Food Network Star Exit Interview: Eric Lee
Eric Lee, 44 (Petaluma, Calif.), graduated with high honors from the Culinary Institute of America, and his kitchen skills, along with his calm confidence, have made him an acclaimed chef in the California wine country. Before going to culinary school, Eric graduated with a degree in sociology from the University of California Los Angeles. For the past 11 years he has served as the executive chef for a Sonoma County winery, where he is well-known for his mastery of food and wine pairing. Eric distinguishes his food by deconstructing and re-creating dishes using alternative ingredients and cooking methods.
Many FNS fans have voiced displeasure that actual cooking is not given more weight on the show. It seems there is a lack of importance placed on actual cooking and food knowledge in general. It’s hard to argue with them.
If someone shows up on set knowing how to cook but they’re bad on camera you can teach them to perform better. You can look no farther than the judge’s table for examples of that. Bobby Flay, by his own admission, was a bit clumsy at times in those early days and the first season of Giada’s Everyday Italian was flat out brutal to watch.
But if someone shows up day one and they cannot cook it doesn’t matter how good they are on camera. They are not going to learn to cook well enough in eleven weeks to justify having a TV show. It’s obvious that the first half of each season should key more on food than personality.
Eric was quite likely the best pure cook this show has ever seen, at least top five. One of the bright spots this season is that every single contestant in the cast is actually qualified to be in the running. We can’t say that about past line-ups. That being said it has got to be hard for the judges to determine a winner. My assessment of lastweek’s show was that Michele and Yven should have been at the bottom. Others had Judson in their bottom two.
It’s just that close at this point and therefore the judges have to nitpick which leads to ridiculous comments like Susie saying Judson’s dish had, “too many crunchy elements to it.” That’s impossible. Crunchy is the most popular texture in cooking and you cannot have too much of it. That’s like saying that something is too cheesy. There is no such thing as too much cheese or too much garlic or too much bacon or too much crunch. But to determine a winner the judges have to be, for lack of a better word, anal. This cast is just that good.
Which cast members are you still friends with?
I love Judson. He’s the man. So Judson obviously, Josh, Kara and Linkie.
What’s the number one thing you have taken away from your experience on Food Network Star?
What is the most important thing in life? That is your family, your friends and your health. The show requires that you be away from them for so long with no contact with them and that by far is what I’ve taken away from that show.
Do you think that the show would benefit from focusing more on determining who can actually cook in the early rounds?
Oh of course. Giada said it at the very beginning, “You have to be able to cook. You have to be able to talk on camera.” I think that cooking is not weighed as heavily as on-camera. Who knows what’ll happen in the future.
A lot has been made on the show about you leaving a long time post to take this shot. Would it be safe to say after seeing you in action that you’ve had an offer or two?
No. Not at all. I am not looking for a restaurant job; I think that if I were looking for a restaurant job things would be different. I’m a chef in the wine country. I love what I do. I love small scale stuff. I’m more of a product ambassador. I have to be totally behind something. Right now I’m a corporate chef for an Italian vacuum packaging and sous vide company. I have to believe in the product.
This show has revitalized my whole thing. Being on this show I realized I can cook really well. There may be a show in the future, maybe a cookbook deal. Who knows what’s going to happen.