Catching Up With Penny Davidi

Penny DavidiWhen Food Network Star season 7 premiered last year finalist Penny Davidi quickly made herself the villain.  A few snide remarks about other cast members in the opening interviews of episode one had established Penny as the cast member you love to hate.

It was a role that the smart, single mother understood could make her name hard to forget.  In this age of reality celebrity-ism that is important for surviving the worst economy in the last 70 years.  Like the old adage says, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.  But being the bad guy is not a role for sissies.

Having gotten to know a number of last year’s cast fairly well I can tell you that they do not feel the same way about the Middle Eastern Mama as much of the viewing public.  Just last month I talked with Vic “Vegas” Moea and he had this to say about her, “Penny – she’s good people, man.  She really is a good person.  She just played the heel.  That’s OK because at the end of the day when she goes home with her family she’s a loving mother, she’s a caring friend.”

Folks, you cannot ask more from a person than that.  It’s easy to pick out Penny or Debbie Lee or Brianna Jenkins or any other FNS villains and say they are a bad person but they’re not really, not in the grand scheme of things.  Osama bin Laden was a bad person.  Adolph Hilter, Harvey Updyke, David Berkowitz, Andrew Jackson, Elizabeth Bathory – all bad people.  Penny is just a woman who went on a reality cooking show and made a name for herself.  Lighten up, people.

Is she competitive?  Yes.  Is she focused?  You bet.  Is she evil?  Hardly.

As I watched the Chopped All Stars finale the other night I kept an eye on the #Chopped hashtag on Twitter.  Tweets were flying faster than I could process and I couldn’t help but notice all of the “Anyone but Penny” comments.  Folks, do you realize they were playing for charity?  Had Penny won, $50,000 would have gone to help women and children who are homeless, victims of abuse and neglect.  How can you root against that and have the audacity to say someone else is a bad person?

Think about this.  In two hours of television Penny did more for Gramercy Housing Group than most of us will do for any charity in our entire lives.  So I ask you, who again is the villain?

On the heels of her appearance on Chopped All Stars I chatted with Penny about the changes and challenges in her life since her Food Network debut last spring.

You’ve been a busy lady of late.  What are you working on?

I’m opening up a restaurant in LA called the Spice Bar and Market.  It’s going to be about bringing ethnic doable food mainstream.  I’m rolling out with a 70,000 square foot food destination in which I’m collaborating with some major chefs and big companies to make that happen.  At the same time I’m working on a line of products to go on QVC.  I’m also working on my line of seasonings, sauces and spices.

I should have a book and a book tour in July of 2013.  I’m really excited about how it looks and how it’s coming together.  It’s fun; it’s edgy, my sarcasm, my sense of humor.  It’s Penny in a book.

When I last spoke with Vic, he mentioned that after shooting FNS for 12 weeks that the four of you showed up on the Chopped set feeling no pressure.  Was the finale as stress-free?

Oh my God.  The pressure was intense.  I knew that I would never get past Marcus Samuelsson.  I almost wish I had gone home round one because I hate that people are like you know if Michael Symon had gotten the okra on the plate you’d have been the first to go home.  And I just said What makes you think Jeffrey Saad’s noodle dish would have passed me?  It doesn’t matter.

And on Twitter. . . some woman yesterday was like, “You suck you F’n B!”  She went crazy right?  What a potty mouth.  Then I look at her profile and she’s a photographer nearby in Monterrey.  I looked at her company web site and I thought this looks kind of interesting.

I called her, Stuart.  I called her on the phone; she nearly had a coronary.  Later she Tweeted Here I am bad mouthing Penny and she calls me to ask me if I would consider doing the photography at her wedding.  She’s actually really nice.

A thousand people commented on the (Food Network) blog and 900 of them were saying “down with Penny.”  That’s valuable to them, Stuart.  People want to watch and people want to watch other people take me down.

Bobby Flay told my agent, “You can’t not sign Penny.  In fact, I want to handle Penny.  Food Network needs to maximize her potential and don’t you dare stick her in a studio.  Let’s stick her out in the field.  She’s an Anthony Bourdain.  Use that.”

Anthony can go off on any chef he wants and people love him for it.  He chewed Paula Deen’s . . .  People loved him.  He’s the man.  He’s powerful.

I could see myself judging.  Like Iron Chef or something.  Be the Simon Cowell of Food Network.  I could also see something like Throwdown with Penny.  That’s something my agent was talking to Bobby about.  He suggested Bobby hang up his hat on that because Penny is now the most hated person on Food Network.

I think if I did Throwdown with Penny people would love it.  They’d watch to see me lose.  All my haters would tune in.

Have there been any talks with Food Network about your own show?

They keep wanting to use me for their ratings but not give me a proper show.  They wanted to use me for another docu-series covering my life, like I’m the Cruella de Vil of Food Network.

I said no, give me a cooking show.

I have big things happening but I can’t talk about it right now.  I so want to talk about it but I can’t.  It’s ridiculous how big it is.  Bravo loves Penny; that’s all I’m going to say to you.

Even though you didn’t win Chopped All Stars did the attention help Gramercy Housing Group?

Absolutely.  Especially after the first episode.  It’s for charity.  That’s what’s important.  That’s why I continue to do things in the charity realm.  I sit on the board for Gramercy and do all kinds of events for them.  I’m happy for them and that we brought some attention to the charity.

I have a platform that I want to use and it’s in culinary; it’s in lifestyle.  That’s the direction I want to go.  You know I am the mother of five kids now and my biggest joy is in the kitchen preparing meals for them.  That’s where my joy lies now.

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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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