This season two new chefs are stepping into the role of mentor on All-Star Academy: Robert Irvine and Andrew Zimmern are bringing a new energy to the arena. Season 1 mentors Alex Guarnaschelli and Curtis Stone return to try their luck at winning yet again, but this time with lots more experience under their belts. All four have the job of mentoring a team of two home cooks, but only one home cook will have the chance to walk away with the $50,000 win. On the line for the winning mentor: infinite bragging rights as the best teacher this academy has seen.
These four chefs may be friends outside of the show, but when it comes to competition, that friendliness gets shoved aside and replaced with rivalry, an urge to come out on top — and all of this includes some smack talk flying around. FN Dish spoke with Alex and Curtis to see if they had anything to say about the two new mentors, Robert and Andrew, and whether they had any advice for them. And we asked Robert and Andrew what they bring to the table — what sets them apart from veterans Alex and Curtis. The answers we got from both sides were exactly what we were hoping to hear. This competition is going to be good.
When asked what she had to say to Robert and Andrew, Alex didn’t hold back from sharing her honest opinion of how she saw the two chefs. “Robert is like a steamroller. So, how do you tell a steamroller to stop rolling? You don’t. You just kind of get out of its way, but, you know sometimes, like, you can steamroll over good things, and bad,” explained Alex of what she thinks will be Robert’s strengths and faults all rolled into one trait. She offered an interesting image of the Mr. Impossible chef: “So I’ll be interested to see when Robert lands on the roof with his SWAT team ready to attack, how that all goes down.” As for Andrew, Alex called him “freakishly knowledgeable about the foods and ingredients of the world,” naming him the dark horse of the competition.
“This is the sort of competition that’s really hard to prepare for,” said Curtis, thinking about the advice he would give. “I think mentoring is, like, super specific and personal, and it probably changes with every cook that you work with, or at least it does for me. Everyone’s different,” he added, explaining that the competition really comes down to the connection the mentor makes with each mentee and how that all plays out during the Academy. But for him it’s all about adapting, whereas for some mentors it might be the complete opposite, as he explained further: “You know, some people have, just a blanket attitude, and their pupils, students, sort of either fit in or they don’t.” But whichever mentoring style is in play, Curtis’ main piece of advice to any one of the mentors is “to get some sleep, because it’s a wild ride, and a lot of fun.”
Robert has done a lot of competition shows, although they’re not his favorite, he revealed; All-Star Academy is different for him in that it involves teaching home cooks, “people who want to get better at cooking,” he said. “My life is about mentoring people in how to get a better life, how to fix their restaurant, how to eat healthier, how to work out. This is natural progression for me to do this,” Robert explained of the welcomed challenge at hand. That answers the question of his character, but what about the question of experience — facing Alex and Curtis, mentors who have done all this before? “I think my experience of creating things from nothing has brought something to this competition that wasn’t there,” he said, going on to add unreservedly, “I create food in the middle of a forest, in the middle of a desert, with no food, no equipment, and I think fast on my feet. So [it’s] a very different dynamic.”
“I’ve never done a competition show,” Andrew said. “I’ve said no for nine years to doing shows like this every time I’m asked, and the reason that I said yes to this one was that it was about mentoring young cooks, and that, to me, I can get.” However, many viewers might be wondering what experience this world traveler has with cooking and teaching. “I’ve cooked a lot in the past, but over the last 10 years, I’ve had a suitcase and, some, you know, fermented bush meat hanging out of my mouth,” he said half-jokingly. “I think one of the advantages that I have is that I’m an unknown quantity,” he said in response to the question everyone’s thinking — “Can he do it?” “Nobody has seen me cook in 10 years, since I left restaurants,” he added. On the subject of teaching, Andrew went into more detail: “I spend 75 percent of my time mentoring other people,” he said of his projects and volunteer work. “As long as I don’t cut off a finger, fall down and embarrass myself or put something on a plate that resembles something from a far-off land that none of the judges understands, I think I’m going to be OK.”
Watch the premiere of All-Star Academy on Sunday, Feb. 14 at 10|9c, and tune in for the rest of the season at its regular time on Sundays 9|8c. Find out which mentor gets the upper hand and who lives up to his or her word, and see real live smack talk in play.