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How ‘Iron Chef’ Chairman Mark Dacascos Fuels Up to Battle John Wick

Nuts, chocolate, and a lemon-ginger-honey drink help the actor get in the zone

Original photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Image

Mark Dacascos is earning high marks from the critics for his turn as Zero, a knife-wielding sushi chef/assassin who fights Keanu Reeves’s titular hero at the end of John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum. But most American audiences probably know the actor from Iron Chef America, where Dacascos plays the Chairman, a mysterious, backflipping master of ceremonies who’s as much a part of the show’s DNA as host Alton Brown. In between shooting the cooking show and the latest John Wick film, the Hawaiian-born actor has also filled his resume with a number of roles, both big and small, that showcase his martial arts skills and charismatic on-screen persona. The release of John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum seemed like the perfect occasion to get Dacascos on the phone for The Famous Original Eater Questionnaire, an interview series where we talk to our favorite people in Hollywood about their dining habits.

Welcome to The Famous Original Eater Questionnaire. What was the last thing that you ate?
Mark Dacascos: I had one single medjool date about ten minutes ago. I went on a long hike with my dogs, and I had one date before the hike and one after, so that I had energy to talk with you and give you my best.

What was the last thing you had to drink?
Actually, I have a coffee sitting right next to me, so coffee and a date.

When and where was the last time you had a hot dog?
Does German wurst count?

Sure, absolutely.
Okay, well, it was in Germany in December, and I was there with my whole family. We had knockwurst and bratwurst — I love them all.

What do you want to eat right this second?
Okay, this may sound very strange, but probably one of my favorite dishes in the whole world is ginger-crusted onaga from Alan Wong’s. My wife and I had our wedding dinner there 21 years ago. That’s what I had then, and that’s what I would like to eat right now.

What do you do to prepare for a big fight scene like the one you have in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum?
I haven’t done hand-to-hand combat in a while, so to get into the zone I have my special little drink that I do: it’s hot water with lemon, ginger, and honey. And then on the set, I like dark chocolate with sea salt — that helps me keep my energy up. I eat a lot of dried fruit and nuts, so I can just pop them in my mouth and eat real quick in between takes. It’s boring, but it seems to work for me.

How is filming John Wick different from shooting Iron Chef America?
Oh goodness, okay. This is the thing: It’s different in that when we shoot one battle for Iron Chef, it can take anywhere from six to seven hours. That’s kind of like a sprint, whereas John Wick is like a marathon, but at a sprint pace. I was there in New York for about three months, and it’s set in the world of the assassins, so everything is life or death. With every scene, your head is literally on the line. I felt like the intensity I needed to bring to my character was at 100 percent. Even when he feigns being relaxed, there’s a certain underlying intensity that needs to be there.

Dacascos (center) as the evil sushi chef in John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum
Photo: Niko Tavernise/Lionsgate

That sounds intense. What’s your favorite drink?
I rarely drink alcohol, not because I don’t enjoy the taste, but for whatever reason I’m a lightweight, so literally with a couple of sips, I’m flying. But there was a time when I really enjoyed Armagnac and cognac. I was shooting a movie in France called Brotherhood of the Wolf, and we shot in Armagnac. When we were in Armagnac, I drank Armagnac, and when we were in Cognac, I drank cognac. There’s sentimental value in that for me.

What’s one food item that you didn’t try until later in life that you now like?
Kale. I tried it, and I like it.

Do you have a favorite chain restaurant?
When we were shooting John Wick, I ate at this place probably twice a week called Hummus Kitchen. I loved it — they’ve got these roasted cauliflower blossoms that are so good with lemon and sea salt. And then in Hawaii, I love Zippy’s.

What’s your “Proust’s madeleine,” i.e., the food or beverage that instantly brings back memories from your childhood?
I have kind of two: One is, are you familiar with Portuguese-Hawaiian malasadas? I love them because I was born in Hawaii and I ate that a lot. And again, I go back to Alan Wong. He has this item at his restaurant that’s like a soup and sandwich: It’s cheese and kalua pig on a crisp, on top of a green-and-yellow tomato soup. I never had that when I was really young, but it reminds me of having a grilled cheese with canned soup. That’s like the updated version, but it reminds me of being a kid when we made our own stuff.

What’s a food secret that you think more people should know about?
I love Alice Waters and the whole farm-to-table [movement], and I cannot stress how much that has helped my health and just in terms of bringing me back to the earth, because I know that our lives are crazy. We have three kids, my wife and I, and we’re always driving around taking them here and there and living our lives. But when you can, I think it’s really important to connect with the farmers and farmers’ markets and see the food before we cook it up. “Consider the source,” my father used to say. Whether it be books or the information you hear or the food you eat, consider the source.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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