PHUKET: “It was quite stressful,” replies Angsana’s Executive Sous Chef Yi-fan Chu when I ask him about his recent appearance on the ever popular “Iron Chef” series on Thai TV.

No wonder – with limited time to impress the judges, the special ingredient kept a secret to the very last moment (this time it was a snow crab from Japan) and his reputation at stake, participating in the cooking show must have been an exciting and stressful experience. But also one to enjoy.

“I like a challenge, whatever you try to present, everything you do – everybody is watching. I had to tell myself not to pay attention to the cameras and just do what I always do, which is very hard. You think hard not to make any mistakes but the more you think, the more mistakes you make.”

Chef’s Yi-fan Chu made one mistake too many and lost the competition by a single point. And some comments on the show’s Facebook page didn’t fail to notice that he lost to a woman. Chef Yi-fan sees no shame in it.

“For me,in the kitchen setting, there are no men or women, there are chefs. To be an Iron Chef you have to have the skills and that’s it. We’re there to cook.”

And cook they did. Just reading the list of dishes on the “Four Seasons Menu” prepared by team Angsana that night, featuring such delicacies as open-faced ravioli with black (foie gras) and white (truffle) sauces, or lemon-saffron sorbet inspired by the flavors from Chef’s Yi-fan Chu hometown in Taiwan, is a boost for my imagination and taste buds.

However, what marks a great chef is not only the dishes on the menu, it’s their hunger. Hunger for knowledge. And “Iron Chef” was jut another lesson for Chef Yi-fan.

“The whole experience helped me build confidence. After the show, I was nit-picking on my own mistakes but when I reviewed the video, I realized that I actually did good and it was a big boost for my self-confidence,” he says.

Chef Yi-fan believes it’s the same appetite for knowledge that the popularity of cooking shows and the great careers some celebrity chefs make is based on.

“Every chef has a different talent. Jamie Oliver created a menu anyone can do at home so people can actually learn something.

“Gordon Ramsay shows what’s happening behind the scenes – the stress, the pressure – so again people can learn something and that’s the reason they watch.”

And it doesn’t stop with TV.

The restaurant kitchen of the present is often an open space, plainly visible to customers.

“Guests are curious about what’s happening behind the scenes and watching the chef cook is a form of entertainment. Also, working out in the open forces chefs to push the standards even higher,” explains Chef Yi-fan Chu.

With already high standards at Angsana’s restaurants, be it Bodega & Grill, Market Place or Baan Talay – pushing them even higher seems like a hard task. Well, hard it might be, but certainly not impossible for Yi-fanChu. After all – he is an Iron Chef.

— Maciek Klimowicz