Food Network Star Exit Interview: Mary Beth Albright

Mary Beth Albright had quite a ride on Food Network Star.  Multiple times she stared into the gaping mouth of elimination but persevered to make the final four.  That’s impressive for the woman who says, “I’m not a reality show star, but I play one on TV.”

Mary Beth Albright Food Network StarThroughout the show she had to cope with a knowledge of food that sometimes exceeded her ability to execute it.  In other words she had terrific creativity but at times lacked the cooking chops to pull them of.  It would be easy to say that was her final undoing and certainly arguments could be made to that point.

However predictable Mary Beth’s ouster this week was it was stunning to see just what lengths the producers went to to insure it.  First she drew Vic as her challenger, the strongest cook of the remaining contestants and one with a lot of experience in cooking contests.  Then she drew Penny as her sous chef and true to form Penny did her best to make sure Mary Beth went home.

Penny was deliberately lethargic while doing prep for Mary Beth.  It was obvious enough that Bob Tuschman called Alton Brown over to have him quiz Penny about her apathetic movements.  When Alton called her on the clear vandalism she shrugged, smiled and shot the camera a knowing look.  I’m confident (the kind of confidence that comes from inside information) that was hardly the extent of Penny’s misdeeds but that’s all they chose to show.

I hope in the future that Food Network spares us this kind of barbarism.  This is not Rock of Love or any of those other seedy shows who’s sole purpose is to entertain the lowest element of American society.  Those people may watch a lot of TV but having no jobs they really can’t afford to buy anything the advertisers sell.  Hopefully retailers will realize that one day and the whole “people behaving badly” genre will disappear from our screens.

For her part Mary Beth handled everything with grace and professionalism  and earned a great deal of respect in the process.  Take her post-elimination blog post for instance.  There is no mention of the Penny/Food Network sabotage.  I even gave Mary Beth a chance to vent and she passed it up.  It’s clear that she only wants to focus on the positive aspects of her Food Network Star appearance.  So if you came here looking for more of the fireworks we saw from Alicia, both Justins and Penny, too bad.

In commenting about the remaining contestants she said, “Everybody has really strong strengths.  Jeff is an extraordinary performer.”  On his food “He made this Asian tofu wrap in episode four,” she reminisced, “His tofu wrap was so good that I ate two of them  and I can’t stand tofu.”  Of Susie she said she, “has just the soul of a Mexican chef,” adding, “She has such deep history with the food that it makes me want to make it.”  She ended with her thoughts on Vic, “I love Vic.  He’s so endearing in person,” summing up his cooking with, “He takes risks with food.”

So what happened with your lamb being overcooked?

I roasted the chops individually and I usually roast the entire rack of lamb as one big roast when I do rack of lamb.  I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to do the entire rack of lamb together.  Because honestly, you hear that you have an hour on Iron Chef and then you’re running around and you look up at the clock and fifteen minutes has gone by and you have no idea where it went.

So I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to do the whole roast so I put in the oven individually.  I think that I probably took them out at the right time.  Then while you’re judging you have to keep your food warm and I think that it was probably in the oven for too long or I miscalculated in my own mind how long it would take them to warm.

I cook lamb.  I cook lamb a lot and I don’t overcook lamb but you see that one shot of Giada De Laurentiis trying to saw through her lamb chop and it’s like “Ah, God!”  But live and learn.

In your blog post you mentioned how having appeared on the show had earned you the respect of DC chefs – can you elaborate?

A restaurant in Washington just opened; it’s called Rouge 24 and RJ Cooper is the chef there.  I just went there for a media tasting last week and he’s been on Iron Chef (click HERE for more on Forgione vs. Cooper).  He and I ended up having this whole conversation about Iron Chef and it had nothing to do with food that I was sitting at the table eating.

I think that there really is a new appreciation.  I wouldn’t call it new respect I call it a new appreciation that I have for what chefs do and I think that they probably know that.  Not just the act of cooking food for a bunch of people but cooking for a bunch of people under time and pressure with limited resources which is what restaurant cooks do every single day.

I’ve already gotten phone calls from other chefs who’ve been on Iron Chef around town and I think it’s a really great experience for a food writer to have, to really understand what you have to go through.

What’s harder – facing the judges’ table on Star or facing a judge in a court room?

They don’t allow cameras in courtrooms anymore.  It’s tough not only being in front of the Food Network judges because of all of the cameras and everything tat is going on while you are being evaluated but you’re being evaluated on your dream.  That’s a tough thing to handle.  When you’ve left a really good profession and really good money to follow a passion it hurts a lot for somebody to be critical.  And of course they have to be critical; it’s a very important job to give someone their own cooking show and to trust them with the Food Network brand.  I get that

But it’s really hard to be judged on your dream.  Which a lot of people don’t do, a lot of people don’t follow a dream because it’s easier to keep it in a box somewhere.  I’d say Food Network judges I really would.  I know that sounds like a crazy answer.  It won’t be the craziest thing that’s happened in my life in the past year.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less
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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