Recently I had a chance to sit down and chat with Iron Chef and Food Network culinary king Bobby Flay to discuss his series The Next Food Network Star which airs Sunday’s at 9pm/9c on the Food Network. Bobby Flay kicked off season five of The Next Food Network Star with another crop of ten hopefuls vying for the chance to win their very own show on The Food Network.
Which one of these finalists can stand the heat long enough to take home the prize? Only time will tell!
EclipseMagazine: Once people get to the competition on air, what is the process to actually get to that point, what hoops do they have to jump through to even make it to become a contestant on the show?
Bobby Flay: They have to send in a disc or a tape and the selection committee at the Food Network take a look at it and if they make that cut then they bring them in to meet them and if they make that cut then they have to cook a little bit in front of them and they narrow it down to ten people. It’s just the process of elimination.
EM: The Food Network has a variety of different types of backgrounds of cooks and chefs, people who are classically trained verses self-taught. Do you think for this type of competition, does it make a difference if someone is self-taught verses classically trained? Is it more of a combination of personality and innate ability?
BF: It all depends on how far you wanna go. I’ve been cooking for a long time professionally [laughs], I started cooking professionally when I was seventeen I’m forty-four now so it’s twenty-six/twenty-seven years. My practical everyday experience in my kitchens it just helps me in television, it helps me navigate where I’m going with the food and it helps me to speak easily about it, I’m never really reaching for the knowledge or for a story because it’s what I live. As far as what I’m looking for as one of the judges, I’m looking for somebody that’s gonna have a really good repertoire of things. Even if they win it like the six shows that they win, I’m looking way past that. I want them to have six hundred shows of information in them because I want them to become an important part of the roster of the Food Network. I want the roster of the Food Network to become strengthened because it just makes it better for all of us. And so I think that if you are not classically trained and by that I think you mean going to culinary school, I think it puts you at a disadvantage if you haven’t taken the steps to make yourself a better cook and a more knowledgeable one. I think that the more knowledge that you have the more experience that you have the better shot you have at longevity.
EM: What is the most important quality in a contestant that you personally look for so that they stand out from the pack?
BF: I, because I’m the chef on the panel, I’m always protecting the food. So the idea that it’s still the Food Network even though it’s about entertainment…do not forgot the food. So basically there are three things, obviously they need to be able to cook with authority, they need to be able to be a good teacher and be able to inspire, and if they have those two things they need to be entertaining. You have to be able to hold the viewer. All of those things are definitely the recipe for success.
EM: Are you involved with the creation of the challenges and if not do you ever think that any of them are unfair or are too difficult?
BF: To answer your first question, I consult on some of the challenges, I come up with ideas for some of the challenges but basically it’s done by the Food Network and by the production company although sometimes I put my two cents in and we change things. I do think that sometimes they’re hard but that’s what this is about. If everybody was perfect in every challenge there’d be nothing to watch. Basically the idea is that you wanna take people out of their element a little bit to see how they do under pressure. It’s not just about acing the challenge it’s more about when there’s an issue like there is in TV everyday. How do you handle the pressure? I think that yes, sometimes the challenges are difficult but they are difficult for a reason.
EM: How do you think the role of the chef has changed in the new era of the celebrity chef and the star making power of television and more specifically the Food Network?
BF: I think the chef on television has a lot of roles. I think that obviously they need to be the teacher, they need to be able to inspire people, they need to be entertaining, I think that in lots of ways chefs on television are becoming role models for adults and for children meaning that from an adult standpoint getting people to eat better and more nutritiously. There are tons of kids who watch the Food Network. I cannot tell you how many kids there are that watch the network, it’s amazing. So I think its one more profession for kids to look up to so I think that we do have a responsibility to be a role model to people too.
EM: What would you say is the best cooking challenge to look out for this season?
BF: Well the first thing that comes to mind is the challenge that happened in Miami, it’s outdoors, it’s near the water, it’s a grilling challenge and there’s all these different kinds of fish…fin fish and shell fish and basically they had to come up with a dish that would actually would go on the menu of a restaurant. I thought that they were incredibly creative as to what they came up with and it was great to see that people have finesse with something like fish which can be really difficult to use.
EM: What’s the range of contestants this year, what are their backgrounds in cooking?
BF: I’d say that everybody has pretty good food chops, they are pretty experienced when it comes to cooking but it’s anywhere from somebody being a home cook cooking for their family and their children like Melissa from Texas to Michael from New York who worked in some top New York restaurants.
EM: What secret ingredient to you love using and then what ingredient do you hate using?
BF: I think one of my favorite secret ingredients on Iron Chef was sea urchin. It’s got fantastic flavor to it and there’s lot of different things you can do with it. And then one that I hate would be lentils. They’re just not my flavor. They’re just a little too earthy for the food that I usually cook with.
EM: Do you have a favorite cooking trick that you’ve seen on Iron Chef or Next Food Network Star?
BF: I do something called the three step ribs because you have to remember that we only have 60 minutes total and so only about 50 minutes of it is really used for cooking because you’re plating the last ten minutes. So when I wanna cook something like ribs, I do this method where I first boil the ribs in some kind of liquid and then I fry them and then I braze them so then it becomes a sort of quick tenderizer.
EM: What’s the worst cooking faux pas you’ve seen or committed your self?
BF: I think anything that goes in the ice cream machine that’s not sweet!
EM: What should we expect this season from the show?
BF: Very good cooking chops, I think the contestants are really probably the best group of cooks that we’ve had so far in the five seasons. Also we get a look into Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa; she’s sort of illusive you know. She doesn’t do a lot of public appearances. She kind of just stays out in the Hampton’s and does her own thing and so I got a chance to work with her and all of the finalist’s loved meeting her and being in her cooking barn so I think that’s going to be interesting for people to see.
We go to Miami at some point in the series, which obviously is a beautiful setting, and there’s some crazy grilling challenges and I think it’s a really exciting season.
Interview by Tiffany N. D’Emidio
Follow me on Twitter: TiffanyDEmidio