This was posted Friday, May 26, 2017 by Rodney Hofirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
Last year’s “Food Network Star” winner for the first time was a metro Atlantan: the vivacious Tregaye Fraser, now a co-host of a Food Network show “Kitchen Sink.”
This year for the show’s 13th season starting June 4 at 8 p.m., two locals will try to follow in Fraser’s footsteps: caterer and Big Green Egg brand ambassador David “Big Swole” Rose and Atkins Park executive chef and Zac Brown’s “eat and greet” leader Rusty Hamlin.
A season 5 Atlanta-based personal chef Jamika Pessoa is also trying to get back on the show competing in a spin-off called “Comeback Kitchen” that is airing now and is co-hosted by Valerie Bertinelli and Tyler Florence.
I interviewed Rose and Hamlin. Here are thumbnail sketches of each:
Residence: New Jersey native, Atlanta resident
Culinary school: Le Cordon Bleu Atlanta, 20o6
Twist: He is being sold as “The Biker Chef.”
Why this show: His parents were chefs when he was growing up. So he had the interest in his blood. “Watching Emeril as a kid interacting with the audience and having little catchphrases, I was hooked. “Bam!” I watched Food Network religiously up until now. I’ve watched every season of ‘Food Network Star’ since Guy Fieri won. I always said I’d love be on Food Network if I got the opportunity. Here’s my opportunity!”
First job after culinary school: Four Seasons Hotel, Midtown, as a line cook. The basketball legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving once complimented his lobster bisque, he said.
Current gig: After 15 months at the Four Seasons, he started his own catering company. His first client was a woman he met at a supermarket who needed someone to cater her daughter’s graduation. Ten years later, he is still independent and making a living, using three to five other chefs for catering functions, all alums from Le Cordon Bleu. He also goes around the country and demonstrates dishes at events and food festivals with Big Green Egg grills. He also likes organizing events together merging things he likes: motorcycles, cigars and drinks.
Toughest part of being on the show: “Talking about food and my experience and point of view comes naturally. But those situations are not times. I have to be more conscious of the times and button stuff up for the cameras on the show. I have to make things more precise and be mindful and make every second count.”
Food point of view: “My family is Jamaican. I have a flavor profile similar to that. There’s a little spiciness of dishes. I’ve my shaped my culinary career in the South. I also learned French cuisine. So it’s a mixture of all of those.”
Win or lose: “Doing this I realize this is what I was meant to be more so than I did when I came in. I think a TV show for me is inevitable. As far as how it comes about, that’s in the sky. I really feel like his is my calling, to be a better chef, a better personality on camera. I want to consistently develop my craft so I can be at the same level as [judges] Bobby [Flay] and Giada De Laurentiis].”
Job: Atkins Park executive chef and Zac Brown Band’s touring chef
Why he’s on the show: “I continuously try to learn as a chef, to do different things and make myself better. I’ve always dreamt about being able to be part of the Food Network family just because I have so many friends there. And I can’t cage my personality. When I lay down six feet under, I want people to be happy with my food. I want to leave a mark.”
The heat of competition: “You have 30 minutes to cook something that represents who you are. There are so many different things you have to tie in. The cameras, the lights, Bobby and Giada watching you. The world watching you. It’s a totally different animal. That was difficult for me. I learned so much from this whole competition. It’s amazing. It’s something I’ll take with me forever.”
Difference from his 2015 FYI show “Rusty’s Rockfeast” about feeding 200 Zac Brown fans before every concert: “On that show, I was just talking and being myself. And we could always stop tape and start over. There’s nothing like that here. I’d have an out-of-body experience after 60 seconds of presenting something. What did I even say? It’s crazy!”
Bobby and Giada: “I was happily surprised how much mentorship they gave us. They’re so seasoned, no pun intended.”
Point of view: “I’m a Southern chef with Louisiana roots. I was born in Baton Rouge and moved here to Atlanta in 1996. I started literally diving into the history of the South. And I’ve taken all that and sometimes do a twist or turn. It just depends on what I’m interested in at the time. Right now, I love Korean food, the relationship between Korean food and soul food.”
Lasting power: “Atkins Park just made 14 years. What a blessing. It’s incredible that I’ve been there this long in this day and age. We’re just a staple and continue to evolve. I’m still chef and part owner. When we came up to Smyrna and saw this empty location of Georgia clay, we brought two plates of jambalaya and gumbo and spread a gallon on the dirt. The next day, they poured the concrete like Cajun voodoo. We’re not the new kid in town but we stay with the trends while representing who I am.”
The Zac Brown connection: “He and I have been on this amazing path. We’ve created these ‘eat and greets’ and try to make them the best experience for our fans as possible. This show is the next step for me, to go on a limb, to take a chance on my career and life. Zac is right there next to me. He’s one of my best fans. It’s really cool to have him not only be a good friend and be successful but he likes to do things differently. He wants to always stick to who he is and that’s who I am. We’re good friends and brothers for life.”
Why not ‘Top Chef,’ which focuses primarily on food, not so much on personality? ‘Top Chef’ is great. There’s nothing negative about ‘Top Chef.’ I know who I am. I’m a very good chef and very comfortable in the kitchen. I feel like Food Network was the perfect spot for me to utilize every one of my talents. You’ll see my crazy personality. That’s who I am. We’re also here to teach and mentor.”
“Food Network Star,” debuting Sunday, June 4, 2017 at 8 p.m., Food Network