After 30 years in the business, Chef Stephen Kalt knows about stress in the kitchen.
Whether it's unexpected crowds, kitchen disasters or dishes that didn't turn out quiet as planned, the chef/partner at Fornelletto Cucina & Wine Bar at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa has just about seen - and dealt with - it all.
But, Kalt admits, there's something especially unnerving about someone with a camera and microphone approaching you while you're rushing to prepare a meal on deadline.
TV audiences will get to see how Kalt deals with that particular distraction when the chef appears on the Food Network's cooking competition "Iron Chef America."
"It really is very fast, very intense," Kalt said of the televised competition. "You really have an hour to cook these things and there are guys sticking microphones in your face and trying to talk to you."
For Kalt, one thing that helped him deal with the situation was his trust and working relationship with Jason Olson, of Mays Landing. The executive chef of Fornelletto, Olson aided Kalt during the competition.
"We are very familiar with each other - there's an internal dialog. We understand what we are trying to get out of a flavor. That is probably the singularly most important thing," Kalt said.
Kalt did not need to go on "Iron Chef" to burnish his reputation.
The former pre-med student has done everything from founding a chain of casual Italian restaurants to landing a gig as a chef at the famous Le Cirque restaurant. He's run restaurant consulting firms, opened restaurants in Las Vegas and even appeared regularly on television on "Martha Stewart Living."
Still, when "Iron Chef" came calling, Kalt couldn't say no.
"It is the singularly most-iconic show in our business. If you are going to put yourself on the line, you want to put yourself on the line with the best people," Kalt said. "For me, getting a call from them, getting to compete against the best people, is both an honor and an opportunity."
In the competition, Kalt goes up against Iron Chef Alex Guarnas-chelli, executive chef at both New York City's Butter and The Darby restaurants and host of the Food Network show "Alex's Day Off."
The face-off was taped about a year ago, but Kalt must keep mum about how he fared, citing a "$1 million nondisclosure" agreement.
Kalt didn't take the competition lightly.
"When you are competing against an Iron Chef, they are someone to be feared and revered," he said.
Kalt said he and his assistant prepared for the show by setting up various scenarios for themselves and discussing how they would respond.
"Part of the challenge is that you can think on your feet, but part of being a chef is that you can think on your feet," he said.
While he won't say anything about the actual contest, Kalt said he walked away from the test happy with both himself and his team.
"It was an extremely positive experience for me - it was a confidence builder," he said. "I think I performed at a high level, my team performed at a high level."
Kalt splits his time between New Jersey and California, where he is the Chef/Partner of Caulfield's Bar and Dining Room in Beverly Hills.
He will watch the competition from his home in Los Angeles, but he will be back in Atlantic City next week, where he operates both Fornelletto and and the 70-seat fast-casual restaurant Roma. He's considering offering some of the dishes he prepared for the competition at his properties in coming weeks.
And, with a year to think about his first experience on a televised competition, Kalt said he would gladly return if invited back.
"It's a very interesting, exciting thing," he said. "On a day-to-day basis you have curve balls thrown at you in the restaurant that you have to deal with. A competition show is kind of like a stage for all those characteristics."
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'Iron Chef America'
Airs 11 p.m. Sunday, 2 a.m. Monday and 5 p.m. Sept. 14 on Food Network