The finale of Food Network Star — wow. It has been a long journey to this point, and I have genuinely enjoyed getting to know the finalists far more intensively than ever before. It has been a privilege to watch them spread their wings, make mistakes, be humbled, be exhilarated, reboot and then finally arrive at the final three.
When the finalists walk out, I am struck by how different each one is from the other. Jernard, the self-described "chef of love," is such an affable, loving Creole-cooking chef. Damiano, our resident Italian prince, has such an elevated idea of food. He has great cooking chops and can make both Mexican and Italian food with such ease. He can also bake a mean cake and whip up fab gelato from ice pops — a critical skill set for a Star! Tregaye is all about mixing fun and food. She feeds off food trends and represents what's new and exciting (#OnFleek) in the food world. She also happens to back it up with great, flavorful cooking.
On social media, I have received tons of mixed emotions about who should win. Just so you know: I pegged Jernard, Lunch Lady Rob, Ana and Tregaye as my potential winners a few weeks ago. We all pick a food star we identify with — someone who represents what we feel about food. I see myself as a burrito that contains a pinch of each of these finalists. And now for the winner: Tregaye. In a way, I am not surprised. She really dominated the last few weeks of the competition. And she wanted to win so badly. Everyone who competes does. And then there's just someone who wants it that tiny smidgen more than the others. That little smidgen makes all the difference.
I thought I'd make a little list of gems and tidbits I've collected along the way from my experiences on Food Network, and Tregaye, finalists, readers, take from it what helps and inspires you!
1. When I filmed my daytime cooking show Alex's Day Off, Bobby Flay produced and was on set the very first day. Can you say nervous? I was a wreck. I had four cups of coffee by 6 a.m.! He arrived with mirrored sunglasses on. He looked #OnFleek but like the Food Network quality-control police. He honestly scared me. "You picked out this outfit?" He asked. "Uh, yes!" I gulped. "Good. You have to like what you're wearing. It's deeply connected to how you feel on camera. Try not to let anyone dress you in a way that doesn't feel 100 percent you." My outfit? Really? I'm always so busy worrying about what to say and how to talk about food. Can a jacket or a pair of pants make the difference? The answer: absolutely!
2. About a year later, I met Rachael Ray. She is as warm and gracious off camera as she is on. And she's such a pro. She manages to teach and, to me, be so human and real at the same time. I asked her secret. She thought for a minute and said: "Well, I have one cardinal rule. When you're on TV, sometimes you gotta just smile for no reason at all." It is amazing what a smile can convey. Try it. A few extra smiles when talking about food or a place that inspires you. People can feel that good energy through the TV screen! It makes them want to cook and eat. It also makes them watch!
3. Bobby insists that if you "know your stuff," you can cook your way through or out of any situation. And I agree. There is no substitute for expertise. But what about personality? So crucial. When I met Giada De Laurentiis for the first time, she said: "I always ask myself if I want to watch the person cooking or talking. Are they making me feel invested? I want my viewers invested!" She flashes her signature grin. To Giada, a fun personality and smarts are where it's at. Tregaye, you have that in spades. In fact, I think your culinary point of view is not a specific culture or a body of recipes. It's "fusing food and fun together," and you can make that happen anywhere.
4. Don't be afraid to show and share some of yourself with viewers. Duff Goldman is the king of that. No pun intended: He doesn't sugarcoat himself. We see his flaws. We celebrate his strengths. We eat cake. When he chews cake, I can't wait to hear what he has to say about it. He is a true expert. I don't think Duff ever calls his work "work." He truly does what he loves. The same is so true of you, Tregaye.
5. Watch TV!!! Silly as it sounds, I watch lots of Food Network. I love to see what other talent are up to and see where my voice fits into the conversation. I love watching The Pioneer Woman at home with her family. I enjoy seeing what Ina Garten will be cooking up for Jeffrey. I love Trisha Yearwood's show and her Facebook "coffee talk" segments. In fact, I'm working up the nerve to ask Trisha for a singing lesson.
6. Believe in yourself. You started out "cute" and grew into a personality that is so much more layered as the season progressed. If a dish you're making doesn't work out, channel Julia Child and keep on cooking. If you find yourself at a loss for words, take a deep breath, pause and keep going! Confidence can get you anywhere you need to go.
7. Live, eat, sleep and breathe food. If you immerse your energy in the topic, it will totally pay off! I feel Alton Brown embodies this. When he sips coffee and eats a doughnut, he is able to convey his pleasure but also share his wide body of knowledge and understanding of food chemistry. From Good Eats to Cutthroat Kitchen, his love affair with the magic of food continues. He inspires me to know more and learn more. I can't tell you how many times I ended up applying technique I read about or ate or cooked in a dish along the way. Life is your oyster, so eat it!
8. Final piece of advice: Relax and enjoy it! I know ... easier said than done. Round those corners with boundless energy for the topic. Be excited. Take your "princess bite," as Guy Fieri said, share what you're tasting and keep on keepin' on! From DDD to GGG, Guy has such fun with food — and people. You have that ability, too, Tregaye. I can't wait to see what you do!
#FoodNetworkStar #OnFleek #Tregaye