate from who we are as chefs," said Pham, who is co-owner of the Salt Lake City restaurant Forage. He watched the episode at Naked Fish Bistro in Salt Lake City, with more than 100 friends, families and local chefs Sunday night. The cheers were nearly deafening when Pham was declared the winner in the cook-off.
"It's surreal," said Pham when the winner was announced. "I'm just grateful to do it in front of my family with my parents here," as the camera showed his parents, Niep and Hoa Pham in Kitchen Stadium. As a boy, Pham often watched the Japanese version of "Iron Chef" with his parents.
The score was 80-73, in favor of Team Pham. Flay fell behind early on, as his first dish, small flattened sausage crepinette, was deemed too salty.
Before the episode aired, Pham was careful not to give away the results of the contest to those who came to the party. "I've always said that it's not necessarily whether you win or not, but the people you meet along the way," he said cryptically.
A number of local chefs attended the Naked Fish party to cheer on one of their own, prompting one guest to comment, "If a bomb was dropped here tonight, there wouldn't be any chefs left in Salt Lake City!"