It was only recently that Star Talk broke the news that an unprecedented 12th season of Food Network Star is set to unfold this summer. For the first time ever, a prequel competition — Comeback Kitchen — will bring together seven past Star contestants for a no-holds-barred battle. The winner of this three-week tournament will join the dozen first-time Food Network Star finalists in the premiere episode on Sunday, May 22 at 9|8c. But before the new season kicks off, we're introducing all 12 of the hopeful rivals in exclusive, one-on-one interviews. Keep checking back every day to meet a new member of the cast. Today we'd like you to meet Aaron Crumbaugh.
Aaron, 36 (Spokane), grew up in a small town and spent a lot of time working on his grandparents’ farm. He learned to cook at the age of 5, when he would make meals for his family. Since graduating culinary school, he’s had a successful career in Chicago working in restaurants, and he's now in Spokane, running his own catering company. Aaron’s determined to go after what he wants, and he wants to be on Food Network!
Describe your culinary POV in one sentence.
Aaron Crumbaugh: I love meat.
Who are you most intimidated to be working with, Bobby or Giada?
AC: Being a chef, definitely Bobby Flay just because, the restaurant, I mean, his name. First off, the restaurants that he has, the quality of chef that I know he is — not to say anything against Giada, but you know, Bobby Flay, just because, I’m a chef. I have a lot of respect for him.
If you could ask one of them to teach you one thing in the kitchen, what would it be?
AC: How do you stay so composed while you’re cooking while you have a camera in your face? [With] all these cameras, how do you do that? ... It’s pretty remarkable just because you see it on TV: "I can totally do that. So, so easy." ... I’ve spent a lot of time — I’ve done modeling and acting and [have] been on The Amazing Race and Cutthroat Kitchen. But this is a whole other animal. ... It’s pretty nuts.
What one thing do you really want to convey to the mentors about who you are?
AC: I had a catering company and then I built the food truck, which specialized in wagyu beef, and ... I became so passionate about wagyu. I joined the American Wagyu Association, started going to all these conferences around the country and meeting ranchers, and then when my wife and I moved out to Spokane from Chicago, I got a job with a ranch in Montana where I was their executive chef, VP of marketing and business development. So, I was going around to restaurants and trying to sell our beef, this wagyu, amazing wagyu beef, and I really saw all the hard work that went in to raising this animal for that steak. ... So many times people go through the grocery store, and they’re just like, "OK, I’m going to get this, this and this." And they have no idea where it comes from, all the effort and blood, sweat, tears that went into it. And that’s really why I’m here — is to make that connection with: "My gosh, this steak, look at this steak. It’s so beautiful, the marbling, tender, just so full of flavor." But then we go, this is how it got here, you know. Here’s the genetics, and here's what they were fed and how long they were fed and the love that these farmers have. ... I want to ... make the connection where a person can go, "Oh, my gosh, I had this steak last night, and here’s the story behind it." I think a lot of chefs are even doing that now with farm-to-table stuff. But let’s take it a step further.
How did you prepare for this competition?
AC: I found out ... and I started watching seasons over. I mean, there is really no way to prepare for it. I mean, it’s part cooking, so if you don’t know how to cook you’re going to be [in trouble] when you get here. If you’re not comfortable in front of the camera ... you’re just thrown into it that; hopefully you can, sort of, make that transition and sort of become comfortable. And hopefully you can, I mean, you got to, you got to do all three things. You got to have personality, the look and then the ability to cook. So, you know, if you can do all three of those things, you’re golden. But it is hard. It is really, really hard.
Win or lose, what's something you want to take away from this contest?
AC: So, first and foremost, I want to have fun. I think with anything in life, if you have fun and enjoy what you’re doing, you’re going to do well. I mean, you’re going to like it. I mean, there’s going to be people here that get in front of the camera and [be] like, "Oh, my gosh, stress, I can’t take this." And they’re not going to do well. But if you can sort of get over that, have fun with it, have fun cooking, then you’re, you’re going to do well. The camera’s going to totally pick that up.
What's your greatest strength in the kitchen?
AC: I think my greatest strength is creativity and the ability to cook meat properly. I can’t even remember the last time that I overcooked or undercooked meat.
What is the strangest thing we'd find in your refrigerator right now?
AC: Spicy pickled cauliflower. I seriously was cleaning out my refrigerator and there was a half-opened thing. I don’t know if my wife bought it — my wife had to have bought it — and I was like, "What the hell is this doing in here?" And I open it up and tried it, [and] I was like: "Oh, it’s not actually that bad. Alright, put it back in."
What do you consider to be your signature dish?
AC: So my time [working] with wagyu — there's a cut. It’s part of the chuck, the chuck roll, next to the short rib. So, the short rib is about yay big, and then there’s this middle cut called the zabuton. Zabuton is Japanese for "pillow," and so it’s in the chuck, so it’s in, like, what you would think would be a tough part of the cow. This, though, on a wagyu, you cook it medium-rare, medium, slice it, it’s like butter. It is awesome. And it’s a relatively cheap cut, and so I do this wagyu zabuton [with] either, like, a sweet potato puree or a regular pommes puree, some onions, mushrooms and then a nice red wine demi-glace. So, yeah, it's, like, just a real meat-and-potatoes dish, and, I mean, that is who I am ... especially coming from the Midwest. ... Growing up, we always had a cow in our freezer.
What's your favorite food city to visit?
AC: Oh, Chicago. I mean, having lived there for ... eight years, it is an amazing food city, from the bars, where you can go in and just get amazing drinks, cocktails, beer, and then these bars serve this awesome bar food, to the fine dining. ... There’s this element of fine dining, there’s this midlevel dining, and then just the regular, I mean, just the corner shop serving gyros or serving burgers.
What dish or ingredient will we never catch you eating?
AC: Monkfish liver. I had it once and I was like, "Oh, my gosh, this is no good." And from then on, every time I see it, I don’t know why they put it on the menu, but sometimes it makes its way on a menu and I’m like: "What the? No. Ugh. Get that away." Monkfish liver, cannot do it. It’s just so fishy.
What's your favorite late-night snack?
AC: A burger ... [is] my go-to late-night meal. I won’t even call it a snack. It’s a meal.
What's your guilty-pleasure food?
AC: Foie. My wife, she won’t eat foie gras, lamb, duck ... so whenever I go out to a restaurant, usually I’ll get a foie gras terrine, or especially if they’re known for it, or seared foie. I love it.
What is one must-have dish at your last supper?
AC: A big ol' steak. Well, not even too big: 8-, 10-ounce rib eye, wagyu rib eye. Done.
What do you want to say about yourself to fans watching at home?
AC: I’m going to cook my butt off, and hopefully when I get in front of that camera, you know, my personality’s going to come through and people will fall in love. ... Just that I’ll have fun, and I hope they like me.
Rapid fire: Think fast!
Ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise? Mustard
Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate
Bagels or doughnuts? I would say neither ... just because it’s too many carbs. There’s a lot of carbs in bagels.
Cream cheese or butter? Butter
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Burgers or hot dogs? Burgers
French fries or onion rings? Onion rings
White meat or dark? Dark
Cake or pie? Pie
French toast or pancakes? Pancakes
Beer or wine? Both. You can’t take away beer or wine from me. You can have water. ... I’ll take beer and wine.
Star-a-Day: Ana Quincoces
Star-a-Day: Damiano Carrara
Star-a-Day: Erin Campbell
Star-a-Day: Havird Usry
Star-a-Day: Jernard Wells
Star-a-Day: Joy Thompson
Star-a-Day: Melissa Pfeister
Star-a-Day: Monterey Salka
Star-a-Day: Rob Burmeister
Star-a-Day: Yaku Moton-Spruill
Don't miss the premiere of Food Network Star, Season 12 on Sunday, May 22 at 9|8c.