Chatting with Iron Chef’s Esteemed Chairman Mark Dacascos

Iron Chef. MARK DACASCOS in episode 106 of Iron Chef. Cr. Adam Rose/Netflix © 2022
Iron Chef. MARK DACASCOS in episode 106 of Iron Chef. Cr. Adam Rose/Netflix © 2022 /

If The Chairman on Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend had a name, I’m here to suggest that it should be Elmer, as Mark Dacascos’ portrayal of the role ensures that he’s the glue that holds the show together. As he did on Iron Chef America, Dacascos brings a certain je ne sais quoi to the show that defies a specific description. The recipe that makes Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend on Netflix so perfect would be unrecognizable without The Chairman and Mark Dacascos.

Add Mark’s deft facial displays and over-the-top physical expressions owing to his martial arts background to the sound effects that dramatize his gifts and The Chairman is the result. On Quest for an Iron Legend, Dacascos’ physicality is even more prominent, in a way that complements the festivities and cements this assertion that the character’s name should be Elmer.

Having taken center stage in Kitchen Stadium for over 240 episodes of the wildly successful show, Mark Dacascos is the perfect person to take us behind the scenes of the venerable franchise.

What were your thoughts when you were asked to do Quest for an Iron Legend?

I got emotional because I have such fond memories of working on the show. I mean, we started almost 20 years ago or something like that and I’ve seen the show grow and evolve. Our cast, our chefs, Alton Brown, and everybody. We have this really strong connection. It’s always been a really fun show to be a part of, so now to be in this new iteration, 3.0, carrying the same essence in the DNA but going bigger and deeper, I was very emotional, excited, honored, and nervous. I was like ‘can we do it?’ Absolutely!

You begin each episode of Iron Chef by saying “with an open heart and empty stomach,” yet on Quest for an Iron Legend, you’re no longer sitting at the judging table with dishes in front of you. Isn’t that grounds for renegotiating your contract?

(Laughing) YES!!! So now I get to hear Alton and Kristen and the judges talk about the food. I smell it and I watch it, but nothing for me. I’m in my little room eating nuts and vegetables while they’re eating these gorgeous dishes.

And Alton’s picking up dishes or bowls, smelling them, and letting the amazing aromas waft in and you’re nowhere to be found.

He’s just getting back at me for all those years when I got to be at the judging table.

I don’t know what to call the pose that you do when introducing the secret ingredient on Quest for an Iron Legend, so I’ve labeled it the pterodactyl pose. My back hurts every time you do that. You seem to embrace the expressive elements of being Chairman.

(Laughing)I like that! May I use that? Thank you! So when I was initially approached for Iron Chef, I was talking with the producers. This is way back when. They asked me to consider the role of The Chairman. I openly said that I don’t cook, but I do kick. You know, there’s a difference. And they said no problem. And then I asked about bringing the essence and emotionality of martial arts to Kitchen Stadium. Because it seems like in creating my backstory for The Chairman, he’s obviously as passionate about cooking as he is for the martial arts.

And they liked the idea. And from there, they encouraged me to embrace that spirit and physicalize the role more and more. And then you hear Alton throwing in bits about The Chairman and that builds the character up even more. So by the time we get to our new 3.0 version, he’s not fully evolved yet because I like to think that it keeps going, but The Chairman is so excited about cooking and the battle that he has to physicalize his emotion because he’s not able to vocalize everything he’s feeling. So it has to come out in his body and that’s how I see it. It’s really fun to play him because of that, he’s animated. And you don’t know if he’s in on his own joke, because sometimes he’ll say things and you are like, okay, that was completely wrong. Does he know that? Or is he messing with us?

It’s so much fun to play and then you bounce off because a lot of it is improvised. I don’t know how the chefs are going to react. They don’t know what I’m going to do. So everybody’s on edge and that’s really fun to live and explore. And certainly, when it comes to the battle, that energy is palpable. I don’t go down on the floor, but I can feel the energy between all the chefs. I can feel the energy from the cameramen. I feel it from Alton and Kristen. We don’t know what’s going down for those 60 minutes and everyone’s strapping in for the ride. All of that is really great because as The Chairman, I get to vocalize my excitement and physicalize it. And put some martial arts into it.

Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend. Mark Dacascos in episode 103 of Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend. Cr. Adam Rose/Netflix © 2022
Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend. Mark Dacascos in episode 103 of Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend. Cr. Adam Rose/Netflix © 2022 /

The Chairman always asks the visiting chef a question and they, in turn, either have a benign answer or something witty. Has there ever been a time where one of your questions caught the chef off-guard and they were unable to respond?

Yes. There have been times when they’re so excited to be there and of course, they’re fantastic chefs, but when you step into Kitchen Stadium and you have all those cameras and all that attention and you’re not doing your cooking yet, you have to speak and I’ve had a few times where they can’t even say their names. They’re so nervous. And that’s great. I think that’s a compliment to them because they care so much. So we just take a moment. We breathe together, we laugh, and they’re like, okay, we’re good to go now. Because of course, they’re ready for the fight, for the cooking part. But that beginning part can be a little nerve-wracking.

On the first episode of Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend, Kristen Kish suggested that your late-night snack of choice is a walking taco. And obviously, she meant The Chairman. From where you sit, what would The Chairman’s actual late-night snack of choice be and what is yours?

So we’re building his character. In addition to the walking taco, a late-night snack I think The Chairman would eat is popcorn with furikake. It’s salty, seaweedy, and a little bit sweet. And for Mark’s late-night snack, popcorn with lots of butter. Honestly, sometimes my wife and I will forgo dinner and just have huge bowls of popcorn. I’ll make it and she’ll have wine, while I’ll have some water with lemon. Popcorn is amazing!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask a Chairman-specific question. Do you like apples?

Yes! Yes. Yes. I was at a ComicCon over the weekend and I snuck out to eat my apple. And when I came back, I was talking to one of the fans and they said, ‘oh, we wanted you to eat the apple out here.’ (Laughing) I said I ate one and then made a crunching sound just for my own fun. But yes, I love apples.

Aren’t you happy that it’s not the pepper that The Chairman’s uncle ate to begin each episode of the original Iron Chef?

Yes, I’m happy that I don’t, but this is the crazy thing, I eat raw peppers. I love bell peppers. I like the apple idea, you know, America and all that stuff, but personally I love peppers.

Finally, with Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend earning near-universal praise, I asked Mark about the potential of doing a second season.

I would certainly look forward to doing it, but I haven’t heard anything yet. I’d be very excited, but regardless, I was so emotional and so thrilled, and so honored to be a part of this. I was so happy that they invited me and hope we have more seasons.

Longtime fans of Iron Chef who’ve embraced Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend no doubt hope that additional seasons lie ahead. And of course, they look forward like I do to seeing Mark Dacascos as The Chairman, or Elmer as I called him above, being the glue that holds everything together in Kitchen Stadium in his usual vibrant, spirited, and physically-endearing manner.