The contestants aren't unknown chefs; most of them have some fame at their restaurant, have published cookbooks or have done food TV.
I enjoyed seeing some familiar faces who have cooked here in Utah.
Marcus Samuelsson came to Utah in 2001 to help cook for a Salt Lake Olympic Committee "one-year-out" party at Park City Mountain Resort,. At the time, he owned Aquavit restaurant in New York City, had won the James Beard Foundation's "Best Rising Star Chef" award in 1999, and was profiled by People magazine in 2000 as one of America's top five eligible bachelors.
I interviewed him as he was preparing for the Olympics event, which also had ties to the James Beard Foundation. "How often does an Ethiopian kid from Sweden get to cook for the Olympics?" said Samuelsson, who was orphaned as a child in Ethiopia, then adopted by a Swedish couple. "This is a real privilege, and when an organization like James Beard Foundation asks you, you don't turn it down."
His star has continued to rise, as he oversaw President Barack Obama's first state dinner.
Beau Macmillan was one of the cooks in 2010 at Chefdance in Park City. One of the traditions that has evolved around the Sundance Film Festival, a different "celebrity" chef is brought in to cook each night for about 250 of the entertainment industry's movers, shakers, and their friends. MacMillan, chef at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, was also one of the "boot camp" instructors on the Food Network's "Worst Cook in America"
At his Chefdance gig, MacMillan served seared scallops with creamed Anson Mill grits, chorizo and tomato jam; chilled lump crab salad, passion fruit and avocado; braised short ribs with salsify fondue and garlic cherry glaze; and salted caramel panna cotta with caramel corn and chocolate peanuts.
Current "Iron Chefs" who have visited Utah:
Bobby Flay did a segment of his "Food Nation" series in 2003 where he took part in a Dutch Oven Gathering (known by Dutch oven enthusiasts as a DOG). He also helped cook sourdough scones, chicken 'n' dumplings and lamb at the Lion House Pantry, sampled venison sausage and elk jerky and visited some Utah ski resorts.
Cat Cora has cooked several times at Sundance dinner parties, including one for the Humane Society of the United States in 2009 that included Paris Hilton, Nigel Barker of "America's Next Top Model," actor Alan Cumming, and Slash of the rock groups Velvet Revolver and Guns N'Roses. The vegan menu featured a silky roasted winter squash and saffron soup, herbed potato risotto spiked with chanterelle mushrooms, and a rich chocolate ganache tartlet with a salted caramel gelato accented with peanut brittle.For appetizers, there were pretty little chickpea fritters and polenta squares topped with Swiss chard, candied pumpkin seeds and a sliver of sun-dried tomato.
Alton Brown - "Iron Chef" announcer, came through Southern Utah in 2006 as a biker dude for his series "Feasting On Asphalt." In a later interview, he told me that one of his favorite places was the Mexican Hat Motor Lodge. "They have a grill that swings back and forth over the fire, and it was a cool place. We ended up eating there one night with a German Harley- Davidson club."