There are traditional job interviews, which are surely daunting, then there's Food Network Star: an intense 11-week journey that requires nothing short of flawless technique in the kitchen and a downright sparkly personality on camera. Beginning June 7 at 9|8c, 12 all-new rivals will put their dreams on the line as they endure mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis' lofty challenges, all in the hopes of scoring the most-sought-after culinary career: Food Network host. Star Talk is bringing you the first look at each of the finalists in exclusive, candid interviews, and today we're introducing Washington, D.C.'s Alex McCoy.
Alex, 31 (Washington, D.C.), brings a killer combo of culinary chops, passion for travel, business skill and charm to the competition. He started working in restaurants as a teenager, became an executive chef in his 20s, and opened his own restaurant before turning 30. His restaurant is a Washington, D.C., hot spot, where the menu is filled with dishes inspired by Alex’s world travels, including his many trips to Asia.
Describe your culinary POV in one sentence — if you can.
Alex McCoy: In one word it would be adventurous. My POV is a worldwide view on sandwiches. It's really about how people eat sandwiches around the world — and every culture has its own version of a sandwich — and introducing people to some of the dishes that they usually don’t see on a daily basis.
If you could ask Bobby and Giada to teach you one thing in the kitchen, what would it be?
AM: For Giada, it would be the grace. She has such a great identity on a television show. She's very upbeat and she's very graceful. For me, I'm like a restaurant chef; I'm really gritty. And I think it's important when you have a TV show to be graceful — even a guy can be graceful — and navigate a television show as well as you can.
I love Bobby's sense of humor. He's very quick-witted. And it just works for him so well. I like how he manages his personality on television, and I think that's a real talent: being able to be concise but also be funny and be so many different people at one time.
What one thing do you really want to convey to the mentors about you, your food or your would-be Food Network show?
AM: I'm up for anything. I love trying new ingredients. I love stepping outside my comfort zone. I'm an open book. I've been doing this my whole life, and I'm really itching to try new things, different things, and I really want to be challenged. And I really want them to throw curve balls my way so I can see what I can do with them.
How did you prepare for this competition?
AM: I don't think there's any one way to prepare for it. I watched a lot of the past seasons. I've watched Food Network since I was a kid — I think that's the cool thing about my generation is that we were all really brought up on Food Network. If you're a chef, you watched Food Network. So it was becoming familiar with the personalities and the judges and kind of getting an idea of what to expect in terms of the challenges and the limitations and what the kitchen has to offer. Other than that, it's get out there and give it a shot and go for it.
Win or lose, what's something you want to take away from this experience?
AM: I'm in love with the restaurant industry. It's an opportunity for me to try a different facet of the industry that's been really appealing and interesting. Win or lose, the opportunity to give this a shot and see what it's like — it's crazy, it's completely different from being a chef in a kitchen. But at the same time, it's about being a chef in a kitchen; it's just a different kind of kitchen. So it has a different personality and different limitations, and it's kind of cool to get an idea of what that's like. I have a lot of respect for these guys because it's a different skill set, and they kill it. It's not something that every chef can do.
What's your greatest strength in the kitchen?
AM: I'm willing to try anything. More so than that, I can handle a lot of stress in the kitchen. It's really important when the stuff hits the fan that you can keep your composure and be calm and still focused on the dish. I've always been the type of chef that, when I'm running my kitchen, is it doesn't matter how busy it is, perfect food has to come out of the kitchen, 'cause that's what customers expect. And I don't let people cut corners. And I don't let myself cut corners. And even if I'm put in the weeds beyond repair, we still have to maintain that consistency and that sense of detail. That's something that I'm very strict about: being focused and being organized, no matter what chaos is going on.
What is the strangest thing we'd find in your refrigerator right now?
AM: I have 10 pounds of blood sausage in my freezer right now. I'm obsessed with blood sausage. Both of my parents grew up in England, so I love blood sausage. And then, I make all my own sauces ahead of time, so I have a ton of marinara sauce, a ton of curry paste. I have a really tiny kitchen, so I try to make as much as I can ahead of time, so I just have to throw it all together. I've got a bunch of random Asian sauces, a bunch of blood sausage and some marinara just kind of tucked away, ready to go. You never know when you're going to need some curry paste or blood sausage.
What was the first dish you perfected?
AM: If you asked my mom, it was called Basil Toast, and it was cheddar cheese and basil on a piece of toast, when I was 6, and that was like my go-to. If I was to pick any dish in my career that it was the first dish where it really clicked for me, it was a white-truffle mac and cheese that I made at my first restaurant. I had just become the head chef and I was trying a bunch of different things. And it was the first dish that people were really like, "This is awesome." I spent hours trying to perfect the recipe and get the flavor where I wanted it, and there was a point where I stopped and I was like: "This is what it is. This is perfect." It's the first time I'd really thought to myself: "This is a perfect dish. This is my first perfect dish."
What dish or ingredient will we never catch you eating?
AM: Mayo. I can't stand it. I don’t know what it is.
What's your favorite late-night snack?
AM: So, there is a restaurant in D.C., it's this old French bistro, you can go there in the middle of the night and you can order anything off the menu. We always go there after work and get steak sandwiches. It's just one of those things — it's so simple. It's bread, really good steak and Gruyère cheese. But there's something about it, but that at, like, 3 o'clock in the morning, it just hits the spot every single time. So I love doing that. And if I'm making food myself, I'm a fried rice guy. There's always rice laying around the kitchen. We have a lot of the Thai ingredients, so I do this Vietnamese fried rice for staff meal, and we just suck it up. It's great.
What is one must-have dish at your last supper?
AM: Thai curry
What do you want to say about yourself to fans watching at home?
AM: There's a lot of people that watch Food Network, and they see these chefs on television and they see these chefs in restaurants and they're foodies. And it's a dream of theirs to get to a point where they become a chef or be on television. You can do this. I didn't go to culinary school. I didn't work for any big-name chefs. I loved food, and I watched TV and I studied. And I practiced and I practiced and I practiced. And these people that watch these shows, they can get there. They just have to practice and learn from them. ... I'm doing it because I'm one of them. I'm one of those people that was watching Food Network, and I worked really hard and here I am now.
Rapid fire: Think fast!
Ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise? Mustard
Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate
Bagels or doughnuts? Bagels and butter
Cream cheese or butter? Butter all day long
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Burgers or hot dogs? Burgers
French fries or onion rings? Depends on the french fry and depends on the onion ring. That's like a trick question. I'm between a rock and a hard place. If you're talking about the ultra-crispy, hand-cut fries, I'm going for that. If you're looking at a fast-food fry, pass on that; let's go for an onion ring.
White meat or dark? Dark meat
Cake or pie? Pie
Beer or wine? Beer
French toast or pancakes? Pancakes
Star-a-Day: Arnold Myint
Star-a-Day: Christina Fitzgerald
Star-a-Day: Dominick Tesoriero
Star-a-Day: Eddie Jackson
Star-a-Day: Emilia Cirker
Star-a-Day: Jay Ducote
Star-a-Day: Matthew Grunwald
Star-a-Day: Michelle Karam
Star-a-Day: Rosa Graziano
Star-a-Day: Rue Rusike
Star-a-Day: Sita Lewis
Don't miss the premiere of Food Network Star on Sunday, June 7 at 9|8c.