Justin Warner fans are in for a treat tonight (10pm/9c). The Rebel With a Culinary Cause is hitting the road in his new show and biggest challenge yet — finding the real culinary rebels of America on Rebel Eats. Armed with $300 (for gas), a car and a nose for good food and crazy characters, Justin will travel the back roads of the South to try everything from moonshine and bacon beer to deep-fried PB&J, jellyfish pasta and bowling alley barbecue served in a Mason jar. We recently caught up with Justin and asked him to dish a little on his special, catch us up on what he’s been eating and teach us how to be food rebels ourselves. Before tuning in tonight, read his interview below (and go behind-the-scenes with these photos).
How did your experience on Food Network Star prepare you for making Rebel Eats?
Given that I had no television experience prior to Star, I would say that every facet of the show helped me prepare for Rebel Eats. In Star, we were constantly fighting against the clock. It has made me much more concise and efficient when conveying ideas or developing dishes. In addition, having Alton as a mentor was really a life-changing experience. He taught me how to understand where the camera is, what it’s picking up and how to make it my best friend.
Also, being my rebellious self, taking direction is not something I’m accustomed to. Alton, Bob, Susie, even Giada and Bobby, did a great job both on Star and in recent months of teaching me how to take direction, interpret and apply good advice. Other than these things, Star prepared me for grueling days of production and surviving off of craft food. If ever there was a boot camp for this business, Star is most certainly it. Almost everything else I’ve done on camera is a cakewalk. It’s also nice to cook for television without having to eliminate someone — although that was fun, at times.
We saw a sneak-peek clip of the special (watch it here or below), and it seems like you got along well with your crew. Any funny stories from the road you can share?
Every minute with my team is a funny story. Every night we’d retire to our hotel rooms, exhausted, swearing that we were just “going to bed,” and sure enough, in an hour the entire crew was together at a local beer hall. One night I became obsessed with winning a piece of imitation bling from a 25-cent claw game. We rolled cameras on the entire process, because we thought it would be a good shot if I managed to get it. After about seven dollars’ worth of quarters, I gave up and we stopped rolling. Sure enough, I found another quarter and won it once the cameras were off. This is life. We had only one “production mom,” so shoots would often descend into bro territory: spending hours attempting to re-create a scene from a famous bro movie, doing doughnuts in a muddy parking lot, shooting a rap video, buying lamentable souvenirs, etc.
What’s the most-rebellious thing you’ve eaten recently?
My sous chef at Do or Dine makes a killer beef heart pastrami. We actually got the smoker from a producer on Star, and we slice the pastrami at the bodega across the street because we don’t have a slicer. We just give them a portion of the pastrami. The bodega owners are so chill about us slicing up organs, it’s remarkable.
What does it take to be a food rebel? Can anybody be one?
Anyone can be anything they want in this world. You just have to work for it. It’s not a very rebellious thought, but if you want to accomplish something, you have to have the right idea, with the right attitude, at the right place, at the right time, with the right people around you. If any of those things are out of order or not present, it’s going to be a lot tougher. Being a culinary rebel is truly not so much about being a “bad boy” or a “rule breaker,” but about promoting a different vantage point for all of gastronomy. I think by making curious food, people become more curious about food, and that is good for America. I think that a lot of our food-related problems come from fear, and being a culinary rebel requires a certain amount of fearlessness. There are no foods I’ve encountered that I dislike. My girlfriend hates peas, so we are going to get some peas and attempt to cook them and season them in a myriad of ways until she finds one she likes. From that point, we can retrain her palate to enjoy those little BBs of green love.
What can fans expect from the show?
Fans will really be able to get to know me on a personal level. There was no script; there was no forced production, no hair and makeup folks, no wardrobe department. If you see it, it is 100-percent authentic, certified grade-A Justin Warner. I truly believe that this show is one of the best things I’ve seen on TV, and I’m a very harsh critic of myself. It’s the perfect blend of education (gasp!) and entertainment. I’m sure a lot of folks wanted to watch my take on a traditional cooking show, but I think that there is actually a lot more educational value in explaining the context of the characters that I encounter and the ideas behind my dishes. By essentially shooting it without takes or a script, there’s also a certain rawness and lack of polish that I think my generation of Food Network viewers will find appealing.