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, Holly Smith talks up Baltimore, and Jose Garces praises Philadelphia.
[Dominique Crenn and Roberto Trevino. Images courtesy The Food Network]
Which city is home in your chef's heart? Ideally, it's the city you grew up in.
JG: 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.
What's the first and most essential restaurant stop when you return to that city?
HS: Hard crabs to-go from Ocean Pride.
JG: 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.
What are three other great places in the city that you recommend to friends or visitors, with a few quick words about why?
HS: For me, home is about eating at home so I try to hit an Amish farm stand and buy local produce and poultry and cook at home for friends and family.
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.
What's the dish that represents that city the best?
HS: Hard crabs, blue crabs with old bay, and Berger cookies!
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.
Is there a special local ingredient from that city that you still incorporate into your cooking?
HS: I think of home when I use watercress, tomatoes and corn—all seemed perfect to me growing up, and I have judged every place I have lived based on the quality of these three ingredients ever since.
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.
A final sentence on why it's the best food city.
HS: Baltimore is a snapshot of the United States. The food is honest and where I grew up it's funny that eating local and in season was always the norm—even 30 years ago... now it is in fashion but without pretense or hype.
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.