WTVC Exclusive: Food Network Star Martie (Knows Parties) Duncan

This past summer America watched as a Southern Belle from Birmingham, Alabama nearly became the latest Food Network Star.  She made the final four which is a testament to her resolve as there were only supposed to be three in the finale.  Martie Duncan is a vivacious, approachable  and as you will soon read a quite resourceful food star.

Recently, as part of the Year of Alabama Food sponsored by the Alabama Tourism Department Martie took a tour of some of the great restaurants in her home state.  Her voyage took two weeks, covered more than 15 cities while dining at more than 50 restaurants.  I was lucky enough to join Martie for part of her tour during Alabama Restaurant Week.

WintzellsThe first night was a meet and greet at Mobile’s oldest restaurant, Wintzell’s Oyster House.  This was an informal get together where we dined on terrific Gulf seafood and got to meet some of Martie’s fans like blogger Kelli Bosarge and culinary student Chelsea Herston.

The next morning I joined Martie and her assistant for brunch at True Midtown Kitchen owned by James Beard nominated chef Wesley True.  Chef True’s brother Richard sent us a full tasting menu including NOLA BBQ Shrimp & Grits, Smoked Fishcake Benedict made with smoked Gulf grouper, Banana’s Foster Waffle (OMG!) and many, many more examples of Chef True’s amazing creativity.  The following interview ensued over groans of  culinary ecstasy and numerous visits from those wanting to visit with Martie.

Check out the pix below.  Now on with the interview.

What was the audition process like for Food Network Star?

Martie DuncanI was on looking for something.  I saw an advertisement pop up that said, “Hey, why don’t you audition for Food Network Star?”  So it was midnight Monday night.  Most of the auditions were done except for the West Coast and Chicago.  Chicago is my second city.  I lived in Chicago for a long time.

Tuesday morning I got in my car and I went to Chicago.  I went to the hotel, checked in and I auditioned on Wednesday morning.  I intentionally went at the end of the date hoping that if they haven’t see anyone good they’ll be happy to see me.

I walked in and talked for a minute.  A girl said hang on for a minute, wrote some stuff down and the next thing you know she asks me to come back the next day.  They wanted me to bring something that I cooked.  I called ten different people that I knew in Chicago trying to find a place to cook and they all had something going on.  How am I going to cook something?

So then I go, “Oh son!”  I tell the cab driver, “Stop!  Stop. Turn around.  Take me to the fire station.”  He thinks I’m having a heart attack so I say, “I’m fine just take me to the fire station on Pearson.”  So I walked in and said, “Hey, chief, how ’bout I use your kitchen?”  And he said, “How ’bout you cook us lunch?”  So I said, “Alright.  Deal.”

I made the firemen lunch.  They let me use their kitchen and I packed up enough food to take to my audition.  Then I had to go back to the fire station because they wanted me to cook dinner.  They took me out on a run.  I got to go down the fire pole, the whole nine yards.  They were so awesome.

I was tickled when they asked me to join the next round.  I had to submit a lot of recipes and videos.  Then a few more interviews, a couple of flights and then I got called to come to Atlanta to audition for Alton Brown.

What was it like living with all those strangers?

That was hard for me.  To move into a house with fourteen strangers and share a room with three other women. . . When I walked into the room the first time it looked the size of this table.

What was it like working with the mentors?

Alton had me read a book before the competition began, The Art of War by Sun Tzu.  You’re working with people who had your best interests at heart, who wanted you to get some where, to prove yourself.  There was a lot of tough love at times to get to the greater good; to get the best out of you.

Can you tell me about the tour you’re on?

I’m on a two week tour of Alabama.  For me it was a two-fold mission.  First things first, I wanted to be able to say thank you to the state of Alabama.  For the love and support during Food Network Star.  More votes came from Alabama than any other state.  I really just wanted a way to say thank you and to meet people in person.

During the show people kept saying, “Hey you’re that Alabama girl!” So I wanted a way of saying, “Hey!  Come see us.  Try our food.  Come see what we’re all about.”  I’m an impartial ambassador. I’m not a chef at any particular restaurant I like all of them.

For me this was just a great opportunity for me to get the word out about our food, what we grow, what we catch, how we cook it and why you should come here and eat it.  I’m passionate about it.  Alabama and Birmingham especially have gotten so much attention as being a food destination and now Alabama food is such a trend in the foodie world.


To learn more about Martie’s trek to Alabama’s best restaurants follow her Facebook fanpage or trip on over to her web site HERE.  Enjoy the pictures below and if you would like to see more about the meals Martie and I shared visit my Facebook page.  Be sure to give me a “Like.”  It’s about all I’ve got in this crappy economy.

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WTVC Exclusive: Food Network Star Justin Warner

Justin Warner Rebel with a Culinary CauseSeason 8 of Food Network Star is now but a memory.  I have made some terrific friends in this year’s cast and I have to honestly say that all 15 contestants were good enough to have a show on TV.  That’s never happened before.  That also makes Justin Warner’s run all the more impressive.

In a season where any of the fifteen contestants could have won on previous seasons, Justin eclipsed the competition.  We haven’t seen a contestant dominate FNS like Justin did since Kelsey Nixon in season four.  Despite coming in fifth (Bob Tuschman that was just wrong!) Kelsey remains the only cast member still on the Food Network payroll.  Justin was just as dominant and against an even better cast.

So who is this kid with the quirky palate and puffy red lips?

Well why don’t we let Justin tell you in his own words:

Justin’s whimsical Brooklyn eatery, Do or Dine, has already gotten the attention of the folks at Michelin and now America will be lining up to bust through its doors.  For a 28 year old he’s been quite busy.  But Justin was not too busy to answer a few of my questions.

Justin Warner Food Network StarWhat chefs (other than Alton) have had an influence on you and your cooking style?

Gabriel Kreuther of The Modern in NYC.  Masakazu Suzuki of JeJu in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Some fans may be fearful that Rebel with a Culinary Cause is going to be a reboot of Good Eats.  Can you contrast your show from the science-based cooking shows that have come before it?

I’ve never presented science as my thing.  Sure, I might know it, but I’m not here to feed that to you.  Alton Brown is.  I’m here to take those scientifically perfect dishes and make them bonkers.  I am here to expand the palate and culinary creativity of America’s hungry TV-watchers.

A lot of professionals in the culinary arts are excited about your show.  Do you feel added pressure to put out a product that not only teaches the masses but also entertains your peers?

I have never felt more pressure in my life…. but that’s what it’s all about, right?

Was there a dish that one of the other contestants prepared that really knocked your socks off?

Anything Ippy made.  He and I have similar palates.

Do you plan to have any of the other members of Team Alton on your show?

Right now I am planning on having a currywurst for lunch.  All the rest is TBD.

Food Network Star: The Wannabe TV Chef Interviews

Stop the War on Southern Cuisine!

Bon AppétitApparently, the folks at Bon Appétit didn’t get the memo; the one where the New York media declared 2012 the year of hating Southern Cuisine.  I just received the latest issue of BA today and it is a salute to America’s most import culinary region, the South.

I have often said that the Deep South has a culinary tradition unmatched in the New World.  Dixie is to America what Tuscany is to Italy, what Provence is to France, it is the nation’s gastronomic heart and soul.  And no Madison Avenue smear campaign can ever change that.

Many might think that the current assault on Southern Cuisine stems from the recent revelation that Paula Deen has diabetes.  After all the brainless snobs at 30 Rock and their ilk have certainly crucified her for not revealing her condition until three years after her diagnosis.  Just for the record, Ms. Deen has absolutely no responsibility to disclose any illness she may have.  Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to post the entirety of their medical history online for everyone to read before even thinking to say anything.

But Paula Deen’s illness is just the latest piece of hypocrisy coming from the elitists, yet another salvo of class warfare.  I’m not saying that Southern food doesn’t have it’s faults.  It can be high calorie/high fat.  But eaten in moderation it will never cause diabetes.  Ever.  Plus it’s no higher in fat or calories than the celebrated foods on New York City.

Let’s take a fried chicken dinner – 2 pieces of chicken (one breast, one leg) is roughly 550 calories and 24 grams of fat, mashed potatoes adds 240 calories, 9 grams of fat and the biscuit is another 130 calories and 6 grams of fat.  That’s 920 total calories and 39 grams of fat.  Yep, that’s pretty hefty.

PizzaNow let’s look at one of those giant slices of New York style pizza.  It contains upwards of 7oo calories and nearly 40 grams of fat.  Just one of those famous Coney Island hot dogs has more than 550 calories and a whopping 32 grams of fat.  A big deli-style Reuben has over 900 calories and 60 grams of fat.

None of those numbers include sides.  But since we’re on the subject, which do you think is healthier collard greens or potato chips?  French fries or black eyed peas?  The point is no one cuisine in and of itself is harmful.  The secret to eating healthy is moderation.  If you eat and exercise in moderation you don’t have to count calories or watch your fat intake.  Like Paula said on NBC’s Today Show, “I’ve always said, ‘Practice moderation, y’all.’ I’ll probably say that a little louder now.”

So with that squashed, I think I’ll go fix some fish and grits.

WTVC Exclusive: Emeril Legasse

This week I was lucky enough to attend a luncheon and interview session with super star chef Emeril Legasse.  Chef was in town plugging both his new TV show Emeril’s Table and also his newest cookbook Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders.

The event was sponsored by Page & Palette and featured a menu of recipes from Emeril’s new book as prepared by the staff at The Wash House.  The menu included Chicken Pot Pie w/ Biscuit top, Mussels in a green curry, Pozole, Grits & Grillades and Key Lime Bread Pudding.  While everything was good, the mussels and Pozole were easily the best dishes.  The interview was conducted by good friend and Mobile Press Register food editor David Holloway. However, I was able to ask one question.

ME: Chef, when you first came to New Orleans you were replacing one of the nation’s great chefs in Paul Prudhomme at one of America’s most historic Emeril Legasserestaurants, Commander’s Palace.  Can you speak to what it was like taking the helm of such an important restaurant?

Emeril:  Well, and thank you for mentioning Chef Paul.  That guy is one of the real greats.  It was an honor to follow him at what is one of the truly great American restaurants.  When I took over at Commander’s I wanted to subtly make changes.  I wanted to maintain the standard already set by Chef Paul and the Brennan family but at the same time start slipping in dishes that were my own and that reflected my interpretation of Louisiana cooking.

In the kitchen, I was kind of like the coach of a football team.  If I called play 61 you don’t run play 62.  You run the play I called.  That’s how I was, I showed the way I wanted things to be done and I expected them to be done that way.  And we were making everything from scratch and by everything I mean even ketchup and mayonnaise and even Worcestershire Sauce.

I wanted everything done right and I was not tolerant of things not being done right.  When I first started I had a staff of 19, after a rough couple of days dealing with attitudes I fired nine people in one night.  Nine out of 19.  It was tough the next couple of days but I replaced them and we moved on.


See, I only needed the one question.  Chef also announced that he was about to open another new restaurant in Charlotte but I’m not sure of the name or the cuisine.  I got some footage of the event including some of David’s interview with Emeril.  Watch it:

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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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