This past summer America watched as a Southern Belle from Birmingham, Alabama nearly became the latest Food Network Star. She made the final four which is a testament to her resolve as there were only supposed to be three in the finale. Martie Duncan is a vivacious, approachable and as you will soon read a quite resourceful food star.
Recently, as part of the Year of Alabama Food sponsored by the Alabama Tourism Department Martie took a tour of some of the great restaurants in her home state. Her voyage took two weeks, covered more than 15 cities while dining at more than 50 restaurants. I was lucky enough to join Martie for part of her tour during Alabama Restaurant Week.
The first night was a meet and greet at Mobile’s oldest restaurant, Wintzell’s Oyster House. This was an informal get together where we dined on terrific Gulf seafood and got to meet some of Martie’s fans like blogger Kelli Bosarge and culinary student Chelsea Herston.
The next morning I joined Martie and her assistant for brunch at True Midtown Kitchen owned by James Beard nominated chef Wesley True. Chef True’s brother Richard sent us a full tasting menu including NOLA BBQ Shrimp & Grits, Smoked Fishcake Benedict made with smoked Gulf grouper, Banana’s Foster Waffle (OMG!) and many, many more examples of Chef True’s amazing creativity. The following interview ensued over groans of culinary ecstasy and numerous visits from those wanting to visit with Martie.
Check out the pix below. Now on with the interview.
What was the audition process like for Food Network Star?
I was on FoodNetwork.com looking for something. I saw an advertisement pop up that said, “Hey, why don’t you audition for Food Network Star?” So it was midnight Monday night. Most of the auditions were done except for the West Coast and Chicago. Chicago is my second city. I lived in Chicago for a long time.
Tuesday morning I got in my car and I went to Chicago. I went to the hotel, checked in and I auditioned on Wednesday morning. I intentionally went at the end of the date hoping that if they haven’t see anyone good they’ll be happy to see me.
I walked in and talked for a minute. A girl said hang on for a minute, wrote some stuff down and the next thing you know she asks me to come back the next day. They wanted me to bring something that I cooked. I called ten different people that I knew in Chicago trying to find a place to cook and they all had something going on. How am I going to cook something?
So then I go, “Oh son!” I tell the cab driver, “Stop! Stop. Turn around. Take me to the fire station.” He thinks I’m having a heart attack so I say, “I’m fine just take me to the fire station on Pearson.” So I walked in and said, “Hey, chief, how ’bout I use your kitchen?” And he said, “How ’bout you cook us lunch?” So I said, “Alright. Deal.”
I made the firemen lunch. They let me use their kitchen and I packed up enough food to take to my audition. Then I had to go back to the fire station because they wanted me to cook dinner. They took me out on a run. I got to go down the fire pole, the whole nine yards. They were so awesome.
I was tickled when they asked me to join the next round. I had to submit a lot of recipes and videos. Then a few more interviews, a couple of flights and then I got called to come to Atlanta to audition for Alton Brown.
What was it like living with all those strangers?
That was hard for me. To move into a house with fourteen strangers and share a room with three other women. . . When I walked into the room the first time it looked the size of this table.
What was it like working with the mentors?
Alton had me read a book before the competition began, The Art of War by Sun Tzu. You’re working with people who had your best interests at heart, who wanted you to get some where, to prove yourself. There was a lot of tough love at times to get to the greater good; to get the best out of you.
Can you tell me about the tour you’re on?
I’m on a two week tour of Alabama. For me it was a two-fold mission. First things first, I wanted to be able to say thank you to the state of Alabama. For the love and support during Food Network Star. More votes came from Alabama than any other state. I really just wanted a way to say thank you and to meet people in person.
During the show people kept saying, “Hey you’re that Alabama girl!” So I wanted a way of saying, “Hey! Come see us. Try our food. Come see what we’re all about.” I’m an impartial ambassador. I’m not a chef at any particular restaurant I like all of them.
For me this was just a great opportunity for me to get the word out about our food, what we grow, what we catch, how we cook it and why you should come here and eat it. I’m passionate about it. Alabama and Birmingham especially have gotten so much attention as being a food destination and now Alabama food is such a trend in the foodie world.
To learn more about Martie’s trek to Alabama’s best restaurants follow her Facebook fanpage or trip on over to her web site HERE. Enjoy the pictures below and if you would like to see more about the meals Martie and I shared visit my Facebook page. Be sure to give me a “Like.” It’s about all I’ve got in this crappy economy.
Season 8 of Food Network Star is now but a memory. I have made some terrific friends in this year’s cast and I have to honestly say that all 15 contestants were good enough to have a show on TV. That’s never happened before. That also makes Justin Warner’s run all the more impressive.
In a season where any of the fifteen contestants could have won on previous seasons, Justin eclipsed the competition. We haven’t seen a contestant dominate FNS like Justin did since Kelsey Nixon in season four. Despite coming in fifth (Bob Tuschman that was just wrong!) Kelsey remains the only cast member still on the Food Network payroll. Justin was just as dominant and against an even better cast.
So who is this kid with the quirky palate and puffy red lips?
Well why don’t we let Justin tell you in his own words:
Justin’s whimsical Brooklyn eatery, Do or Dine, has already gotten the attention of the folks at Michelin and now America will be lining up to bust through its doors. For a 28 year old he’s been quite busy. But Justin was not too busy to answer a few of my questions.
Gabriel Kreuther of The Modern in NYC. Masakazu Suzuki of JeJu in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Some fans may be fearful that Rebel with a Culinary Cause is going to be a reboot of Good Eats. Can you contrast your show from the science-based cooking shows that have come before it?
I’ve never presented science as my thing. Sure, I might know it, but I’m not here to feed that to you. Alton Brown is. I’m here to take those scientifically perfect dishes and make them bonkers. I am here to expand the palate and culinary creativity of America’s hungry TV-watchers.
A lot of professionals in the culinary arts are excited about your show. Do you feel added pressure to put out a product that not only teaches the masses but also entertains your peers?
I have never felt more pressure in my life…. but that’s what it’s all about, right?
Was there a dish that one of the other contestants prepared that really knocked your socks off?
Anything Ippy made. He and I have similar palates.
Do you plan to have any of the other members of Team Alton on your show?
Right now I am planning on having a currywurst for lunch. All the rest is TBD.
All season long the judges have talked about how much they loved Martita and on more than one occasion I mentioned that editing must have been skewing what they loved about her. It just wasn’t translating to the final product. Well, after talking with her I can see exactly what Bob and Susie and Giada and everyone in the cast loves about Martita. She’s is one of the most personable ladies I’ve met in some time, so warm and so sweet. I totally get it now. Editing sucks.
Check out her post-elimination Facebook post:
Truly humbled by all of the love, support and praise that has been shown to me through out my journey on Foodnetwork Star! Incredible mentor, Giada De Laurentiis, loving & kind crew and the best cast/friends that a girl like me, who comes from such an incredible loving family, could’ve ever been teamed up with! At first we were separate teams but within a couple of days we all became a family and to me that is what you all, Season 8 cast of Food Network Star, will always be! Thank you to all who have been and continue to send messages of love & support via facebook, twitter, txt, voicemail, believe me I feel the LOVE! I am truly Blessed! This is just the beginning! The best is yet to come!!! XOXO
Martita Jara, 35 (San Diego), began working in her family’s restaurant business at a young age, and her mom’s authentic Mexican home cooking inspired Martita’s culinary passion. Her parents moved to the U.S. two years before she was born, and Martita credits them with her work ethic and perseverance. She attended a few semesters at culinary school, but most of her skills are self-taught. A vivacious newlywed who loves to entertain, Martita cooks with loads of Latin flavor and lots of love.
Some Star contestants leave the show having had their fill of TV and others leave hungrier than before. Which category would you fall under?
Oh, I’m hungry. I’m ready to start. I’m ready to go. To me getting eliminated was like, “OK. Now what’s next?” Let’s get busy. Doing the show was just like a little tease to me of what’s to come.
What was the hardest part of the experience?
Being away from my family was really difficult. They kept saying tell us more family stories and my thing was every time I’d start talking about my family I’d start crying and want to go get on a plane and go home. I have the best family in the whole world. For me to talk about them while being so far away from them was just too difficult.
Which cast members do you still have a strong bond with?
We’ve all stayed in touch. Being over on the West Coast it’s a little bit hard because so many of them are on the East Coast but we all stay in touch. Nikki is the only one I’ve seen. I don’t know I think we’re all pretty close.
I’m so excited to be in New York (for the live finale in two weeks) because there wasn’t any tension or bad energy with anyone. We all really got along and it was so amazing. Even though I haven’t been physically close to them I feel close to them always.
What’s the number one thing you learned on the show?
I think we can all do a lot more than we thought we could do. You don’t realize what you are capable of until you’re pushed to do something. I am capable of a lot more than I think I am; there’s no limits.
Do you have any projects going on at the moment?
I’m working on a line of gourmet margaritas. I’m getting all my recipes together, that’s taking a long time but that’s OK, cuz I’m trying to get a publisher for a cookbook. I’ve been talking to a couple of people about doing a pilot for a show. I’ve actually written a pitch for a show and sent it to a couple of production companies. I’m working on a few things.
It was a little odd that both people in the Producer’s Challenge were both from Team Bobby. I think Martita might have warranted a spot there over Malcolm. I also think that Malcolm’s performance in the Producer’s Challenge was good enough to win. Of course we don’t see everything that happens in a taping. After all the entire round takes place over a few days and we get to see 60 minutes of it. Unfortunately, Malcolm’s run is over.
Malcolm Mitchell, 41 (Washington, D.C.), received a degree in culinary arts after spending four years in the Navy. Malcolm began cooking alongside his mother and credits her for teaching him how to create great meals on a budget. After his time in the military, he realized that he could turn his passion for cooking and entertaining into a career; he is now a personal chef and caterer for sports teams, politicians and entertainers. Malcolm describes himself as “a classically trained chef with an urban touch.”
Is there anything in your life’s experiences that compares to competing on Food Network Star?
I would say I like to compete so it reminds me of when I competed in school w/football.
What’s the number one thing you have taken away from your experience on the show?
I have taken away always staying true to my food and preparing great food. I will continue to be me.
Do you have a defined POV now and if so what is it?
From Day 1, My POV is and was Keeping it Simple and Soulfoul…Global Soul. It’s more than just SOULFOOD….Fried Chicken and Mac and Cheese.
In what ways has being on the show changed your life?
More opportunities for exposure and resources to continue to climb in my career.
What’s next on the horizon for Malcolm Mitchell?
I am working on a restaurant concept in Richmond Va., I am seeking an agent and I am hopeful to get my own show one day.