Brianna Jenkins

Food Network Star Exit Interview: Justin Davis

The first order of business – Happy Fourth of July!  Because of the holiday Food Network delayed the exit interview until Tuesday.  I hope that hasn’t sent anyone into DTs.

Other than the occasional guest spot on Iron Chef America or Best Thing I Ever Ate the Food Network had earned a reputation for snubbing new media foodies.  A serious amount of disrespect considering that there are foodie web sites that are actually older than the Food Network.  Most people, given the opportunity, would rather watch Average Betty than Barefoot Contessa.  We’d rather see Chef Unleashed than the abomination that is Extreme Chef.

But that changed a little on August 2, 2008 when Ask Aida premiered.

The Aida in question was Aida Mollenkamp who had previously been the editor of the mega food site CHOW.com.  Last year another food blogger, Aarti Sequeira (AartiPaarti.com, GoodBite.com) competed and won Food Network Star 6.  It isn’t much, but it’s a start.

Justin DavisEnter Justin Davis, one part of the husband-wife food blogging team behind GastronomicDuo.com.  Justin was poised to be the next new media foodie to find stardom on the latest installment of Star.

Justin hardly received any face-time the first two weeks, dominated the screen in week three, became a promising competitor in week four.  But in week five Justin’s run was over.  His elimination was puzzling since Chris had a much worse performance than anyone else on the show, for the second time this season.  But at the same time Justin never really put in a great performance.

Alicia Sanchez voiced displeasure with her experience on the show in a blog post that has since disappeared.  In it she suggested that contestants were not eliminated because of performance but according to script.  She has also voiced her suspicions about whether Chris and Penny were actors who were planted to spice things up.  As it turns out, Penny was an actressLast week Justin Balmes seemed less than joyful over his Star experience as well.

This week I get the feeling that Justin Davis was just relieved to be off the show based on this from his elimination post at Gastronomic Duo, “If Food Network wants Penny’s, Chris’s and Jyll’s, they can have them. I was called the opposite of authentic, I would say the same for the show. ”

Justin mentioned some of the close friends he made on the show even mentioning that when Justin B. was eliminated he actually teared up.  At the same time he clearly was not enamored with all of his fellow contestants saying, “A lot of the other finalists, I felt, were like little children standing in a room yelling Hey, look at me!  Look at me!”  He said inwardly he felt, “I don’t know that I want to play this game.”   “I put myself out there to be judged and to be critiqued.  I can’t be upset about how it turned out,” he admitted clearly upset.

It was obvious both watching the show and talking to him that Justin was not happy being part of Food Network Star.  His performance on the show was easily that of someone who was disengaged.  I think Bobby Flay nailed it when he said, “He dropped out of high school and I feel like now he is dropping out gain.”  Justin himself said, “I learned something about myself; I learned I’m not cut out for reality TV.”  An honest assessment.

Justin was also nice enough to share some of the warmer behind-the-scenes happenings.  He was especially impressed with the approachability of season two winner Guy Fieri saying, “He took the extra time to kind of step away from everything that was happening, which is the competition, and took a minute to talk to everyone as a person not as Guy Fieri.  It was really interesting to see that side of him.  He concluded, “I found him to be a humble and welcoming person.”

How has traffic to Gastronomic Duo been effected by your appearance on Star?

It definitely has seen an upswing.  I feel like we’re a little bit more on the radar.  Especially locally, my local appearances, we’ve seen a lot of really good traffic.  I’d still like to see a lot more obviously.

We’ve been running it for two years and I think the first year and a half was trying to figure out what it was going to be.  We’ve finally got it to the point that it looks good; it feels good. Now we just have to get the video in play.

To date Aida and Aarti are the only two Food Network celebs to get their start on the Internet.  Do you think that the network is missing out by not tapping new media sources for on-air talent?

I think that there’s a huge food blogging community out there and I have found them to be, for the most part, really supportive.  People want to start this online discussion about food and I think that food bloggers have a lot to say.  Do I think that they are totally missing out?  I don’t know.  I wouldn’t deter any food blogger from trying to go on the show.

On your blog post yesterday you alluded to “big things” on the horizon.  Can you give us a hint as to what you have in the works?

I’m lining up doing a small online series; it’s just going to be a quick four episodes.  Get it up and get it out there and try to market myself.  I think we’ll find some really fun special guests.  I think it’ll be an interesting thing.  I want it to be an expansion of my blog.  It’s my half of the blog.

I’m all about seducing women with food.  I think that if I can teach men to cook a lady something that they’re going to love I feel like they’re going to have a much better chance at getting a second date.  I’m going to do a little video series on that and see what the response is.

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Be sure to stop by each Monday for my exclusive mourning after exit interviews with each exiled foodie (HERE). This year I have also added the WTVC (WannabeTVchef) Food Network Star Polls – six categories for contestants who best embody the spirit of former Food Network Star competitors. Be sure to check them out HERE. Click HERE to get all the news, gossip and snark on Food Network Star season 7.

Food Network Star Exit Interview: Justin Balmes

Four weeks in and we have seen some very talented cooks fall to the way side.  Unfortunately some mediocre cooks are still on the show.  It was a shame to Food Network Star Justin Balmeswatch Justin Balmes leave.  He was one of best pure cooks on the series.  Not just this year but all time.  It’s too bad the camera was not his friend because he had a lot to offer the Food Network audience.

After some fireworks in last week’s exit interview with Alicia Sanchez and her suggestion that poor performances were scripted I couldn’t wait to hear what Justin had to say about his time on Food Network Star.  Incidentally, Alicia has since removed her blog post about her experiences on the show and she was a no show for the live Tweeting where she had promised she would be “tweeting no holes barred for the rest of the competition.”  I guess the legal department gave her a call.

Justin did not make any of the suggestions of scripted outcomes that Alicia did but he was resolute about the food that got him eliminated.  He stated emphatically that he believed his food to be superior to other contestants who were retained, “send me home for my personality or my static camera work fine.  But as far as the food being critiqued that day for that to be my ultimate final straw I personally found to be ridiculous.  Somebody was turning out burnt mac and cheese or bubblegum lamb?  That’s borderline insulting.”  He also stated that other members of the cast and even the production crew were just as stunned as he was that it was him and not someone else going home at show’s end.

Not exactly fireworks but certainly good copy.  He also named his favorites to win it as Whitney “technically speaking” and Jeff “as far as passion and POV and staying true.”  Justin has more to say about all of this on his Facebook page.  It’s a good read.

You’re from Atlanta which is also the home town of Herb Mesa and Brianna Jenkins from last year’s cast.  Did you seek them out before going on the show?

No.  Actually I teach part-time down at Viking, down at the cooking school in Atlanta mid town and I think Brianna had done some work with them back in the day.  I gathered bits and pieces but as far as making any sort of real contact, no I didn’t.

Earlier this month you told the Atlanta Journal Constitution (HERE) that you, “wanted the home cook to really get to know their food.”  Can you explain what you mean?

Of course.  With my original show concept on Food Network Star I wanted to have episodes of my show based solely around single ingredients.  One episode would be just about beef.  It would show different cuts of beef, different cooking techniques, applications, pairings, etc.  Then do another show on different types of fish.  Do another show on vegetables or fruits that are in season.

I basically wanted the home viewer to connect with their food and not necessarily recite recipes and not cook-by-numbers but create their own.  They’re gaining this knowledge and understanding through getting to know their ingredients.

I further developed the concept as the show went on, sadly they did not show that, of sort of turning it into a kind of a micro Dirty Jobs where I would go to a ranch or a farm and work for the day.  You know, centered around whatever specific ingredient was special to that place.  And then from there kind of like a Follow That Food where I would go from there to like a local market and where that food arrived, that sense of community and people getting excited about it.  And then from there bringing it into a kitchen in front of a small studio audience.  Preparing it and really going into the back-story, explaining the hows and whys and what’s special about it.

I feel like with as many shows about “extreme foods” and cakes and sweets and this and that and the other well let’s get people in touch with real food and be socially responsible.  I feel like this show would be very much in line with that philosophy.

I thought you were one of the the best pure cooks on the show this year; is their a cookbook in your future?

Absolutely.  I’ve certainly got some ideas now; I’ve got a plethora of recipes that I could work with.  That’s definitely something that I’m very interested in doing.  Cooking is paramount for me and I also really enjoy writing.  I think that would be a natural combination there and ultimately a win.

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Be sure to stop by each Monday for my exclusive mourning after exit interviews with each exiled foodie (HERE). This year I have also added the WTVC (WannabeTVchef) Food Network Star Polls – six categories for contestants who best embody the spirit of former Food Network Star competitors. Be sure to check them out HERE. Click HERE to get all the news, gossip and snark on Food Network Star season 7.

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.

http://youtu.be/Vmnn5oVnNOE

Next Food Network Star 6 Rehash

NFNSThe finale to Next Food Network Star Season Six is tonight so I thought I would put together an index of posts to remind us just how we got here:

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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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