Matthew Grunwald is no stranger to the Food Network Star rodeo, having competed in (and lost) in both the Season 11 contest and last year's premiere iteration of Comeback Kitchen. Just a few weeks ago, he returned to Comeback Kitchen for a second time and earned the win. Following challenge victories in all three episodes and advancing to the final two with rival Jamika Pessoa, Matthew delivered a game-changing performance in the Comeback Kitchen finale, ultimately securing him the coveted ticket back to Food Network Star.
We caught up with him to chat about all the action on Comeback Kitchen and his strategy looking ahead to Food Network Star. Read on below for an exclusive interview.
Tell me about the final challenge on Comeback Kitchen. What was your goal in executing your dinner-party menu, and do you feel like you accomplished it?
MG: In Comeback Kitchen this year, I did really well consistently, and so it was almost the mindset of it was mine to lose. And finishing strong was the motive. Tyler kept saying, "Slide into home plate, bottom of the ninth inning." And I get that because had I dropped the ball, this very well could be Jamika talking to you right now. Because if she won a competition, I won a competition, and going into this last competition, I feel like I had a little bit of an edge, but the pressure was so on that I feel like it actually would have been a downfall had I dropped the ball, cause it would have shown Tyler and Valerie that under pressure I would cave. So I really had to finish strong.
What did it feel like to learn that you'd be getting a second chance at Star? What was going through your mind when you found out you won?
MG: I was so fired up. I was so ready for Food Network Star to start because there’s such a momentum and it all finally clicked, which is really exciting cause it’s fun to be able to do something when you get good at it. ... And obviously there’s room for improvement, and coming in [to Food Network Star], anything Bobby and Giada say to me I’m going to be so open and malleable to, because I’m here to do what they say. They’re my manager, and I want to get hired because this is truly like the opportunity and job interview of a lifetime. And I should know because in this last year, trying to get a show without doing this show and doing well on it is next near to impossible. So, I feel like this really kind of lifts you out of that whole system and really just propels you forward.
What was the level of competition like on Comeback Kitchen compared to your last Star appearance?
MG: Much higher. I feel like everyone was really elevated, especially Jamika. I feel she was my biggest competitor, and I was surprised she made it to the final two with me. She was very excellent. I still feel like in the food arena I had that in spades and really not dominated but really excelled and my restaurant training really consistently showed up. But I feel like there was a really huge hunger that kept me on my toes, because everybody was so good and wanted it so badly.
What was the greatest piece of feedback that Tyler and Valerie gave you that you'll be bringing with you into Food Network Star?
MG: Food first. Talk about food, talk about your recipe and then when I’m describing the procedure of a dish, use personal memories and stories to liaison to the next ingredient.
With so much on the line, how are you feeling going into Season 13? Do you think more is expected of you because of your Comeback Kitchen win?
MG: Sure, I feel like there’s this sustainability this time. I feel like there’s a winning spirit with sustainability coming into this competition, because I feel well-practiced. At the end of the day, if the key components to be able to do this job are there but they’re all not harmoniously working, then you have a machine that doesn’t work. But this time I feel like everything clicked and I came through lots of practice. ... This wasn’t an offshoot plan. This has really been the goal and the motive even when I was little, and our objective was to get on Food Network Star. But I’m so excited, cause Food Network Star the first time, I blew it. ... I feel like maturity was definitely an issue, and I don’t think I was ready for it at that time. I feel like it was a blessing in disguise because it really showed me some issues that needed to be corrected. And now moving forward, it’s sunny and exciting, and I’m super jazzed.
How, if at all, will you change your strategy this time around on Food Network Star?
MG: I feel like this time around is so different. I feel like in times past the desire and the huger to have this have always been there and it’s only amplified as time continued. But this time around, it feels so much different, like there’s a genuine excitement. There’s not an oh-no-what-am-I-going-to-talk-about? I really feel like this could definitely be my year, which is very exciting
Do you think you have an advantage over the other Star finalists, because you know how Bobby and Giada work and what they're looking for?
MG: I feel like I’ve already gotten my feet wet and I know what the temperature of the pool is like. And so this is going to be my eighth competition show with Food Network, and so I feel like I really have a good grasp on the format and what is expected, and I feel like there is a new stamina here that is going to be like a locomotive engine.
Tune in to Food Network Star on Sundays at 9|8c.