Inside Look: Next Food Network Star’s Herb Mesa
The Next Food Network Star is the highest rated show on the network each year. Viewers are in love with the annual motley crew of Wannabe TV Chefs vying for the life changing experience that comes with winning the show. Just think, Guy Fieri was just another restaurant owner six years ago. Now he’s chilling at T.G.I. Friday’s with the Aflac duck.
This past August we saw the crowning of a new star, Aarti Sequeira. Many critics declared this to be the weakest group of contestants in the history of the show. However, it did produce four of the strongest candidates in the history of the show in eventual winner Sequeira along with Brad Sorenson, Tom Pizzica and Herb Mesa.
In the early years of NFNS you never saw the non-winners ever again. But that changed after season 4. A season that was also packed with talented candidates, four of whom had genuine star potential but oddly enough none of those four won. That’s when the network started integrating this talent into the fold. Since then we have seen contestants like Kelsey Nixon, Adam Gertler and Jeffrey Saad getting their own shows on either the Food Network or kid sister The Cooking Channel. That bodes well for those who fell short of the ultimate goal this year.
Sorenson, as a reward for winning a challenge during the contest, has landed a series of 30 second helpful hints spots on the Cooking Channel. Tom has also been tabbed to host a show called Outrageous Food (the pilot starred NFNS 4 winner Aaron McCargo Jr.) which seems perfect for his personality. But what about Herb Mesa? What has he been up to? Let’s find out.
So, Herb, what are you doing today?
Can you briefly describe the process from initial entry until show time?
OK. So let’s say the process took, probably from start to finish, I guess from my first audition until I actually went on the show about six to seven months. And then once we shot the show it almost took a year for the whole process to be over with.
What emotions did you experience when you first arrived at the set in Los Angeles ?
You know it’s one of those feelings where you don’t know what to expect so it’s excitement, nervousness. But since you really don’t know what to expect it’s kind of hard to describe. Cuz you don’t know; you don’t know what to expect. For myself I’d never been in an experience like that before. I didn’t know what to expect so I didn’t know what to feel. I was excited; it was something new.
So how has the exposure from Next Food Network Star changed your life?
Oh my God, my life hasn’t been the same since the show started. It’s really weird to be recognized. It’s nice to be recognized everywhere you go. At least once a day or twice. In the super market, you go to a restaurant and little kids come up to you and say, “You’re that guy from Food Network. I love you,” then run away. It’s been really neat in that aspect.
And then as far as like opportunity-wise if you look at my Fabebook and my web page I’m constantly doing stuff now. I’m involved in a lot of good organizations. I’m with the Boys and Girls Club. I just did a fund raiser last night with Make-A-Wish, Dishes & Wishes. I mean I really keep myself busy, the Braves game. I’m constantly working on different things. I’m doing a tri-athalon for kids with Tourette’s on Friday. I mean it’s just endless opportunities.
I’m working with a company. I’m a consultant for restaurants. So I pretty much just come in and reinvent restaurant menus for them so I am definitely keeping busy.
Does everybody ask you to do push-ups?
A lot of people do ask me to do push-ups. People always says you don’t look that big. You looked bigger on TV. That’s not very nice [laughs]. I also get a lot of, “You’re a lot better looking on television.” I’m like, “Thanks, buddy. Thanks a lot.”
People say, “Oh my God, I loved you on the show. You shoulda won.” I mean, they’re not going to say, “You shoulda lost.” So, thank you for being so polite. Some will say, “I was rooting for ya.” You know what? I was rooting for me, too.
The other day Aarti mentioned on her Facebook page that you were doing some work on the Food Network web site. What are you working on?
I have a weekly blog that I come out with of healthy snacks. The first week I started it was back-to-school stuff. I did a chicken curry wrap, oatmeal chocolate chip and and uh I forget what the other things was. I did my version of potato week food which was burgers and potato salad.
I’ve been getting a really good response by people from the Food Network web site. So it’s been pretty cool. I’m very excited. I feel like even though I didn’t win my own show they are keeping me around. I feel like they’re going to keep me around. They’re going to keep me around until I do get my own show.
Do you plan on watching the new season of The Next Iron Chef?
Yeah, that’s one of my favorites. I love that show. It’s inspiring. It’s cool to see chefs work at the best of their ability. I personally got to do my own Iron Chef competition on the show. That was probably one of the coolest things ever. I mean, I got to cook in a Kitchen Stadium and got judged by Cat Cora, Michael Symon, Bobby Flay, Morimoto. I mean that’s rock star. And I did well.
I think you kind of got the short straw in that challenge because you went up against Aarti and as it ended up the two of you had the best Iron Chef performances.
I just think I was on the bottom luck because I gave good TV face. I was very dramatic. I think they liked watching me suffer. “Watch Herb suffer.” Every week I did the live Tweet thing and I had people every week convinced that was the week I was going home cuz I was on the bottom five times. And every week I was like, “Thank you, folks, for coming out but this isn’t my last show.”
It was funny. Tom said, “Herb, you’re like a cat, you’ve got nine lives.” At least I didn’t get the worst dish in the history of the Next Food Network Star. Which he did on that Iron Chef challenge.
I guess that speaks to the pressure of that kind of competition wouldn’t you think?
Yeah for sure. But what I loved about Tom, Tom’s creativity. Tom would swing for the fences. When his food was on it was amazing but when he was off it was off. I had the same thing. My food was good days and bad days. When it was on it was on, when it was off it was off. But it’s different, you’re cooking under a whole different kind of pressure. It’s not like cooking at home.
I’m sure this has happened to you – someone walks up to you and says, “I’ve auditioned for the Next Food Network Star. What should I prepare for?”
I would tell them to be themselves. No matter what just be yourselves. No matter what. Have an idea of what you are getting into and have an idea for what you want your show to be. Don’t walk in there and all of a sudden try to come up with a culinary point of view. You need to have an idea of what you want your show to be before you walk in the door.
On Thursday October 7th, Herb Mesa will be the Special Guest and Chef at a boutique benefit for The Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta. To purchase tickets click HERE.