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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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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.

Whitney Chen Food Network StarThis 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.

Contest over.

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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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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