Food Network Star Exit Interview: Whitney Chen
For the second week in a row the person who had the best overall performance got eliminated. Whitney Chen, who’s resume is so good they should have canceled the show this year, rocked the judges’ table with both flavor and personality. The moral of this story? Don’t you dare have a better day than the preordained winner.
This is all anyone should need to know as to whether Whitney was the best candidate this year, she worked at Per Se. Don’t know what that means? It’s knowledge dropping time.
Depending on your school of thought there are two men that at any given time are considered the best chef on the planet today, Ferran Adria of Spain and Thomas Keller of America. Some will throw around a handful of other names but if you ask chefs, critics and restauranteurs from around the world those are the two names that come up most of the time.
If you have ever heard of Yountville, CA it is because Thomas Keller opened a restaurant there, The French Laundry, which makes it to virtually every “Top 10 Restaurants in the World” list worth reading. Per Se is Keller’s, “urban interpretation of The French Laundry.”
Ferran Adria closed his restaurant El Bulli just this past weekend. Prior to that he received over 3,000 applications a year from chefs willing to work for free at El Bulli. Thomas Keller has nine world class restaurants so one can only imagine how many applications he gets for folks so willing to work for him that they’d do it for free. Whitney worked for Keller and got paid.
Or at least it should have been anyway. But let’s not forget that Food Network is not looking for someone to draw great ratings on a weekly show; they are looking for someone to draw ratings to this one show. If the winner turns out to be another Guy or Aarti then great but they are perfectly happy if the winner is another Aaron or Amy.
One thing that is clear when speaking with Whitney is how damned smart she is. Her intellect is stunning. Listening to her handle the cleverly worded questions from a gaggle of food writers was like watching Bo Jackson running the football or Yo Yo Ma manipulating the strings of his cello. If she decides to run for politics Washington had better watch out because she’s a lot brighter than anyone in DC.
Observe how deftly she handled a question about the notoriously deceptive editing on the show, “Interesting things happen,” she understated. “. . . and I think it’s just too bad that everyone can’t see the whole thing and how everything works behind the scenes because it’s pretty cool.”
“In terms of the editing, they’ve got to tell story lines and we totally get how it works. But there were times where I felt like I was really happy and my personality was totally shining and then it didn’t get on. But it is what it is.” One of the things she regrets from the editing room was in the Cupcake challenge with guest judge Ina Garten. Whitney actually made three different cupcakes that represented her evolution as a cook. Read about them in her column for the Hinsdale-Clarendon Hills Patch HERE.
What one moment best defines your experience on the show?
The show to me really did ebb and flow. I think the Fourth of July episode and being on stage there was really a great moment for me. I think I was really comfortable perhaps because I had a couple of beers before I went out. I was really comfortable; I was spontaneous. I was having a good time. I got to talk to people and be around people which is what I love doing. So I think that one moment for me was a highpoint.
Since the purpose of the show is to find someone who can inspire the home cook do you think more emphasis should be put on a contestant’s ability to actually cook something?
I think the Food Network knows what they’re doing. It’s a really successful network. I learned a lot in this experience about what you have to do and what you need to make a successful TV show.
Of course I think there are people who probably watch the Network to see people who focus on the food more. I think there are also people who watch the Network that probably want to see people are more there to entertain people. I am certainly in the previous category.
For me the food is of the utmost importance. That’s why I’m doing this. That’s why I left my job before. It’s what I love. It’s my passion. Although that (cooking ability) wasn’t the focus of this season maybe, and it’s not what the Network is looking for right now there’s certainly a place for it in the future.
What is your current project?
My current project is just to enjoy the rest of the summer and spend time in the heat and sunshine with my family and friends. I feel like I’ve kind of been off the grid with them. We couldn’t tell them anything about the show. I’ve been very secretive so I’m going to take a few weeks off and enjoy that.
I’m really excited; I’ve got a lot of stuff going on in the fall. I’m going to be writing new recipes, a contributing editor at Gilt Taste (Ruth Reichl’s new venture) which is great because I love to write. I’m excited to do that. I’m just going to continue to pursue the passion and to learn about food.
I’m still not counting the possibility of me having a cooking show out. I’m still going to continue to go after that.
I for one look forward to that show more than any other that might emerge from this season.
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