One-on-One with the Latest Star Finalist to Go Home

by in Interviews, August 3, 2014

Food Network Star, Season 10After 10 weeks of competition, the final three have been chosen, and determining the next Food Network Star is in your hands. (Vote for who you want to win.) If you haven't watched the episode yet, read no further because Star Talk is about to dish on what went down and reveal who was sent home.

In what Giada deemed "the most-important 30 seconds of this entire competition," the top-four rivals taped brief promos for their would-be Food Network shows, each showcasing their all-important culinary POVs. Lenny, Luca, Nicole and Sarah each stumbled a bit in their pitches — some forgetting words and others rambling with no clear purpose — but thanks to the mentors, each managed to wrap up all of their ideas into clear presentations.

It was up to the Selection Committee to green-light only three of the four promos, and after Luca and Nicole claimed the first two spots, the decision was between Lenny and Sarah for the third. Ultimately, though, Lenny was given the go-ahead to continue and Sarah said her final farewell after she failed to include a key part of herself — her role as a mom — into her pitch. Read on below to hear from Sarah in her first exclusive exit interview to learn why she considers herself "lucky" and what she's looking forward to doing back in Texas.

What three words describe how you're feeling right now?
Sarah Penrod: It would be so much easier to just say one. ... I kind of feel lucky.

Tell us a bit about that. Why do you feel so fortunate?
SP: I feel like I made it to the very end, got all of the experience, all the mentorship, which, I’m in the industry, so I know that them giving us these nuggets of wisdom is hard for them, because it took the mentors so long to learn those things. And now the three — Luca, Nicole and Lenny — are going to go and make their pilots, but they’re going to be making their pilots in this environment with the show, which is very nerve-racking.

Sarah Penrod and Alton BrownHow would you explain what this competition is really like?
SP: You can never understand the stress, the pressure, etc. The mentors are near and dear to us, but at the same time, you have to remember that you’re constantly under the microscope. And for some people, just to go and take a test is hard. Well, this test lasts 10 weeks long. ... There’s people who went home a long time ago who are better cooks than I am. There’s people that went home that I think had a better handle on being able to make a pilot — Emma, for one, comes to mind. But they went home, and I think that a lot of it is just succumbing to the pressure of this competition.

What is one piece of mentor feedback will you always remember?
SP: There’s so many. I think it was the element of attaching your POV to connecting with it. I kept thinking they meant something else, but what they really mean is turning it into a personal thing for you. And it has to be in a really organic way. I learned way after some other finalists, so they had an edge on me for a long time, and then one day, it was like a light bulb went off.

Speaking of your POV, you first introduced date night, then switched to the food of your home state: Texas. What led to that switch, and how did you handle the transition?
SP: It's something that I really stressed about — should I have made that change? I’ve already written a book on date night; I already have 180 recipes that are personal, so I really did feel like I had an authority on that. But ... when they mentioned Texas, pride goes off in my heart. The same way as when I talk about my little boys; I mean, Texas is up there for me. So I made the switch, but it’s still something that I wonder whether I should have done. I truly believe that there’s no one POV for everyone; there’s probably a couple of things that you could go with. ... Date night might make a comeback — we’ll see. In Texas!

Knowing what the competition is like now, are you happy that you didn't make the cast when you auditioned for Season 8?
SP: Absolutely. I mean, people probably think that I hate Bobby Flay, and really I was indebted to him because he was honest with me, and I had to be honest with myself: Go home and get some training. And that’s how I’ve made it to this point. It’s from falling down. I always learned the most from my mistakes, which made this competition really hard for me because you don’t have a lot of time to learn from your mistakes; you’re just going onto the next challenge. But yeah, I’m very happy that I didn’t make Season 8 and that I came this far in Season 10, and what have you guys seen from me? I always turn it into a good thing.

Sarah Penrod and Rachael RayWhat do you want your fans to remember about you?
SP: I want my fans to remember that humor and a positive outlook can overcome anything. I’ve been really transparent with my feelings in this because I think we all should be. Say what you mean and let’s all look at things from a perspective where if there’s honesty, it’s so much easier when people just say what they mean.

Luca, Lenny, Nicole. Who are you voting for?
SP: Wow, that is so hard. It’s hard because I know them all. I will vote for — gosh, I don’t know. I want to say Luca because he’s in Texas with me; he’s actually in San Antonio. But I think I’m the most interested in Lenny’s food because it’s kind of my food, you know, in a way.

What’s next for you? What are you going home to?
SP: I’m going to go home and go to church. I’m going to read my little boys a story. Oh, my gosh, I’m so excited about the stuff I’m going to get to do. To not to be under such intense pressure will be a relief. And I’ll probably eat a Frito pie. Just sit back and think about everything and regroup. Because I don’t know if I’ll come back as a food star, but I know that my future is bright, and this whole thing that we’ve done here has taught me that I’m tough as nails.

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Comments (254)

  1. Tommy says:

    Ok, when Luca was voted off somebody obviously trained him and brought him back on the show to win or place high. Think about it. Pretty rigged right there.

    • Buffy says:

      This season has presented the audience with best appearance of a rigged program. Luca did not send an audition video with his head down. The writers or director did not remember this aspect.

    • shannon says:

      I saw an article that when he was eliminated his wife started working with him...training him hard to have better camera presence and enunciation. His wife is a beautiful attorney in TX. I am sure she has great public speaking skills to teach.

      • PRW94 says:

        From the San Antonio newspaper:

        When he was eliminated and moved to the online contest “Star Salvation” for a chance to get back on the TV show, Marcella went into high gear during his filming break, putting her public-speaking skills to use coaching him and pushing him to do video after video at home, practicing and practicing. It worked and he’s back on the show.

        “She was very intense, but at the same time, she really pushed me as much as possible to reach my goal. I wouldn’t be where I am without her pushing me,” he said.

        • redleviathan2000 says:

          wow where is his wedding ring? This fake dude is trying to win on charm and looks alone, what a douche.. watching him is uncomfortable I dont like ignorant quasi speaking people screetching at me with their teeth and eye balls like he has

          • Deanna says:

            A lot of people don't wear their rings when they cook. Is that what qualifies him as a 'douche' in your opinion? Speaking of ignorant...WTF is quasi speaking? And how is it possible to screech (not screetch) with your teeth and eyeballs?

            SOMEONE is a douchiness, and it isn't Luca.

          • redleviathan2000 says:

            He's in the competition for weeks, he cant wear his ring, he's cooking 24/7? They were upset that stupid Sarah didn't talk about her kids but they never got upset that Luca didn't mention his wife and family, he's on the grandma shtick trying to look single for more ratings. As lame as it gets.

            Quasi speaking is Luca's attempt at speech. He walks and talks like Frankenstein.

          • Concerned Viewer says:

            I saw Luca with his ring on last night during the show. If you watched his casting video which has been on the site since day one he talked about his wife. I think he has been the most genuine of all of them. If you have been following him, he also talks about his wife in the videos he posts. Lets talk about fake...how about Lenny and his video...how about his foul language and disgusting looks...how about Lenny's fake accent and cowboy persona....what a fraud.

          • redleviathan2000 says:

            Luca is the one with a fake accent, another Italian who uses it as a crutch.. he can learn how to speak 1st then get on tv ..its ironic how you claim that Lenny is fake, like you know..

      • Buffy says:

        I agree that she may have helped him to improve. My statement is from the aspect of the audition video. His head was not down in the audition video. I do not think his head was down in the first program. I honestly did not understand why his head was so far down in the pot on the second program.

        • lcsa99 says:

          He was probably alone in a room when he did his audition video. Think he probably had a lot of time to practice with no pressure for his audition video too. The episode where he did have his head down was probably a lot of pressure and with very little time to practice.

          I cannot imagine the stress all of these people had to go through

    • Mimi says:

      Right on Tommy - Nicole is the winner in my book.

  2. Deanna says:

    Everybody on earth has done a coffee crust. I am so not interested in Lenny's cuisine. And as for Nicole, well, I'm landlocked. Not for me, thanks. My BF's family does Bagna Cauda every Christmas Eve, but not like L uca does it. I look forward to Luca's Feast!

    • redleviathan2000 says:

      I have never done a coffee crust, what has married but trying to be cute/illiterate Luca done that is different? The name of his dish is famous, he did NOTHING new

      • PRW94 says:

        A coffee rubbed ribeye is righteously good. I think the sugar he put in would be a little much, though. What's next, cream?

        • redleviathan2000 says:

          Lots of chefs rub sugar in the meat for a nice char, I've seen it on Iron Chef and even done it myself, it's actually tasty.

    • Pure Fluff says:

      I agree - Lenny has a big personality but his show promises to be boring. He's already done coffee crusted lamb burgers and now with a steak. "Cowboy Up" are you serious with that name? Lenny seems like a genuinely good human being and an entertaining cook but I am not interested in his "country comes to town" themed series. It would be interesting for a few weeks but after that....not so much. I think Lenny would be great as Guy Fieri's sidekick or back up on DDD.

    • Sheri says:

      Too boring.

  3. Michele says:

    Sarah seems like a warm and kind person, full of joy and she must be a pleasure to know, personally. I didn't get much from her this season, in terms of ''star'' power, other than she's really adorable. It's not necessarily or ordinarily a criticism to comment on a youthful energy, but, in this format, she just didn't come across as a credible expert, as much as a spokesmodel on a game show. She had that cheerleader thing, and maybe ''date night'' was more appropriate, because, it's hard to relate to her even as a mom. She just doesn't have a fully baked mature adult perspective or presence. On the positive side, she is young, and maybe in twenty years, her voice will mellow into a matronly soothing way, and that nasally teenage cheerleader thing will be decades behind her. Anyway, she's still a cute and precious girl, but, certainly a mystery as a finalist. It was an anomally. I think LUCA has it all, and hope he wins. But, either Nicole or Lenny have great promise, too. Either one of them deserve it. I'm relieved to not hear Sarah's voice anymore. It was hard to sit through.

  4. Ravi says:

    How many of you reading this now think that the whole thing is rigged for Luca?

    • Tommy says:

      I totally agree!!!

    • Marianne says:

      Yep. I was suspicious as soon as he was eliminated. I just knew he was going to win all the star salvation challenges and come back. I actually think the producers did it intentionally to add drama. Also, of the final four, Sarah was so obviously the worst ( I don't know how she didn't get cut weeks ago) I think Lenny's crappy promo was supposed to add suspense. He's so popular and fans would be on the edge of their seats worrying that he'd get cut instead of Sarah.

      • sickofsarah says:

        Luca missed all of the demanding challenges, where everyone struggled and were weeded out, in order to pave the way for him. it was intentional, so we missed the fumbling he would have had during those challenges, and he cruised through salvation. his offscreen grooming, while on that show, made him a hit in vegas in both episodes, first the poolside wooing of the ladies and then penn jillette's proclamation about luca's duck/presentation that he was 'the star'. yes, it was rigged-- alton said several weeks ago that both lenny and luca were going to make pilots..he's.the man behind the curtain pulling the strings.

    • Michele says:

      I don't think it is rigged, at all, but, he is charismatic, talented, and deserved a second chance. Authentic Italian food always has an audience. It is a cuisine that I enjoy cooking, and would watch for new recipes and ideas. He happens to be easy on the eyes, easy on the ears, easy to watch cook, and I like some of his ideas, like his cauliflower risotta, was awesome, and something i plan to make. In fact, even if he doesn't win the popular vote for his own show, I think he will get his own show, anyway. He already seems like a star. That's not to say I don't think Lenny or Nicole deserve their own shows, because, I would watch them, too. All three have great promise, and I will be happy for any of them to get their shows.

      • Rex says:

        Alton has too much power.

      • Bonnie R. says:

        I agree with you, Michele. My vote is for Lenny, but I'd be happy to watch any of the finalists shows. Glad Sarah was finally eliminated. She was annoying to watch and to listen to, and I was NOT impressed by her knowledge or should I say LACK of knowledge about food. Lenny was my favorite from the beginning as well as L'Oreal, but unfortunately, she could not talk about the knowledge she had as a butcher. But loved her personality. Lenny, hope you win!

    • Buffy says:

      I don't think the program is set for Luca to win. I think they should pull a Sopranos ending and not spend the money on a new program for this season.

    • Just Sayin says:

      How many of you reading this now think that the whole thing is rigged for Luca?

      Umm....probably everybody that wouldnt lie about it--

      I'm just sayin-

    • PRW94 says:

      I disagree. Based on Alton's comments in the other thread about the show, I think it's rigged for Lenny.

      • shannon says:

        I thought all along it was rigged for Luca to take it all...but now you are right ....I think its rigged for Lenny. I can not believe that Alton admitted no matter how horrible Lenny has been he was getting a pilot.

        • Crouton40 says:

          It's looking like they have their heart set on yet another over the top loud reality show. Sigh...

          Nicole is such a breath of fresh air. And no one else is really doing what she's doing. She's more than just seafood, too. I'm hoping she gets tons of votes. I could learn all sorts of new things from her. Her dishes are always tasty.

      • sickofsarah says:

        i think it's rigged against nicole, and then the votes would be split between lenny and luca. if lenny's antics catch up with him, luca would be the winner.

        • Teri says:

          Nicole is the best one. While Lenny posts are getting alot of thumbs downs, how is it he is so popular in the poll? It doesn't go with the posts we are seeing.

          Most people here online really like Nicole. The posts for her have more plusses than Luca.

    • judy says:

      I agree i think giada has the hots for him oh ya yet another italian cook

    • Maggsie says:

      I do!!! Giada picked him fro the start b/c of his accent! She has made some remarks about liking him, b/4 he even cooks!! Yeah, right, lets get another person in there who cooks pasta, pasta, pasta!! I don't know if you can watch back shows, but the difference in her attitude when Luda came out or when Sarah came out, was just so unfair!

      • Robert says:

        You're right. While people may like Luca's appearance and accent, has his cooking really been spectacular or just ok?

    • Liz says:

      Agree!!! All we hear is "he's so charming"...over and over!!!

  5. Sheri says:

    Coastal Cuisine = best point of view. New.

  6. ritakay63 says:

    I want someone who is going to entertain me and I feel Lenny has the freshest approach to a show that I would watch. I want to see more regular foods that I would eat with a twist of flair, not cuisine that uses ingredients that I would most likely not have in my home. I like the idea that Lenny will be going all over the United States, because he will represent more people.

    Sarah I could not stand watching, because she seemed like a person that only cared about herself and not others. Lenny you can tell has a heart, that too is what I want on my television, someone real, not fake. Ok, yeah he has a character about him...but he is funny! I love it!!!

    • Larry says:

      Lenny's show looked awful. Not a watchable show, sorry.

      • chef anne watcher says:

        Lenny was channeling Emeril and using his BAM imitation. His description of his steak was a *Bone in Fillet* !!!! Wrong, Lenny - it was BONELESS. His story about "the coffee falling off of the shelf and onto his steak" (as if HE discovered this!) came across as disingenuous. He is as phony as his story! "Cowboy Up"??? Nope, I'm not buying what he's selling. This Cowboy needs to ride off into the sunset on next week's Finale. I've had enough of his Bull!

        • MoHub says:

          The "coffee spilling on the beef" was so contrived. I seem to remember a Best Thing I Ever Ate episode in which Michael Chiarello sang the praises of a chef's coffee-crusted beef tenderloin, and I've seen it done a million times since. Lenny is disingenuous at best and full-tilt, slimy phony at worst, and I don't need him on my teevee screen.

          • Nicoleisthewinner says:

            I saw that episode too. I really enjoyed Michael Chiarello's show, "Napa Style". Where is he now? His Italian roots combined with his California-influenced cooking was magnificent and I made several of his recipes. Delicious! FN had a gem with him, why did they neglect him? I think the answer is Guy's FNS win and the attention the network wanted to devote to him.

            ITA about Lenny, he should have been out in the 2nd Vegas challenge with his hedgehog (uni) dish. He used the concealment of his culinary training to his advantage in that episode (unfamiliar ingredient). He got a pass, and we have been subjected to his slimy Youtube videos and lewd forum postings for the last 3 weeks. I'm hoping the voters got it right and that Lenny will not be the winner. The FN execs are going to see a revolution from the audience if they give the nod to Lenny as the next FNS. I smell a scandal, quicker than you can say "Paula Deen", and their actions will go viral on these boards as well as in the media.

    • Janelle says:

      After you've seen Lenny cook out of a cast iron frying pan half a dozen times doing chuckwagon cooking, what then? I'd rather watch Nicole. She addresses a huge untapped range of food. This would bring in many new viewers and be money to the network. I didn't like this video of Alton's.

    • PRW94 says:

      Real? Look, I voted for the guy, but he's from New Hampshire and he trained at a culinary school in Germany. The guy can cook, I think he'll do a decent show, but look up the definition of "drugstore cowboy" and you'll see what kind of cowboy he is. Not a real one.

      • sickofsarah says:

        then why did you vote for lenny? so he can 'cook' and 'do a decent show'? in other words, do you think that luca and nicole can't accomplish either of your criteria?

    • Crouton40 says:

      Nicole was the best one on camera. Informal/warm and I felt like I was over at her house with her showing me how to cook. Nice!

      Go back and listen to everyone's pilot. Nicole choked up less, didn't need as many "takes" as Lenny or Luca and just came across as more natural. All of them can cook but Nicole is easiest to listen to and I'd love to learn more about what she makes. She offers something new and very tasty.

      • chef anne watcher says:

        We're on the same page, Crouton. Plus, for those who like Italian Food, Nicole does Italian food with her Italian family roots. Who needs Luca to reinvent Giada's Wheel (her 'Everyday Italian' show)? Nicole's Pilot was the best! She left Lenny and Luca in the dust AND she had fun doing it! She's my winner! I'm sooo looking forward to The Finale...

    • Carrie says:

      How anyone would want to watch a show with Lenny after viewing his video on Facebook is beyond me. It was trash. Additionally, I would not like to watch him baring his belly or grooming his facial hair. Where does all of that hair go?

    • Buffy says:

      Are there many people in your life who have a heart like Lenny?
      Monkeys are funnier.
      Lenny does not represent anyone in my life. I have met people with a personality like Lenny and these people are not tolerated at any level. I live in America.

    • Tere says:

      That's so weird, because I know her and she is one of the most honest people I know who cares for and about so many people. It's funny how people on these shows can be taken so completely opposite. The truly truthful ones, people don't trust and the truly dishonest ones, they trust entirely.

  7. Eddie says:

    If the vote is about hormones it is either Luca or Nicole if the best all round candidate is the real winner it will be Lenny as it should be. F He has a Guy F type personality. Neither are even close he stood out head and shoulders above all others throughout.

    • Rex says:

      If Lenny wins, it'll be a license for him to go "hog-wild" and be even more crazy that we've seen. No more over-the-top loudmouths.

  8. PRW94 says:

    Voted for Lenny. Not really enthused about it, although IMO aside from the horrendous sopapilla he's been the most consistent cook in this thing since Day 1. He's also an over the top personality compared to the others, and even though I'm taking the FN folks at their word that this is going to be decided on a fan vote, probably Fieri is the last person like that to actually win this thing (and probably the last person who's truly become a "star" out of this thing), and I think Alton's comment in the other thread that Lenny was a done deal to make the final three unless he just absolutely fell apart shows who they're pulling for. I don't think it's Luca, I think it's Lenny.

    The thing is, in his presentation before the four were cut to three, I submit that he DID absolutely fall apart. Sarah had a better presentation than he did, by far. Of course they did say that their choice was based on "everything that happened up to now," which gave them the opening to toss her and pick Lenny. But he was so bad that if this were a true competition run according to the rules of past FN competitions, when you get to this point it should be one strike and you're out.

    Of course he then turned around and had, IMO, the best pilot. So maybe the people who made this pick know more than I do.

    FYI, the coffee rub thing on steaks is nothing new or earth-shattering, although adding sugar to the mix is (and I really don't know how that would work). If you haven't tried a coffee-rubbed ribeye or filet, you need to, it's righteously good. But again, you can get that at steak restaurants all over creation, it's nothing ground-breaking or that he created. And that's maybe my "rub" of a different sort with him, there's just something about Lenny ... maybe not phoniness, but I can't come up with the right word ... that's off-putting to me, even though in the end I clicked his name.

  9. Rose says:

    my vote is for Lenny, he just has that larger then life personality that the Food Network television needs, plus he seems to know his way around the kitchen and cooks some pretty eye appealing food, Food Network tv has enough of plain Jane boring cooks so lets vote for Lenny

  10. Birdie says:

    Have any of you listened to Alton's video about this? He sounds like he favors Lenny. The loudest one of the bunch. He says he has issues with Nicole's Point of View. WHAT ISSUES? About the point of view itself. He doesn't say. It's an excellent point of view. Offers us many new dishes. And where is Bobby on this? Where is Giada? Is Alton dictating everything? Italian is already being done and the cowboy is just too wild.

    • Mimi says:

      I'm still scratching my head over Alton's comments! I say Coastal Cuisine all the way!

    • chef anne watcher says:

      Alton has been pushing Lenny for several weeks saying "Lenny is the one to beat". He thinks that if he shoves this message down our throats every week, that we'll adopt his mantra. In order to bolster his praises for Lenny, he criticizes Nicole's POV, which she has used since the early episodes. Nobody else on the selection panel has had a problem with her Coastal Cuisine. Except for Alton. He's the one with "issues"! Alton is the dictator, Giada goes along with him, and Bobby Flay missed the 2 critical episodes in Vegas when he was opening his new restaurant. I think the judges need to make a commitment to be on all of the shows during the season so there is fairness in the eliminations each week. Alton and Giada take advantage of Bobby's absences and bulldoze a contestant who may not be the right one to go home that night.

      • Guest says:

        Replace Giada and Alton next season.
        Have Bobby
        Ina Garten
        Damaris Phillips or Tyler Florence.
        Good range.

    • Buffy says:

      Bobby has not been in the program for most of the season. I think they used the green screen for his part.
      I no longer hear the voice of Alton. I have not watched any of the videos posted about the program. Everyone's thoughts should have been presented in the program. Really... What insight can people who are under contract offer?