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Acclaimed Chef Agrees to a Spot on Reality TV

Acclaimed Chef Agrees to a Spot on Reality TV

Tan Vinh | Seattle Times

Earlier this year, Bravo TV producers invited Holly Smith, of Cafe Juanita in Kirkland, to compete on “Top Chef Masters,” a dream for most chefs. For Smith? Nope. Not her thing, she said.

A month later, the Food Network made the same call to try to land her for “The Next Iron Chef.” They wouldn’t take no for an answer. They flew her to Los Angeles.

Some wooing. A meet-and-greet to get comfortable with the producers. And what do you know? The reluctant Smith was slicing, dicing and sauteing lamb kidneys for her bruschetta in front of the camera for the Food Network.

“I just felt comfortable with the producers” and the show’s concept, the James Beard award-winning chef said.

In the competition, Smith, 42, must beat nine other chefs in several cooking challenges to be anointed Iron Chef, arguably the highest honor on the Food Network. Iron Chefs such as Mario Batali and Bobby Flay are among the cable channel’s biggest celebrities with lucrative book deals and endorsements.

The contest takes place in New York, Los Angeles and Japan.

A Maryland native who moved to Seattle in 1993, Smith has worked with Tom Douglas at Dahlia Lounge and with Tamara Murphy at Brasa, both of whom were Iron Chef America contestants. But Smith couldn’t turn to them, or anyone else for advice, since she was sworn to secrecy before filming this past spring.

To prep, “I filleted a few big salmon before I left. But nothing else,” because you don’t know what to expect, she said.

One of the area’s most acclaimed chefs, Smith has a huge fan base among some of the biggest names in the food world. Gourmet Magazine editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl considers Cafe Juanita among the best restaurants in the Northwest. Famed French chef Jacques Pepin may dine there in two weeks.