The next Iron Chef could be from Miami — that is, if Sugarcane chef Timon Balloo has anything to say about it.
Unfortunately, he can’t say anything about how he performed on the new season of “Iron Chef Gauntlet,” which airs April 4. The stakes are huge for a chef like Balloo, whose Midtown Miami restaurant became such a hit that he has opened two more Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill locations, in Las Vegas and Brooklyn.
“I was always trying to get on Iron Chef,” Balloo said. ” So when the opportunity came around, that’s the one I wanted to go on.”
“Iron Chef Gauntlet” is the latest spin on the “Iron Chef” franchise. Seven chefs compete against one another over six episodes. In the finale on May 9, the last chef standing must cook through the gauntlet of Iron Chefs Alex Guarnaschelli, Stephanie Izard and Michael Symon to be named the next Iron Chef.
“So that’s friggin’ huge from a chef’s standpoint,” Balloo said.
Balloo certainly has the chops — and the whimsy.
He was among the next wave of Miami’s great chefs, a student of Michelle Bernstein who took off, creating his very own genre of cuisine, melding Chinese-Indian from Trinidad and adding Miami’s flavors from Argentina, Cuba, Japan and Peru.
He squeezed in the competition in December between Art Basel and three months after opening a Sugarcane in Brooklyn, where the restaurant backs up to a food hall. So besides running that restaurant, he runs four food hall stalls dedicated to charcuterie (with deli sandwiches, fried chicken, burgers), a raw bar (tiraditos, ceviches, poke), vegetables (Indian curries, fresh naan bread, rotis) and sushi.
The Miami Herald recently re-reviewed his original restaurant and found it just as consistent as its first day 10 years ago, scoring three out of four stars (Very Good).
He wasn’t new to cooking in Kitchen Stadium — or other Iron Chefs.
Balloo last competed in June on “Iron Chef Showdown,” where he defeated one of the hottest chefs in the country, Philadelphia’s Nicholas Elmi (a “Top Chef” winner and owner of Laurel, a French-influenced modern American restaurant). He then lost in a head-to-head with Guarnaschelli where, on the show, even she thought she lost.
“I definitely think I got robbed,” Balloo said.
His biggest challenge on the show? Cooking for the host, Alton Brown, who is the sole arbiter. On the original “Iron Chef America,” which went off the air in 2014, a panel of diners made the call as Brown hosted.
“You really need to understand Alton and play to him. That was my biggest challenge. He’s a friend, but, man, he can be a pain…” Balloo laughed. “It was as much psychological as it was a cooking competition.”
Iron Chef Gauntlet
When: April 4 debut. Wednesdays, 9 p.m.
TV: Food Network