The nature of the Food Network Star beast is such that no matter how much mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis have to teach the finalists, their time is limited, which means they're forced to make quick decisions about who has the greatest potential for success. Week after week finalists will fall in a series of eliminations, and following each gut-wrenching exit, we here at Star Talk will bring you insider interviews with the fallen hopefuls. If you haven't watched the latest episode, don't read any further until you do, because we're about to break down the show and talk to the person sent home.
Live TV isn't easy — even for the pros — but the team of Cao Tran endured quite the struggle during her hosting gig alongside Sunny Anderson and fellow finalist Amy. What started out as a strong demo quickly went downhill when she suddenly went silent. And if that wasn't bad enough, she then dipped the immersion blender in a shallow bowl, all but guaranteeing a mess as the avocado splattered. Her salad, inspired by a traditional beef taco, though flavorful, according to the judges, wasn't exactly a taco. "It's not a taco without a shell," Giada said simply. Ultimately, her missteps this week were enough to cost her the competition. Read on below to hear from her in an exclusive interview.
What three words best describe how you felt when you found out you'd be leaving?
Cao Tran: Unamused. Not surprised. I was okay with it.
Why were you not surprised?
CT: The whole time I felt there was a lot going on, and things went ways that I predicted, so it was just one of those things. I stayed true to who I was, and I wasn’t going to change that in any way, and that might not be part of the way someone wants someone to play the competition. But I stayed true, and that’s all that matters.
Do you stand by your taco salad and the live performance you did with Amy?
CT: For the most part, through all of the challenges, I always knew that I could do better. These are extenuating circumstances half the time. This is not how I cook, this is not how I operate, and I know that that is a fast track Food Network Star. Either I was going to learn it or I don’t, and like it or don’t. With the last presentation, obviously, I can always do better.
Talk me through your process for the last challenge. Where do you think you went wrong?
CT: I made a last-minute decision, and that’s how I do things anyway, and whether it is beneficial or not, it was my decision, so I’m going to own up to it. I’m not going to regret anything that I did, because I did them. I think it represented who I was. It wasn’t something they enjoyed, and that’s okay, because it’s something I’ve made before that I enjoy, and I was myself the whole time.
In your own words, how would you explain what this competition is really like?
CT: I think this competition requires a variety of things, a lot of things that I never really considered. It wasn’t what I expected, and I learned a lot from it. But at the end of the day, there are a lot of things firing at once, and I came to realize that it’s a dream, of course, but it’s not the ultimate dream for me.
Is there one piece of mentor feedback that you’re always going to remember and keep with you?
CT: The one thing Bobby said is that there are moments I looked like I was having fun, and, I was, because I didn’t put on an act. Who I am on camera is who I am off camera. There’s no showboating about it, and I feel like they saw who I really was. It’s not necessarily the way a personality has to be, but I’m not going to compromise that, so that feedback of them being able to see who I am and things that I contributed as myself is the most important thing.
What was the greatest piece of advice they gave you?
CT: I think the greatest piece of advice, from day 1, was to be authentic. And I think that I stayed with that and I stuck with that.
Who did you learn the most from in terms of the mentors or the guests?
CT: To be honest, I think I learned the most from the other competitors. We’re put in this situation, in this competition, coming from different backgrounds, and it shows that you can never really judge a book by its cover. There’s so much more to each person, and everyone had different styles. And before, you don’t think they could ever go together and be woven together, but I feel like all of our stories are woven together now, and that’s actually the best thing that I’ve learned from this.
What were your most- and least-favorite challenges?
CT: I think my most-favorite challenge was the first one where I got to really present myself and introduce myself and cook something that was familiar to me. My least-favorite — there were a lot of team challenges, and it’s not that I can’t work within a team, but that there are so many more variables to that. You’re already having to deal with everything around you, and then on top of that, monitoring everyone else. I love working within a team. It’s just sometimes the criteria, the judging, was not within those boundaries.
Fill in the blanks with your fellow finalists' names.
_____ is the class clown? Trace and myself.
_____ is the quietest? Jason.
_____ is the most daring? I would say myself, but that’s outside the competition. That’s just in life.
_____ has the best recipes? Cory.
_____ is going to win this whole thing? Cory or Addie.
What was the most-rewarding moment of this competition for you?
CT: I’m proud of what I did. I know this is like a broken record, but I stayed true to myself. I didn’t try to throw anyone under the bus, I didn’t play dirty, I didn’t get caught up in the competition. I just took my own path and did it that way.
When you and the other finalists had a chance to hang out behind the scenes, how would you spend that downtime?
CT: For the most part, we talked about a lot of fake scenarios, like creating worlds within worlds. We joked and we came up with a lot of great ideas that will never happen, but we’d bounce off each other, and it was kind of like a little comedy troupe, to be honest.
What’s next for you? What’re you gong home to?
CT: I don’t know, because I tied up a lot of loose ends before coming on to Food Network Star, so it’s kind of open right now. Food will always be a big part of my life, but I hope to explore other things too, because there are no limitations and you can do what you want. And that’s another thing I want to prove too. This is one thing to conquer, and there are so many other things too, and why not try them and then go back to what you truly love and care about? You won’t know until you try them all.
Who are you rooting for?
CT: I’m rooting for Addie, because I feel like she could have just stepped right on camera and done it. I’m kind of on the other spectrum of things, where I’m not as polished and I’m just a wild card sometimes. So, for sure, Addie, because I feel like she has the experience, she has the desire and she has a presence.
Tune in to Food Network Star on Sundays at 9|8c.