WTVC Exclusive Next Food Network Star’s Serena Palumbo

Last year on Next Food Network Star Serena Palumbo drew a lot of attention with her delightful and bubbly personality.  Amongst all of the classically trained chefs it was this home cook who forged one of the most devout followings.  Her effervescent personality and spitfire “can do” attitude struck home with lots of viewers.

Serena Palumbo of Next Food Network StarOf all of the contestants to ever compete on NFNS, Serena may have had the best Plan “B” for not winning.  She could always fall back on her old job of being an international corporate lawyer in the global finance industry.  In 2001 she earned her Juris Doctor from Universita’ degli Studi di Napoli Federico II (Federico II University School of Law in Naples).  In 2004 she studied Corporate Law and Securities Regulation at New York University School of Law as part of a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholarship.

Serena proved she was no one-trick pony when she started her popular web series Cooking in Manhattan.  Since 2009 her channel has received roughly 50,000 page views with nearly 150,000 individual video downloads.  The success of Cooking in Manhattan has lead to appearances on Food2, CNN, BBC and ultimately as a finalists on Next Food Network Star.

Just a few days before the premiere of NFNS 7 I spoke with Serena.  When talking to her you cannot help but notice her accent.  It is not the stereotype Hollywood gives you of Italians but something warmer and just a touch exotic.  Underlying that accent is a complete mastery of the English language.

As a writer you are always looking for that perfect word to convey an emotion.  Usually it comes easily enough but sometimes you have to thumb through a thesaurus to find it.  That is why it is amazing  to hear Serena do it in casual conversation in what is essentially her second language.  That is an indication of a very keen mind.  She says unabashedly that she is a nerd and proud of it.

Today Serena balances her jet-setting law career with her emerging lifestyle brand on the web site SerenaPalumbo.com which chronicles her life as an attorney, cook, traveler & fashionista.   She has big plans for the site but why not hear about it from her.

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Are you planning to watch the new season of Next Food Network Star?

Most definitely.  Not only will I be watching but I will be live Tweeting about that.  Last year I was very new to Twitter and I didn’t have a chance to use it as a conduit for telling my story.  This year I have been a little more attuned to social media.  I am looking forward to the new season because it is very large in regards to the number of contestants and some of them are characters I would like very much to get to know.

Does it seem like a year since it was you standing before the judges?

It’s been an interesting year.  It’s hard for me to believe that just last year my season was premiering.  It’s been quite hectic.  And it’s been slightly different from what I thought.  It’s really amazing that people recognize you on the street and they tell you, I really liked you on your season.

It’s been really interesting in seeing who took advantage of the platform they were offered and who did not.  You look on my season you saw a lot of people who looked to be very entrepreneurial and you have imagined that they were ready to run with it.  Fortunately some people really ran with the exposure they got.  On the other hand some people didn’t take advantage of it at all.

What changes have taken place in your life since last year?

Serena Palumbo of Next Food Network StarI am very blessed that I participated in the Next Food Network Star because my life has been totally different than it was.  It gave me a lot of training in what to say and what not to say.

My web site now is all new.  There’s so many good things that are going on.  Obviously there is more Cooking in Manhattan.  I keep toying with that because it’s a nice hobby to have, to have this little cooking show that takes place in my own kitchen.  I have been a food writer; I have written for Boulevard Long Island, for Chibo Magazine.  Also in magazines in Italy; the Italian version of Cosmopolotan.

I feel more fearless.

Are there any members of your cast with whom you keep in touch?

Definitely.  I keep in touch with Aarti (Sequeira).  We were friends throughout the show.  I think Aarti is doing an excellent job.  I’m really glad that she got this opportunity.  I think it really went to a person that deserved it.

I’m very good friends with Alexis (Hernandez) and Doreen (Fang).  Alexis is really a person with a big heart.  I really appreciate him a lot.  And Doreen is wonderful.  I am in contact with Brianna (Jenkins).  When she comes to New York from time to time she calls me and then we meet for coffee.  Tom (Pizzica) and I follow each other on Twitter but I actually became good friends with some members of his family so we keep in contact indirectly.

You had a strong run last year and remain a fan favorite to this day.  Can we look forward to seeing you do more work on TV?

There are no plans so far.  If someone comes up to me and says, “Would you like to have a cooking show?”  I definitely would.  Maybe if I can make Bob Tuschman, Susie Fogelson and Bobby Flay change their minds one day then that would be good for me.

How much of your time would you say you spend working abroad right now?

I am the in-house council in America for an Italian bank so they send me traveling very often.  We have a branch in Brazil where they send me often.  They send me very often to Italy because that’s where the headquarters of the bank are.  I would say that my practice in 99% in the United States.

You’re an advocate for the war on childhood obesity, why is this cause so important to you?

I was very chunky when I was a kid.  You know the hippos in Fantasia?  I was more or less like this.

So I am very much an advocate for childhood obesity because I think that obesity is driven sometimes by the fact that kids are not exposed to real food.  They are not exposed to where the chicken is born, where the cows come from.  They are not seeing that and that is something in my culture I did have.  My parents would tell me the apple comes from this tree but the fig comes from a different tree.

All of the work I do outside of my job is for charity because I have something that pays the bills.  Childhood obesity is one thing I feel very strongly about.  The second thing is the American Cancer Society.

Do you have any desire to run your own restaurant?

A lot of people came up to me asking if I would like to have my own restaurant, it’s a lot of hard work.  Maybe in a different stage of my life I will have time to do that.

What other projects are you working on right now?

My web site.  My web site.  My web site.  It’s going to be not only about food but if you notice there is a travel section.  There will be a lifestyle section that I am going to beef up in the next few days.  There is a reason for all this and it is because I have so many friends all over the world.  I have friends in India, obviously a lot of friends in Europe and a lot of friends in the Americas.

I would like to share a lot of things that are not American with my followers.  I’ll start off obviously with travel advice because it is something that I get asked for all the time.  Everyone tells me, “I’m going to Sardinia where should I go?”  That’s the first thing – one place where people can find all of that information on what to do that is not traditional touristy stuff.

And secondly is the lifestyle section that is more about who I really am because food is a great part of my life but there is also another part.  Italian women have a very different esthetic than American women or French women and I would like to show that.

There’s also going to be a lot of food writing for magazines and whatever comes my way really.


Season 7 of Next Food Network Star premieres this Sunday at 9/8 Central.  As usual I will be live Tweeting the event.  You can keep up with the snark by bookmarking this link.


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Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards
2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up
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