It was just last week that we here at Star Talk broke the news about the upcoming season of Food Network Star, which kicks off on Sunday, June 4 at 9|8c. Among a crop of talented hopefuls judge-mentors extraordinaire Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis will search for that one contender who has the coveted combo of culinary chops and on-camera charm. Each of the 12 finalists comes to the Star stage with unique personalities and kitchen experiences, and in the coming days, we'll introduce you to all of them. Today we'd like you to meet Cory Bahr.
Growing up in a small town in Louisiana, Cory, 40, inherited a passion for the great outdoors and cooking. At 16, Cory discovered his love for cooking while taking a job waiting tables, and he has been in the restaurant industry ever since. Named the “King of Louisiana Seafood” in 2011, Cory is a restauranteur, private chef and owner of a catering company, and he has been named Food & Wine’s “People’s Best New Chef.” No one can resist Cory’s Southern charm, or his cooking!
Describe your culinary POV in one sentence.
Cory Bahr: My culinary point of view is seasonal, regional, as local as you can get. Just keeping it simple, stupid.
What would you most like to learn from Bobby and Giada, be it something in the kitchen or on camera?
CB: What I really want to learn is how to have a better presence. How to get my point of view across. Spending 2o years in a professional kitchen, running my own operations — I’ve seen it all, I’ve done it all. But [I want] to really express myself and share my passion for Southern food and hospitality. And I really think they’re going to be able to help me get that point across.
What do you think is the most-valuable thing you could teach a Food Network viewer?
CB: I think the value of using local, seasonal ingredients. I know it’s been preached about, and you see it everywhere — farm to table — but I’m not really talking about farm to table. I’m talking about your region to your table and teaching people that that is the only sustainable way to eat in the future and it’s the best way to eat. I was raised by my grandparents, and that’s the way we ate out of necessity, not because it was something cool or something being written about. It’s just the way it was. And I think that we really, as a nation, have to get back to eating healthy, regional things that are in season in order to preserve our culinary heritage and live a good, healthy life.
How did you prepare for this competition?
CB: It’s funny, I didn’t prepare for the competition. ... I don’t watch a lot of TV. I do watch Food Network a good bit, but I did not prepare for it by watching a bunch of episodes. I do think that being who I am, I’ve either got to be the right fit, or I’m not.
Which part of this contest — the cooking or the camera work — intimidates you the most? Please explain.
CB: Nothing about the competition really intimidates me, besides my competition. I think that’s going to be the deciding factor there. I need a lot of things to go my way to win. But obviously I feel like I’ve got what it takes culinarily, and certainly I could walk people through a recipe. And I’m certainly excited about food. So I think that will come through. All I’ve got to do is get the contestants to cooperate so I can win this.
Win or lose, what do you want to take away from this experience?
CB: This experience means a lot to me. At this point in my career, I’m really testing myself and trying to reinvent who I am. I’m trying to seek a better me, a new me, and this competition is obviously the vehicle that’s going to allow me to do that.
What does the term "Food Network Star" represent to you?
CB: The term "Food Network Star" means a lot. Obviously it’s a shot at getting to share my point of view, my culinary heritage with the rest of the world. So to win this would be a culmination of over 20 years of work and be a huge honor.
What's your greatest strength in the kitchen?
CB: I’m not afraid to use new and bold flavors. In the kitchen, what’s going to set me apart is my use of flavors — big, bold flavors — and keeping it simple. To me, it’s about not showing how smart I am on a plate, but showing you how well I can make a dish taste.
What is the strangest thing we'd find in your refrigerator right now?
CB: The strangest thing in my fridge is this light mayonnaise. I mean, my God, I’m a Southerner. Give me Duke’s Mayonnaise. But I went on this kick where I was like, "You know, I’m going to eat really healthy and I’m going to try this light mayonnaise." And man, I used it once, and it just did not work.
Let's say it's a regular Tuesday night and you're at home. What are you having for dinner?
CB: I’m a noodle freak at home. So I’m making pho or ramen or really simple pastas at home all the time.
What do you consider to be your signature dish?
CB: People ask me all the time. Like, "Cory, what’s your signature dish?" And I don’t really have a signature dish. I cook food that doesn’t suck. That’s what I try to do. I think if you say, "This is my signature dish," then you’re tied to it all the time. And being a restauranteur, if you just stick to that, you’re not evolving, you’re not creating new things and you’re not pushing your boundaries.
What dish or ingredient will you simply not eat?
CB: I have never met a food I wouldn’t eat. I’ve eaten it all. I mean, being from Louisiana, we eat some strange stuff to begin with, so you know, I love it, from uni to foie gras to those big, creepy geoducks. I love it all, and I like it raw too. I’ve never met something that I don’t like.
What's your favorite guilty pleasure food?
CB: I am not above eating nachos or a hot dog at the movie theater. For me, I may be over there with my hat pulled down chomping on a hot dog. But, you know, I like all those things. Those are Americana to me. It’s really comforting to have those kinds of disgusting foods.
What's one dish you have to have at your last supper?
CB: If it was the end of days for me and it was the last thing I was ever going to eat, [then I'd say] my grandfather’s fish fry. ... He just turned 93 [on] January 2, [and] we were fishing the Mississippi River catching these beautiful catfish. We always look forward to his hush puppies and fried catfish. And that would be my ideal last supper. But for dessert, I would have to have my grandmother’s pineapple upside down cake.
What do you want to say about yourself to fans watching at home?
CB: That's a strange one. When you’re asked to talk about yourself, you kind of sound over blown, but I hope that everybody enjoys watching me share my point of view and my culinary sensibility and really speaking from the heart. I’m going to go out there and work my butt off for the fans, and make sure that I show them who I am and show them a good time. And [I] hope that they pull for me to be the next Food Network Star.
What's your greatest piece of technical advice for aspiring cooks?
CB: Keep it simple, stupid. I know that a lot of times, especially in these days, you see plates with 20 ingredients on them or things like that, and that’s OK for some chefs that have legions of cooks and the ability to do that. But I believe that the most-intelligent thing you can do as a young cook is to keep it simple and focus on the quality of the ingredients. And don’t forget to use salt!
What's the first dish aspiring cooks should master?
CB: I’m old school, so when you think about mastering, something like an omelet, to me, is the key. You see it all from David Kinch to Jacque Pepin. That is really a test of being able to execute something well. It's old school, I know, but I’m an old-school guy, and that’s something that you have to be able to do properly, and it shows a lot of technique and also a lot of touch. And finesse is something that either you have or you don’t have. So being able to execute an old-school omelet like that is something that’s very technically sound and would show that you’re proficient as a cook.
Mark your calendar for the premiere of Food Network Star on Sunday, June 4 at 9|8c.