Steamboat Springs native and Vail resident Hunter Smith will appear on the Food Network show “Iron Chef America” on May 9. The show is scheduled to air at 8 and 11 p.m. to Comcast, DirecTV and DISH Network customers in Steamboat Springs. Smith will be cooking in support of Kelly Liken, chef/owner of Vail’s Kelly Liken restaurant.
Steamboat Springs Hunter Smith got his start in the culinary world in a Steamboat Springs kitchen.
He was 14, and he was washing dishes at Yama Chan’s Restaurant, a sushi bar in downtown Steamboat. Before long, the Steamboat native had tried a hand at cooking, and restaurant jobs at Antares and Old West Steakhouse pulled him further into the restaurant business.
At 17, he was one of the youngest students in his class at the New England Culinary Institute. And at 28, he’ll make an appearance on Food Network’s “Iron Chef America.”
Smith’s appearance on “Iron Chef” is scheduled to air in Steamboat at 8 and 11 p.m. May 9 to Comcast, DirecTV and DISH Network customers. He’ll be one of two sous-chefs supporting Vail’s Kelly Liken, chef/owner of a restaurant that shares her name. Smith has been a sous-chef at the restaurant for about two years, he said.
“I was really excited. It’s an honor to be on that show, for sure. … Something like 18 chefs a year get to go on that show — that’s only a handful of people if you think about every chef in the country wants to go on that show,” Smith said.
“Iron Chef America” is a competition show on the cable channel Food Network. It pits a recognized chef against one of six “Iron Chefs” each episode. The two teams have one hour to create several dishes using a secret ingredient, revealed at the start of the episode.
Because Smith and his team filmed the show in October, he’s had to remain tight-lipped about the outcome of the battle, the secret ingredient and, until recently, the competition — team Kelly Liken faced off against new “Iron Chef” Jose Garces.
Smith’s mother, Steamboat Springs artist and longtime resident Cully Kistler, also signed a confidentiality agreement about the top-secret show details. Kistler and her daughter, Halston Bruce, watched the October taping in New York City.
Kistler has watched her son’s love of food and cooking grow his whole life, from the days he was pulling up a chair to watch her every move in the kitchen, to the annual, multicourse birthday dinners Smith prepares for her with complementary wine samples.
“I had to put him in a backpack when he was a baby because he was always into everything,” Kistler said about Smith’s early days in the kitchen.
That love of cooking developed in Steamboat kitchens, cemented in culinary school, and has taken Smith to jobs at Nobu in Miami Beach, a famed outpost for Japanese cuisine; Bonterra, a fine-dining restaurant in Charlotte, N.C.; and La Tour, a French restaurant in Vail. Smith recently won the Taste of Vail Lamb Cook-off. He said he moved to Kelly Liken’s restaurant for its focus on seasonal American cuisine.
The restaurant’s use of constantly shifting ingredients likely provided a jump-start to its preparation for “Iron Chef.” The Kelly Liken team had a few weeks to prepare between being invited to “Iron Chef” and flying to New York to film the show. They tested recipes in every scenario they could imagine, Smith said.
“It was a lot of anticipation. The actual hour of cooking is non-interrupted, and that part was easy; we were prepared for it,” Smith said.
Kistler said she was a bit more on edge than her usually collected son.
“I was nervous the whole time — the whole hour — it was like my heart was racing the whole hour. But when he cooks, he’s so confident; he doesn’t look nervous or anything,” Kistler said.
Smith and Kistler said they’re interested to see how the show comes together, after several hours of preparation and filming. Kistler said she’s excited to see the show air on Mother’s Day. She’s replaced her original “Iron Chef”-watching plan to re-create the dishes featured on the show with a plan to cook Smith’s special, North Carolina-style barbecue recipe for friends, she said.