Food Network Star Season 8 EP1 Recap

fns8cast 300x199 FOOD NETWORK MAY 2012 HIGHLIGHTSFood Network Star, Food Network’s long-running hit primetime series returns to New York City with fifteen talented hopefuls and completely new twists for season eight – this year, returning stars Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis move from behind the judge’s table to square off with culinary favorite Alton Brown for a three-way team competition to find the next Food Network Star. The three “Star” mentors each hand-select a team of five finalists, who they will produce and counsel through the ‘Star’ experience to find one winner who possesses personality and kitchen chops.

Over the years I’ve developed a pretty good format for breaking down each episode.  Then Food Network went and reworked the show so now I’m just going to have to wing it.

Tonight’s episode: In the much-anticipated two-hour season premiere, fifteen hopefuls arrive in the Food Network Star kitchens to meet their mentors, Bobby Flay, Alton Brown and Giada De Laurentiis. The mentors gather their teams of five before they face their very first challenge. Special guest Robert Irvine (Restaurant: Impossible) explains they must create their own pop-up restaurant from the ground up—with an extremely limited budget and very little time. Robert also throws the contestants a curve ball by revealing they must perform a live presentation to drive customers to their restaurant.

I did a pop-up at Bay City Grill in Satsuma, AL for Valentine’s Day.  It took months of planning and a week to execute the menu and it still had it’s snags (I prepared three entrees but 82% of out guests got the same one).  I can’t wait to see them pull it off in one day.

Here is this year’s cast:

Eric Lee, 44, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and UCLA, where he studied sociology. He currently lives in Petaluma, CA and has served as the executive chef for a winery for the past ten years. Eric loves to deconstruct and recreate classic dishes.  TEAM BOBBY

Kara Sigle, 31, began her catering business in Chicago while attending college, but her love for food began years earlier as she watched her mother cook. An avid fitness guru, Kara puts her healthy spin on favorite tried-and-true dishes.  TEAM BOBBY

Malcolm Mitchell, 41, pursued a culinary arts degree after spending four years in the Navy. He then realized that he could build a career doing what he loved. Malcolm lives in Waldorf, Md. and puts a healthy twist on his soulful recipes for private clients.  TEAM BOBBY

Michele Ragussis, 42, lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. but fell in love with seafood and New England cuisine when she moved to Rhode Island for college. For the past eight years, she’s worked as an executive chef in restaurants throughout the East Coast.  Michele and I have traded a few pleasantries via social media and she comes across as genuine and quirky.  That’s my kind of mix.  TEAM BOBBY

Nikki Martin, 31, was exposed to the restaurant world as a child attending food shows with her mom, where she sampled the food and learned about the industry. Nikki now owns a Los Angeles catering company focused on globally inspired dishes made with seasonal ingredients.  TEAM BOBBY

After spending years in a rock band, Josh Lyons, 42, decided to go to culinary school to fuel his other passion: food. He worked at every level of the restaurant industry including waiter, busser, bartender, manager and line cook and now owns a sushi catering business in Jupiter, Fla.  TEAM GIADA

Linkie Marais, 28, immigrated with her family from South Africa when she was 16 and now lives in North Attleborough, Mass. As a teen, she worked for a cake decorator, and after culinary school, she began working as a pastry chef. Linkie uses her heritage as a launching pad for her recipes.  She and I have chatted a little on Facebook and she is an absolute sweetheart.  TEAM GIADA

Martita Jara, 35, began working in her family’s restaurants at a young age and cultivated a passion for Mexican food from her mother’s home cooking. Self-taught plus two semesters at culinary school, Martita lives in San Diego and cooks with loads of Latin flavor and lots of love.  TEAM GIADA

Phillip “Ippy” Aiona, 23, is the executive chef for his family’s Italian restaurant in Hawaii. After growing up in the restaurant business, attending culinary school was a natural fit for the laid-back, yet still competitive Hawaiian native. Ippy injects Pacific ingredients into traditional European cuisine.  TEAM GIADA

Yvan Lemoine, 30, moved to the U.S. from Venezuela when he was 13 years old. He started a culinary arts internship through a program at his high school and was hooked. He now cooks for the French Consulate and creates out-of-the-box cocktails at a New York hotspot.  TEAM GIADA

Cristie Schoen, 35, grew up in a military family and often cooked for her brothers after school. During college, she studied abroad in Germany and discovered a love for European cooking. Now living in Marina Del Rey, Calif., Cristie loves to put a healthy spin on comfort food classics.  TEAM ALTON

Emily Ellyn, 29, grew up on a farm in Ohio, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and then moved to Paris. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in hospitality management in Orlando, Fla. Emily loves using fresh, local and culturally intriguing ingredients.  Em and I have chatted a little; she’s a doll.  TEAM ALTON

Judson Allen, 30, a self-taught and restaurant-trained chef, recently changed his life and eating habits and lost more than 100 pounds. His Chicago catering company is focused on healthy food and nutrition counseling. Inspired by his grandfather, Judson also loves to cook with Creole flavors.  Judson and I met up for dinner at Lou Malnati’s on my last trip to Chicago and it was a foodie free-for-all.  As likable and earnest a person as I have met in some time.  He has the soul of a Southerner.  TEAM ALTON

Justin Warner, 27, a self-taught cook, is chef-owner of a hip Brooklyn, N.Y. restaurant that he built from the ground up. Justin began working in restaurants at just 13 years old and his approach to food reflects his personality: edgy, intense, passionate and witty.  TEAM ALTON

Martie Duncan, “slightly over 30?, has always loved to cook and entertain, but her varied career includes stints as a police officer, wedding expert and web content developer. She eventually found her true calling and currently runs her own party-planning business in Birmingham, Ala.  Martie and I have only briefly chatted but we share a common friend in former Good Eats cinematographer Marion Laney.  Marion has had good things to say about Martie which is good enough for me.  Plus she’s from Alabama.  TEAM ALTON

My favorites so far: Emily, Judson, Michele  and Yven.

Dark horse: Ippy, Linkie

Most unforgettable performance:  Judson’s shrimp dish was the most stunning dish of the night.  His presentation was just as good.  He just edges out Emily.

Most forgettable performance:  Kara.  Every time she was on camera I kept thinking, “Who is she?  I don’t remember her.”  But the judges like her so she’s got promise.

Producer’s Challenge: Josh vs Cristie.

The next Food Network Star will not be. . .

Food Network Star: The Wannabe TV Chef Interviews


To read my exclusive exit interview with her go HERE.

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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
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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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