All Posts By Maria Russo

Maria Russo is an associate editor at Food Network, now living in New York City after being born and raised in the great state of Michigan. She likes her eggs runny, her pasta cheesy and has been known to throw back dozens of oysters at a time.

Star-a-Day: Reuben Ruiz

by in Community, Food Network Star, May 15, 2014

Reuben RuizReuben Ruiz, 27, grew up in a traditional Cuban family that owns restaurants, and he started working in kitchens when he was just 10 years old. After struggling with his weight for many years, he now specializes in healthy dishes with a Latin influence, and he's honest, outspoken and high energy with a strong work ethic. Read on below to hear from Reuben, and learn about his style of cooking and thoughts on the competition.

Describe your cooking style or culinary point of view — in one sentence, if you can.
Reuben: The flavors of Miami — I want to bring those to the limelight. The tropical cuisine of the Caribbean, and Central America and the flavors that we have over there. But also with a healthier perspective on life as well. Most people don't know I've lost a hundred pounds, and I did so naturally. And I've been able to maintain it, more importantly, now for seven years.

What are you most looking forward to in this experience?
Reuben: I think more so the critiques that I'm going to get from the judges. I think any critiques help you grow as a person, as an individual as well. And hopefully be able to take that and make my business better as well.

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Star-a-Day: Nicole Gaffney

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, May 14, 2014

Nicole GaffneyNicole Gaffney, 29, isn’t just another personal chef — her magnetic personality and innate culinary talent set her apart from the crowd. She grew up cooking with her Sicilian grandparents and comes from a family of commercial fishermen, and her "coastal cuisine" take on food is heavily influenced by her family and growing up in a seaside town. Read on below to hear from Nicole, and learn about her style of cooking and thoughts on the competition.

What are you most looking forward to in this experience?
Nicole: Learning. Yeah. I'm really looking forward to learning. Just with the other competitors alone, I think there's so much each of us can take away from the other person — not just in terms of cooking knowledge, because there's a ton of stuff to be learned there, but just about life in general and TV presence. This whole experience — the things that we can take away from the judges and the mentors ... I feel like what I'm going to know when this is all said and done versus what I knew going into it is going to be monumental.

How did you prepare for the competition?
Nicole: I definitely tried to hone up on my recipes. I reference recipes all the time. I feel like if I was thrown into a kitchen and had to wing it, I would be alright, but I wanted to really memorize certain things, especially when it comes to baking. I don't know if there's going to be any baking challenges, and that kind of stuff has to be pretty precise. Whether it's a half a teaspoon of baking powder or a teaspoon of baking soda can totally make a difference in what you're baking, so I wanted to make sure that I had some really solid stuff in my head ready to go. I tried to watch some past seasons and listen to some of the critiques that the judges gave.

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Star-a-Day: Luca Della Casa

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, May 13, 2014

Luca Della CasaLuca Della Casa, 38, was born in Italy and is an adventurous, rugged outdoorsman with a passion for food. He worked his way up from dishwasher to executive chef, and he is determined to bring people together around a table to share food, Italian style. Read on below to hear from Luca, and learn about his style of cooking and thoughts on the competition.

Describe your cooking style or culinary point of view — in one sentence, if you can.
Luca: My point in my culinary view is what I learned from my grandma. That means very simple recipes, a good knife and the freshest ingredients. That makes the most-amazing meal.

How did you prepare for the competition?
Luca: Well, yes. I went to see some old seasons of the show. I was aware of the show and I saw episodes of it, but I didn't know it perfectly, so I thought I better go back and see everything they do, what they ask them to do. And so that's what I did, and try to put my thoughts together.

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Star-a-Day: Loreal Gavin

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, May 12, 2014

Loreal GavinLoreal Gavin, 26, is motorcycle-riding, guitar-playing chick who loves tattoos, and she's been trained in culinary arts, baking and pastry. She was raised by her grandmother, who taught her to cook from her soul. Read on below to hear from Loreal, and learn about her style of cooking and thoughts on the competition.

Describe your cooking style or culinary point of view — in one sentence, if you can.
Loreal: I have a grandmother's soul from the Deep South and an insatiable lust for adventure.

How did you prepare for the competition?
Loreal: I didn't. I just knew that I had to come in here and be myself.

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Star-a-Day: Lenny McNab

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, May 11, 2014

Lenny McNabLenny McNab, 42, is a one-of-a-kind gourmet cowboy with over-the-top confidence and culinary skills. He trained in Germany and is now the executive chef at a hunting ranch. With his signature hat, belt buckle and boots, you can’t miss Lenny in a crowd — and he is ready to bring his unique take on food to the rest of the country. Read on below to hear from Lenny, and learn about his style of cooking and thoughts on the competition.

Describe your cooking style or culinary point of view — in one sentence, if you can.
Lenny: My culinary point of view is to bring back the traditional ways of the cowboy cook.

What are you most looking forward to taking away from this experience?
Lenny: The thing I think I'm most looking forward to in taking away from this experience is the recognition of being out there in an elite association of chefs, restaurateurs, hoteliers that have made it big enough so that their name gets noticed, because I imagine anybody that does something like this has a touch of an ego.

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Star-a-Day: Kenny Lao

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, May 10, 2014

Kenny LaoKenny Lao, 36, grew up making Chinese dumplings with his mom, and his passion for that signature dish led to the creation of his fast-casual restaurant business. He wants to take the intimidation out of cooking and share how to make food that is simple but delicious. Read on below to hear from Kenny, and learn about his style of cooking and thoughts on the competition.

Describe your cooking style or culinary point of view — in one sentence, if you can.
Kenny: Fast and casual

What are you most looking forward to in this experience?
Kenny: I love playing games, and I love puzzles, and I love competitions and sorting things out. Not even the takeaway, but just the experience itself is so awesome — just to be into this intense, totally immersive game.

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Star-a-Day: Emma Frisch

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, May 9, 2014

Emma FrischEmma Frisch, 30, is the girl next door who has traveled the world, and she has family members on five continents. Now residing in upstate New York, Emma is a food blogger and business owner, and she believes anyone can become a good cook. Read on below to hear from Emma, and learn about her style of cooking and thoughts on the competition.

Describe your cooking style or culinary point of view — in one sentence, if you can.
Emma: My culinary point of view is that anyone can become a more natural and confident cook by learning how to make American comfort food and freshening classic recipes with their own twists. And the way they learn how to do that is simplifying their shopping and finding the best-tasting ingredients at the best prices and freshest ingredients.

What are you most looking forward to in this experience?
Emma: What I'm most looking forward to taking away is new friendships that I will make with the other finalists. I think that I'm going to learn a lot from everyone here. And I want to have a great time. I feel like this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and a total adventure. And the way they learn how to do that is simplifying their shopping and finding the freshest, best-tasting ingredients at the best prices.

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Star-a-Day: Donna Sonkin Shaw

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, May 8, 2014
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Donna Sonkin ShawDonna Sonkin Shaw, 42, is dedicated to making health and nutrition taste delicious. She believes eating properly leads to overall health inside and out. She is a certified holistic health coach who works privately with clients, and her twist on healthy comfort food delivers the flavor and satisfaction to keep anyone on track. Read on below to hear from Donna, and learn about her style of cooking and thoughts on the competition.

Describe your cooking style or culinary point of view — in one sentence, if you can.
Donna: My culinary point of view is healthy comfort food. ... I like to say I put the good in the bad and the bad in the good because I feel that people always want real flavor: butter and bacon and chocolate and things like that. There are two of us that come to the table when we come to eat. There's the part that wants pure pleasure, then the part that knows that what we eat becomes our body. So we're also eating for our vibrancy and health, so I try to satiate both sides.

What are you most looking forward to about in this experience?
Donna: All of the feedback from the mentors. I know that there's always room for improvement. I'm excited about making new friends. I'm a very social person. And I love the opportunity to spread my message and help people.

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Star-a-Day: Christopher Lynch

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, May 7, 2014
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Christopher LynchChristopher Lynch, 39, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, spent time working with some of the country’s finest restaurateurs and has become a rock star chef in his own right. Christopher carved his own food path with a modern take on the Cajun and Creole cuisine of his adopted hometown of New Orleans. Read on below to hear from Christopher, and learn about his style of cooking and thoughts on the competition.

Describe your cooking style or culinary point of view — in one sentence, if you can.
Christopher: My culinary point of view is through my 20-plus years of cooking professionally; I'm taking all my experiences and everything I've done and putting it through a New Orleans lens, where I'm cooking currently.

Which mentor are you most excited to learn from?
Christopher: Alton Brown seems the most critical yet constructive. ... It seems like he is really the one, more than the other two, dissecting what's working for you and what's not working for you. I mean, they are all great.

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Star-a-Day: Chris Kyler

by in Food Network Star, Interviews, May 6, 2014

Chris KylerChris Kyler, 32, received culinary training while in the Navy, where he was known for his charisma and slick sense of humor. After working in other's restaurants, he opened his own catering company, which specializes in fresh and healthy foods. Read on below to hear from Chris, and learn about his style of cooking and his thoughts on the competition.

What are you most looking forward to in this experience?
Chris: I am looking to see how far I can go. … I believe my whole life is not an accident. This is not an accident. This is not a coincidence where I am today. I have a really compelling story of where I come from. … I've been rock bottom, and, like, [with] this opportunity I'm, like, almost back at the top from rock bottom. This, right here, I know if it's for me, I'm going to win. This is my destiny, so I kind of have that head on my shoulders. I'm just going to give it my all. Everything I have within me — my body, mind and soul— I'm just going to leave it on the stage. And when it's over, if I don't win, I know this wasn't for me but something else is. And if I do win, I know this is where I'm supposed to be.

Describe your cooking style or culinary point of view — in one sentence, if you can.
Chris: Taking classic dishes and humble ingredients and transforming them into restaurant-quality, modern dishes.

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