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‘The Next Iron Chef’’s Marc Forgione speaks at UMass

(Marc Forgione/ Facebook)

This year’s homecoming weekend kicked off when University of Massachusetts 2001 alumnus Marc Forgione spoke to about 100 people Thursday night in the Campus Center Auditorium.

The season three winner of “The Next Iron Chef” and owner of Restaurant Marc Forgione talked about his time at UMass, his training in the restaurant business and his journey to where he is now.

He began by telling a story about his first night at UMass and how he and a group of students got in trouble for smoking a joint. Forgione, who came to UMass to play lacrosse, was called into his coach’s office the next morning and thought he was going to get kicked off the team.

“If you guys are students, sometimes you get into trouble and things happen and that’s been my whole life,” he said.

After his freshman year, he dropped out and moved to California with a friend, but moved back to Massachusetts after three months. It was after this move he started working in a restaurant. He came back to UMass and studied hotel and restaurant management, now called hotel and tourism management.

In 2001, his father Larry Forgione asked for his help one day. Forgione thought he was just simply going to help his dad, who is often referred to as “The Godfather of American Cuisine.”

Forgione continued working with his father and “slowly, slowly, slowly fell in love with the business.” Forgione talked about training in France, developing BLT Steak with Laurent Tourondel, and the process of opening his first restaurant with Christopher Blumlo, a UMass alumnus from the class of 1999. He said his Restaurant Marc Forgione, formerly known as Forge, opened in the summer of 2008 and struggled during the financial crisis of 2009. He explained how he went from having 120 covers a night to 20 and had to get rid of half of his staff. The day before he was going to sell his restaurant, he received his first Michelin star.

He told a story of the night that changed everything. Forgione kicked a man out of his restaurant after he and said man had an unpleasant exchange. The next day, Forgione received a phone call from the man. He was a writer for the New York Times and said he was going to write an article about his experience. The article “went viral” and although it wasn’t the best publicity, it gave the restaurant press and momentum.

Shortly after, Forgione was contacted to be a contestant on the Food Network show “The Next Iron Chef.” He won his season and became the youngest winner in the show’s history. “There’s not a chance in hell I went to win,” said Forgione, who was only 29 years old at the time.

Forgione wrapped up his lecture by telling the audience his take away message: “If I can give any advice as a wise old man now, it’s to follow your gut, be patient and take your time,” Forgione said. Audience members then had the opportunity to ask questions.

One student asked if he enjoyed UMass dining hall foods when he attended several years ago.

“Politically correct answer? Yes, but it was very different than it is now,” he said.

Another audience member asked what he would prepare at UMass if he was a guest chef. “My restaurant is kind of famous for our lobster dish, so I would make chili lobster for you guys.”

Sophomore communication major Gabriela Colmenares thought Forgione’s passion for food and journey was “heartwarming.”

“I’m in love with food and the ‘Food Network,’ and just being able to come to an event where I can not only see a UMass alum that made it that far, but just to see someone who has done such great work with food is mind-blowing,” Colmenares said.

Hotel and tourism majors Emma Dietz and Maryam Quraishi both said they enjoyed the event. Quarishi shared that she used to stay up with her mom to watch “The Next Iron Chef” when it aired on television. “Getting to actually see his entire story, because I didn’t know anything about it…was very cool to see,” Quarishi said.

Dietz’s favorite parts were his story about his first night at UMass and when he talked about how he raised money to open his first restaurant. “There were just a bunch of good stories,” Dietz said.

University Programming Council Speaker Event Coordinators Grace Benhamroun-Zbili and Julia Barrett helped plan the event. Benhamroun, a junior communication and BDIC double major, “hoped for more [audience members]” but thought overall, “everyone who came was really engaged and interested and that’s the most you can ask for.”

Barrett, a hotel and tourism management senior said, “It was nice to see our hard work come together and see how many people we made happy.”

“I feel like this event with him might better both UMass and, specifically, the HTM department’s relationship with him in the future…because of this and his experience, hopefully he will become more involved with alumni things, which is great,” Barrett said.

 

Abigail Charpentier can be reached at acharpentier@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @abigailcharp.

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