New Times' Iron Fork 2019: The Chef Battle Gets Heated

Phuc Yea's Cesar Zapata takes on the Brick's Aaron Arditti at Iron Fork 2019.
Phuc Yea's Cesar Zapata takes on the Brick's Aaron Arditti at Iron Fork 2019.
Chef photos courtesy of Phuc Yea and the Brick
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This Thursday, two of Miami's favorite chefs will take to the stage in the New Times'  Iron Fork chef battle for the coveted Skillet of Excellence.

Phuc Yea's Cesar Zapata will face the Brick: American Kitchen & Bar's Aaron Arditti onstage in Miami's ultimate cooking challenge. 

This year, each chef has paired with a culinary influencer who will serve as sous chef and all-around sidekick. Zapata chose Chat Chow's Gio Gutierrez. Arditti's partnered with May I Take a Bite's May Alvarez.

New Times spoke with both chefs to find out how they're preparing for the competition.

Arditti says he has a few tricks up his sleeve: "I have a few little secrets — sauces and garnishes — that will play well with a host of different dishes." The chef says his classic cooking style should help him win the competition. "For me, it's all about the preparation and the technique. Even in a competition, you have to be patient, and don't rush things. I'm pretty confident in my skill set, so that's what I'm going to fall back on."

Part of the excitement of Iron Fork lies in the fact that each chef must prepare a dish using a mystery ingredient as a key component. Asked what he'd like to see in his basket, Arditti answers without hesitation: "Mushrooms!  They're one of the most versatile ingredients.  I can incorporate them into any sweet or savory dish."

Arditti is happy to have Instagrammer May Alvarez as his partner. "She came into the restaurant a few months back and had a good time. I'm sure she'll be a great assistant."

Finally, Arditti is confident that his nearly two decades of experience behind the burner is more than enough to win Iron Fork. "I'm pretty confident in the skills set. My opponent, Cesar [Zapata], is a great chef but we have very different cooking styles. That's part of the fun for me. I've played sports. I know how to compete. I'm the silent killer. Out of the same basket, one dish with have soy and one won't."

Arditti, of course, is alluding to opponent Zapata's restaurant Phuc Yea, which specializes in Cajun/Vietnamese dishes. Zapata is no stranger to culinary competitions. The chef was featured on Bravo's Best New Restaurant and will be bringing his A game to Iron Fork. "I'm just going to cook what I know and let the flavors do the talking," he says.

Asked if the mystery ingredient will throw a curve into his plans, Zapata seems confident. "Let them put a baby llama in the basket. It's all good." Does Zapata want to cook a baby llama in front of the crowd?  Of course not, says the chef, "but the llama would be adorable and everyone would love him and it would take the edge off the competition."

Zapata, known for his low-key style, is relying on Chat Chow's Gio Gutierrez to handle the crowd while he concentrates on the cooking. "I've known Gio for years. I'm going to let his high energy speak for the dishes I create."

In addition to the culinary competition, Iron Fork features food and drink from some of Miami's most loved restaurants, along with entertainment and a live game show. This year, Iron Fork will also present a people's choice award. Attendees can vote for their favorite bites of the evening, and the winning restaurant will receive a special honor.

The 12th-annual Iron Fork, presented by Wild Fork Foods, will take place Thursday, October 3, at the James L. Knight Center and Hyatt Regency in downtown Miami from 6 to 10 p.m.

Iron Fork tickets cost $40 for general admission and $70 for VIP. General admission includes entry to the event at 7 p.m.; unlimited samples from participating restaurants; access to cash bars in the GA area offering wine, beer, and spirits by Estrella Damm beer, Ziami Rum, Blue Martini, Tito's vodka, Riboli Wine Estates, Barcelo Rum, and Strega Mule; entertainment; and the Iron Fork culinary competition. At the door, tickets for this 21-and-over event will cost $50 for general admission and $80 for VIP, if available. Purchase tickets at newtimesironfork.com.

VIP ticket holders have access to all of the GA food and fun, entrance to the VIP lounge with complimentary drinks in that area, food from VIP restaurants, and early entry to the event at 6 p.m.

A portion of all proceeds will benefit Special Olympics of Florida, so you can feel good about your evening in more ways than one.

New Times' Iron Fork Presented by Wild Fork Foods. 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday, October 3, at James L. Knight Center and Hyatt Regency Miami, 400 SE Second Ave., Miami. Tickets cost $40 to $80 via newtimesironfork.com.

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