Amidst the various food- and drink-heavy events at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, there were also opportunities for thoughtful discussions about the food industry. One of these events delved into the hot issue of reality TV, and how winning a food show can affect a chef's professional career and reputation. Moderated by Bobby Flay, the panel included chefs Richard Blais ("Top Chef All-Stars" winner), Marc Forgione ("Next Iron Chef" winner), Jonathan Waxman ("Top Chef Masters" participant), Stephanie Izard ("Top Chef" winner), Geoffrey Zakarian ("Next Iron Chef" winner) and Michael Symon ("Iron Chef").
Flay admitted that he had never moderated a panel before because he was always a panelist. He dove right into it though, and announced, "I don't want this to be a lovefest on what everyone's new projects are." Looks like he's fit for the job, as he sparked a lot of candid discussion.
On growing one's empire:
When Flay asked Michael Symon about Symon's decision to relocate to New York from Cleveland to appear on "The Chew," Symon explained that the program was a once in a lifetime opportunity. He would have never moved to New York without his wife, but she agreed to come with him. Symon said that the hardest part of being a chef is to delegate work. Over the years, as he has continued to open restaurants, Symon has grown comfortable with the team he has put in place. He hasn't worked the line in 13 years, but still remains involved in his restaurants. "The greatest chefs are the greatest teachers," he mused.
Marc Forgione is in the process of opening his second restaurant, and admitted that he has no idea how to run a restaurant without physically being there. "The hardest restaurant you open is your second," explained Symon. At that stage, chefs don't quite have all the cogs in place to keep expanding, and it's impossible for chefs to be in two places at once.
Since appearing on "Next Iron Chef," Marc Forgione has inked deals with POM Wonderful and Macy's. Before going on television, he never would have imagined that a company would give him money to drink its product.
Flay advised that when it come to sponsorship, it was really important to know when to say "no." Symon echoed Flay's sentiment. "Be true to yourself."
Waxman cited Wolfgang Puck as an example of a chef that learned how to make a lot of money. "I'm incredibly in awe of Wolfgang Puck," he said.
On future TV plans:
Stephanie Izard has been approached by many production companies to do more TV, but she has been hesitant about filming inside her restaurant. "I'm not going to yell at my dishwasher to make a good episode," she explained.
On TV's effect:
Since going on TV, business at Waxman's restaurant increased 35 percent. Forgione noticed a bump as well but it only goes so far. "TV will make you come once," he said, "but the restaurant will make them come back."
There can be too much of a good thing -- although all the chefs appreciate hearing that a customer loved a dish, sometimes fandom, especially of the TV variety, can go one step too far. Both Waxman and Forgione have had fans chat them up at urinals.
Watch the discussion in full here.