In advance of the October 4 premiere of The Next Iron Chef on the Food Network (9 pm), Eater is staging an elimination tournament with the chefs to determine the best food city. Two chefs a day tell us why their city is tops—and your vote determines which city moves on. Today, in the semifinals, Seamus Mullen talks up New York, and Jose Garces praises Philadelphia.
[Seamus Mullen and Jose Garces. Photos courtesy The Food Network]
Which city is home in your chef's heart? Ideally, it's the city you grew up in.
JG: It’s difficult for me to answer this, because although I grew up in Chicago and feel very comfortable there, I have spent several years now building a life in Philadelphia, and I’m proud to call it my home. Chicago is my past, and my heritage, but my wife and children, my restaurants, even my younger brother are all in Philadelphia now.
SM: New York, it’s my adopted hometown.
What's the first and most essential restaurant stop when you return to that city?
JG:The first place I go when I’m in Philadelphia is Reading Terminal Market?it's not a restaurant, technically, but a huge indoor market with dozens of different food stalls where I can grab a quick lunch and then shop for farm-fresh ingredients to take home and prepare for dinner with my family.
SM: Sushi. When I'm away from New York, I rarely get to have Japanese food (unless I'm in Japan, obviously). I love Soto, Sushi Zen, Yasuda, Kyo Ya.
What are three other great places in the city that you recommend to friends or visitors, with a few quick words about why?
JG: Philadelphia has amazing outdoor spaces, so I always suggest that visitors take in one of the city’s beautiful parks, whether it’s for a round of mini-golf in Franklin Square or checking out the Christmas lights in the wintertime in Rittenhouse Square. Plus, our art museum is world-class, and my son and I love running up the “Rocky steps” together.
SM: For refined Italian food, it's hard to get better than Marco Canora?I love Hearth and Insieme. Red Hook ballfields in Brooklyn are a must stop for Mexican and Salvadorean food. It's not exactly in the city, but a Sunday lunch at Blue Hill Stone Barns followed by a walk through the farm is one of the best dining experiences I've had in New York.
What's the dish that represents that city the best?
JG: I’m not going to say a cheese steak! Maybe 10 or 15 years ago, that would have been the emblem of Philadelphia dining, but today it’s almost impossible to choose one dish because there are so many amazingly diverse restaurants here; it’s the city’s culinary diversity that is its calling card these days. I’d like to think that something innovative and ethnically mixed, like the boneless chicken “wings” stuffed with pork belly confit that we serve at my Latin-Asian restaurant, Chifa, would be a good representative of the elevated comfort food and cultural blending that are the hallmarks of Philadelphia restaurants.
SM: Pizza?born in Naples, ubiquitous in New York.
Is there a special local ingredient from that city that you still incorporate into your cooking?
JG: I’m hooked on fresh produce, and the mushrooms that are grown in nearby Kennett Square are some of the finest I’ve ever had the pleasure of preparing. Each of my restaurants has at least one signature dish that incorporates the earthy richness of mushrooms, whether it’s our setas a la plancha at Amada or the huarache con hongos con huitlacoche at Distrito.
SM: Long Island Fluke, Bonito and Razor Clams and Scallops. It always kills me when I'm in Europe and chefs poopoo the States for not having great ingredients or great food. The fish from our waters is wonderful fish, the Tomatoes from Jersey in August are amazing. We have great products.
A final sentence on why it's the best food city in America.
JG: Philadelphia is the best food city in America because of the wealth of small, independent restaurants that turn out world-class food; the adventurous and discerning palates of the residents; and the ready availability of just about any ingredient a chef could want. Restaurant prices are relatively low, and the number of dining options on any given night is sky-high.
SM: New York City is the most diverse place in the world- no where else will you find so many people from so many cultures in one small place and there is nothing that preserves culture better than food. In the world of fine dining, it's extremely challenging to be successful in New York, we have crazy building and fire codes, outrageous rents and a very discerning and critical dining public. Most mediocre restaurants don't stick around that long.