All Posts By Maria Russo

Maria Russo is an online editor at FoodNetwork.com, covering top-tier show and talent packages and managing the FN Dish and Star Talk blogs. She grew up in a tight-knit Italian family in Michigan, where food was the focus of most conversations and it wasn't unusual to talk about the next day’s lunch and dinner menus while eating breakfast. Maria graduated from Barnard College in 2012 and currently lives in New York City. She likes her pasta cheesy, her eggs runny and her oysters briny.

Star-a-Day: Matthew Grunwald

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, June 5, 2017

Food Network StarMatthew Grunwald has become something of a Food Network Star regular in the last few years. After his first stint in the competition back in Season 11, which ultimately ended in a Week 2 elimination, he returned for a shot at redemption on Comeback Kitchen last year, but ultimately he didn't claim victory. This year, however, he returned to the Comeback Kitchen arena, more primed than ever for a win — and he did it. He out-performed Jamika Pessoa in the Comeback Kitchen, Season 2 finale and earned a spot among the Season 13 cast of Food Network Star. Read on below to learn more about Matthew.

Read more

One-on-One with the Winner of Comeback Kitchen

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, June 5, 2017

Food Network StarMatthew 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.

Read more

One-on-One with the First Food Network Star Finalist to Go Home

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, June 4, 2017

Food Network StarThe 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.

Read more

Robert and Monti Talk the Making of a Food Network Star

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, Judges, June 1, 2017

Food Network StarOn Sunday's Food Network Star premiere (set a reminder for 9|8c!), mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis will dole out what has the potential to be the most-important challenge of the season: the task of auditioning for them in person and on the plate in order to officially become finalists. Guest judges Robert Irvine and Monti Carlo will be on hand both to guide the competitors as they work through nerves and an immeasurable amount of pressure, and also to help Bobby and Giada as the mentors look out for early glimmers of Star power.

We caught up with Robert and Monti about Sunday's episode, and both noted the enormity of the competition. They're no strangers to all-important experiences, and their been-there advice will be key for the finalists as they hope to move forward. Read on below for an exclusive interview.

There's so much on the line in this competition, and all of the finalists want to make a strong first impression. What are some dos and don’ts for succeeding in something like this?
Robert Irvine: Well, I think succeeding in Food Network Star is two-fold. It’s not only the food — yes, the food, it’s Food Network — but I think you really have to impress the judges on who you are. You can’t pretend to be somebody else. You have to let your personality shine through right from the beginning. You can’t warm up and get to it. You have to get to it day one, cause if you don’t, you’re losing already. So I think what I would say to the contestants is: "Listen, put it all out on the line immediately. Don’t wait, cause if you, do you’ll fail. You’ll be going home."

Monti Carlo: In life, it’s always best to spread joy, especially if you’re a Food Network Star. Really what it all boils down to is people watch what you do because it gives them joy. So, my only suggestion for anybody entering this game is, spread joy and believe in yourself. Because you wouldn’t be here if somebody that is really important didn’t think it was worth it.

Read more

Giada Reveals Why Food Network Star Is So Hard and What Finalists Should Do Before They Get Here

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, Judges, May 31, 2017

Food Network Star"I believe that I can see more of the heart and soul of a person. Where he sees it through their cooking, I see it in their eyes," Giada De Laurentiis says of the differences in the way she and Bobby Flay judge Food Network Star finalists. This judge-mentor duo is set to kick off Season 13 on Sunday, June 4 (at 9|8c), and immediately Giada and Bobby will be tasked with looking for the first glimmers of stardom among this year's hopefuls, both in person and on the plate.

In this brand-new, exclusive interview, Giada tells us how important it is for the finalists to enter the competition with a true sense of self, though she admits, "sometimes it takes a lifetime to get there." Read on below for her thoughts on self-confidence as well as some of the mistakes she's willing to overlook.

In recent years on Food Network Star, many of the challenges have been focused on digital trends and presentations. Have you changed the criteria you judge against as the show has evolved?
Giada De Laurentiis: I think TV has just changed with social media, but I don’t think that changes the fact that we’re looking for someone to be on television; we’re not looking for someone to do social media or to do a digital show. So, no, I don’t think the criteria have really changed at all. And we’re still looking for someone who has the skills to cook and someone who translates on camera, who connects. I think connection on social media is totally different than connection on television.

Read more

“Honesty, Tough Love and True Advice” — Bobby Shares What He Can Offer the Food Network Star Finalists

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, Judges, May 30, 2017

Food Network StarJust like his fellow Food Network Star mentor Giada De Laurentiis, Bobby Flay is the very kind of Star the finalists are hoping to become. When Season 13 kicks off on Sunday, June 4 (mark your calendars for a 9|8c premiere), an all-new crop of competitors will be looking to him for the kind of been-there-done-that advice and guidance that only he can offer, a mix of "honesty, tough love and true advice," he told us recently. To him, the secret to success in this contest, which essentially acts as an 11-week job interview for one of the most-coveted positions in the culinary industry, is simple. "They should avoid trying to be anybody else that’s already on the network," explained Bobby, who stressed the importance of individuality when it comes to leaving a positive impression on both him and Giada.

Read on below for to get more of Bobby's take on what's ahead on Food Network Star this season, plus his thoughts on his own evolution on TV and beyond.

You've said before that you tend to demand excellence in cooking more so than on camera. Why is that skill set especially important?
Bobby Flay: I always use this opportunity to find somebody who’s going to add something to the true flavor of the network. And by that, I mean what the food tastes like and what it looks like.

Read more

Star-a-Day: Trace Barnett

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, April 28, 2017

Trace BarnettIt 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 Trace Barnett.

Known for his Southern twist on deliciously quick and easy recipes, Trace, 27, holds a degree in food and nutrition from the University of Alabama. Working as an event planner, Trace handles everything from intimate dinners for two to exuberant weddings for hundreds. Trace is also the founder of a culinary and lifestyle blog, and he teaches online cooking classes. Trace’s mission is to make cooking and entertaining accessible to the masses.

Describe your culinary POV in one sentence.
Trace Barnett: My culinary point of view is budget-friendly, schedule-conscious and very consistent with Southern fare, but in a lighter, fresher way.

Read more

Star-a-Day: Toya Boudy

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, April 27, 2017

Food Network StarIt 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 Toya Boudy.

A personal chef and mother of three, Toya, 34, exemplifies her native city of New Orleans, not just through her Cajun and Creole cuisine, but with her zest for life and personality. Growing up surrounded by parents who cooked traditional New Orleans food, Toya started practicing in the kitchen by the age of eight and was previously a culinary instructor at a local cooking school. From her deep-fried catfish to her bananas foster with fried cake and ice cream, this firecracker of a chef empowers viewers to have fun with their food.

Describe your culinary POV in one sentence.
Toya Boudy: Cajun and Creole cuisine made simple.

Read more

Star-a-Day: Suzanne Lossia

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, April 26, 2017

Food Network StarIt 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 Suzanne Lossia.

Suzanne, 42, is a first-generation Chaldean-American born and raised in Detroit. Growing up the only girl among four children, Suzanne participated in all the family cooking starting at the age of 10. This single mother of two loves to entertain and bring friends together for all occasions with her Middle Eastern dishes. Suzanne is an author, operates a charity and was previously a winner on Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen.

Describe your culinary POV in one sentence.
Suzanne Lossia: Turning Middle Eastern into American flare, turning it into an American way of looking at it, because when you go into Middle Eastern, you don’t even really know what that is, but I have a way of twisting it so you know what it looks like when you’re eating it.

Read more

Star-a-Day: Rusty Hamlin

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, April 25, 2017

Food Network StarIt 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 Rusty Hamlin.

Rusty's love of food started as a child, soaking up Cajun flavors in Louisiana. A Culinary Arts Institute of Louisiana graduate and a Georgia resident, Rusty’s cooking is rooted in Southern flavor. As the Executive Chef for three-time Grammy Award-winning Zac Brown Band and executive chef and partner of a restaurant in Smyrna, Georgia, Rusty truly does it all. Although he is known for his big-hearted personality and making those around him laugh, Rusty will show just how serious he is to be the next Food Network Star.

Describe your culinary POV in one sentence.
Rusty Hamlin: I am a Southern-inspired chef with Louisiana Cajun Creole roots who goes around the country and does what I call cooking off the cuff — whatever’s local and whatever’s coming out of the ground, the sea, the refrigerator, the cabinets is what we’re going to make an amazing meal with.

Read more