What a whirlwind these past few days have been. Trying to process this whole ‘being on national television’ thing is a lot harder than I thought.
But it’s cool.
I mean, this is something that I’ve always wanted to do.
Finally getting to watch the premier of Food Network Star was a giant release of emotions. It seems like forever ago that I flew out to Los Angeles to begin filming. I’ve been waiting for the season to start airing for so long, and now it finally is. Having been a fan of the show for years, watching myself as one of the contestants now is just too surreal.
Each week I’ll be chiming in here on my blog to recap my thoughts and emotions after each episode airs. I’m here to fill in some of the gaps and give you guys the scoop on how it felt every step of the way.
I was so anxious to meet my 11 fellow competitors. I had thought long and hard about who they would be and what they would be like. When I walked through those double doors, I was just thinking, holy mackerel! I’m actually on Food Network Star.
I’ve been a fan of this show for so long, and every year I’d contemplated auditioning. But I always chickened out, until last year I applied on a whim. I never thought I’d actually make it on, but I did. And now, here I am watching myself on the show, and it still doesn’t quite seem real.
As I mention in the episode, you have to be a little bit crazy to do reality TV. Looking at all of my other competitors, they all seemed so accomplished, so interesting, so smart, so fun and unique… Man, they all just seemed so good! You immediately start second guessing yourself and what you bring to the table. You start sizing yourself up with everyone else and it gets super intimidating.
We had all come prepared with a 30 second speech ready to go. But what you can’t prepare for is the magnitude of the production, the intimidation of the mentors and fellow competitors, and the fact that this is going to be shown to millions of people across America.
There’s definitely an added level of pressure.
Watching the other contestants do well gets you totally psyched out. The amount of people and cameras and lights everywhere are absolutely blinding. You’re a little bit star struck.
It’s super easy to screw up.
And a lot of us did.
I had a speech prepared and memorized for that very moment. But the mentors went on and on about how being too rehearsed can come off as sounding phony (unfortunately a lot of the feedback gets edited out for time purposes). This got me a little freaked out, so at the last minute, I bagged my speech and just winged it.
But my nerves got the better of me. Before I knew it, my 30 seconds were up, and I realized I had just babbled a bunch of nonsense.
Alton said he had already forgotten about me.
Ouch! That was rough to hear.
So right then and there I swore I wouldn’t let this happen to me ever again.
Like, forever ever.
I was determined to show the mentors and America that I am lots of things, but forgettable is absolutely, positively not one of them.
I had to hone in on what it is that truly makes me unique, and I realized it’s my relationship to the sea. I’ve lived at the Jersey shore, the eastern shore of Maryland, and in the bayou of Louisiana. I’ve always been drawn to that laid back coastal lifestyle, and the simple, flavorful cuisine that always goes hand in hand.
But I didn’t want to be pegged as the fish girl. The idea of having to make seafood for every single challenge seemed lame. I think coastal cuisine is about so much more than just seafood, and it can be accessible to even those who don’t live near an ocean. My definition of coastal cuisine is something much more broad. It encompasses the entire lifestyle: little fuss, super casual, but always fun and flavorful.
Walking into the food star kitchen for the first time was absolutely bonkers. My cooking strategy was to keep it really simple. I knew that working in this kitchen was going to be challenging, so I wanted to choose a dish that would not only taste good, but be really easy to execute.
When I saw the tuna, I knew I had to use it. My grandfather, uncles, great grandfather and great uncles were all in the commercial fishing business for giant bluefin tuna. It was the perfect personal connection. Kenny and I both lunged for it. Luckily, there was enough for the both of us.
I opted to do a sesame crusted tuna because it could be served cold (so temperature wasn’t an issue), and because its a pretty simple dish to make. Slice the tuna into strips, coat in mustard, coat in sesame seeds, quickly sear, chill, slice, skewer. Reduce soy sauce and sugar with ginger, garlic and chiles to make a spicy soy glaze.
This was far from my most impressive dish, but I knew it would taste good and connect with my POV, which was all I really cared about.
I thought REALLY long and hard about my speech for the red carpet. I knew I had to clearly define my POV and show the judges that I truly am a contender in this competition. I refused to be forgotten this time around.
I was wicked proud of my Star De La Mar line. The judges seemed to like my food too, and I was stoked. Not only did I make it through the first round, I made it through as one of the top 3. What more could you ask for in episode 1?
Well, you could ask for never having to send anyone home, but that wouldn’t make for very good TV.
When Donna was eliminated it came as a huge wake-up call to all of us. Between filming the first episode, promo interviews and photoshoots, we had all been together 24/7 for a solid week. And in that week, we had all gotten to know each other. We bonded over our love of food, and the fact that we were all crazy enough to be on a reality TV show. In such a short period of time, we had all become this weird, bizarro-world family.
Donna is a special lady with a real passion for what she does- which is educating the masses on how to make healthier choices, and reach not only their weight-loss goals, but their feel-good goals. Donna is full of knowledge and is able to deliver it in a fun and entertaining way. If you live in the NYC area and are looking for ways to incorporate more nutrient dense foods into your diet, you should definitely look into taking some of Donna’s classes and seminars.
And to my sweet friends Emma and Sarah: Man, being in the bottom sucks, but especially in the first episode. It’s not how any of us wanted to start out. But sometimes, being on the bottom can motivate you to really focus on what you need to do to succeed. Both of these girls are fighters, and I hope they let America see the true gems that are hiding inside.
Sunday night I held a giant premier party at Boogie Nights, a retro-themed night club in Atlantic City. I still can’t get over the sheer number of people who came out to support me on my big night. It was so awesome and humbling to see some of the people who came.
My great aunts and cousins flew in from Gloucester, Massachussettes- I had’t seen them in ages, and they are very special to me. Chaser’s Auntie Em drove up with some friends from Wilmington, North Carolina. Steven & Nicole Horn, producers of The Chefs Kitchen and Best of the Best, drove down from Philadelphia. Family came all the way from Cape May and Princeton. There was a great showing from our friends at G Dock, and the gals of SJWN. Former teachers, mentors, bosses, coaches, coworkers, clients, colleagues and employees. My crazy awesome friends. My dad, my brother & my grandma. My incredibly special close family (you all know who you are). Family friends that span generations. Even Pierre, the guy who used to cut my family’s hair as a kid.
Special shout out to my cousin Danielle for helping me get pretty for the night. She and her sister, Jen, got me this awesome cutting board engraved with my name and #foodnetworkstar. Seriously, its such a cool gift. And then there was Michelle, who brought a chef coat and a sharpie, and spent the whole night walking around getting everyone to sign it. How great is that?
I’m honestly just so blown away by the outpouring of love and support. It truly means the world.
That’s right, I wore the same dress to my premier party Sunday night that I wore on the show.
I’m like the Kate Middleton of reality tv, you know, recycling outfits like this.
I actually just got really frustrated dress shopping, so I took the easy way out.
I’ll be back next week to discuss what happens on this Sunday’s episode. Don’t forget to tune in at 9pm/8c!
Questions? Leave them in the comments section below, and I’ll be happy to answer them (if I can).
Don’t forget to vote for me each week in the Fan Favorite Star Poll!
Watch the post-show recap with a special sneak preview of next week’s episode!