First off, congratulations on your victory. It was a long journey with tough competition, and I truly believe you deserved the W. Enjoy the moment.
When asked that my final post be an advice letter to the winner and not a standard rundown, I was excited after my 10 weeks of recaps. But now as I’m sitting here writing this letter, dearest Eddie, I, for the first time, do not know what to say, so I will try my best. Granted I’ve been at this for only four years, but I do feel I’ve had a decent trajectory, and with that comes a decent amount of experience. Take my advice or not; I won’t be offended either way. Here goes.
After 11 weeks of Mentor and Star Challenges testing both culinary chops and on-camera comfort, as well as constructive feedback from mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis, one hopeful finalist has risen to the top to become Food Network's newest Star. Eddie Jackson, a former pro footballer, scored the ultimate culinary touchdown tonight when he was crowned the Season 11 winner.
Star Talk was on the set of the finale and caught up with Eddie just moments after he took in his victory. He dropped to his knees in overwhelming emotion, then welcomed hearty congratulations from his fellow competitors, as well as the Selection Committee and the president of Food Network, Brooke Johnson. "I'm beyond speechless," Eddie said. "This is a feeling that I've yet to feel."
Read on below to hear more from Eddie in his first exclusive interview as a Star, then click the play button on the video above to go on set with Eddie and learn about his transition from football to food.
What did you learn about yourself during this competition? Eddie Jackson: I had never done anything like this, so to speak, in front of a camera one-on-one. So I kind of learned that I can actually do this. I've been in front of the camera in front of, you know, 60,000 people, playing football and things like that, but never one-on-one talking directly to a camera by myself. And over the course of this show, I realized that I really can do this and this is something that I want to continue to do for the rest of my life.
Remember all of the trying challenges, the unexpected ingredient swaps, the timed camera tapings and the all-too-honest feedback from the mentors? The lessons the Food Network Star finalists learned from those tests and the judges paid off in the most-monumental way for the top-three hopefuls — Dom Tesoriero, Eddie Jackson and Jay Ducote — as they landed on the brink of Stardom and went on to film pilots for their would-be shows on Food Network.
On Sunday night, those three rivals, along with their previously eliminated fellow finalists and the Selection Committee, will come together to look back on the season and ultimately welcome the winning Star to the Food Network family. Take a sneak peek at the finale photo above. Dom, Eddie and Jay have assembled with the other competitors, ready with anticipation to find out who among them is Food Network's newest Star.
Surprise, Dom’s back! Our unsuspecting final three contestants, Eddie, Jay and Arnold, were all shocked to see the scrappy Star Salvation winner return for one last battle. Dom impressed the judges with his homemade agnolotti pasta and best on-camera appearance yet, and he edged Arnold out and joined Eddie and Jay for a final spot to make a pilot.
We were excited to see that New York City’s amazing restaurant and food diversity was inspiration for all of three of the guys' pilots. We share the same enthusiasm and are super-lucky that Food Network Kitchen lives inside Chelsea Market, an indoor food hall with more than 35 food vendors! Needless to say, it’s food paradise. So, inspired by Dom’s delicate little agnolotti, we wandered down to Giovanni Rana — makers of beautiful, high-quality fresh pasta — to find some other stuffed versions. We also visited Russo's Mozzarella and Pasta in the East Village to pick up some of their agnolotti and tortellini.
Here’s what we learned about each (clockwise from top left):
"My proudest moment would be Dom coming back from Star Salvation. I think that for the first time in all of these years, I actually feel like Bobby and I actually mentored somebody, like truly mentored them," said Giada De Laurentiis, one half of the powerhouse mentoring duo that she makes up with Bobby Flay. Star Talk caught up with Giada on the set of Food Network Star, just moments after Dom Tesoriero, previously ousted in Week 8, rejoined the competition. She told us about how, with solid mentoring, he was ultimately able to find his way into the top three and what his strengths were following that transformation.
Dom, Eddie and Jay all completed multiple challenges during their runs on Food Network Star — some with great success and others with disappointing outcomes — but perhaps their most-important task didn't come in Food Star Kitchen. In New York City last week, the top three each worked with Rachael Ray as they filmed the pilots they would like to do for their would-be shows on Food Network. From Dom's authentic Italian point of view to Eddie's love of barbecue to Jay's penchant for deep-fried delights, each of the guys created a camera-ready concept, but their tapings wouldn't have been possible without Rachael’s mentoring. This Food Network legend knows the ins and outs of food television, and she's surely filmed multiple successful pilots for Food Network.
Star Talk caught up with Rachael on the set of the guys' pilots, and she told us all about what goes into shooting a video like this. Read on below for her advice to the top three, plus her reflections on how her show 30 Minute Meals came to be.
What’s been your greatest lesson learned after all of these years on Food Network? Rachael Ray: I don’t really know anything, and I think that that’s what makes our shows popular, you know? It’s a conversation, and I like to learn. … And I think that most genuine television is about sharing, and, you know, I don’t know if I’m any better at it … 15, 20 years in than I was when I started, but I try and be curious and dedicated and authentic when I go to work.
My season of Food Network Star did not have this nifty little competition sub-series known as Star Salvation, and you know what? I am quite glad we didn't! It’s one thing to compete against other finalists hungry for a chance at their own Food Network show; it’s another thing to compete against a finalist who’s tasted defeat and then got a miraculous second chance. The winner of Star Salvation will be a battle-hardened warrior ready to slay anyone in his or her path. The Salvation winner might as well be a half-human, half-cyborg soldier sent back from the future to take down the POV mainframe and save the planet from the destruction caused by the wrong finalist winning Food Network Star. The winner of Salvation may just win it all. It’s like the montage scene in every sports movie ever, especially Rocky IV: They lost, they got back on their feet, they trained harder than ever by lifting giant logs in the Russian tundra and doing inverted sit-ups in a dusty Soviet barn. They are now ripped and ready to step back into the ring.
This is why I’m glad my season did not have Star Salvation. It was hard enough trying to beat the normal contestants, let alone these reincarnated-zombie contestants who came back from the dead to destroy you.
Pound for pound, every finalist had majorly improved from his or her time on the big show. Emilia, Rue and even Grunwald were all a bit more refined in their presentations and cooking. Rosa seemed sharper, and I could tell instantly that Christina wanted this more than anything. We start Round 1 with the first four eliminated — Christina, Grunwald, Sita and Rosa. When Alex Guarnaschelli (my lovely co-host) and I walk in, I’m sure there are quite a few things going through their heads — mainly that there is a definitely a good-cop/bad-cop situation going on here. Sure, Alex may be known as a tough critic, and I may be known as a goofball, but rest assured, we both took this job very seriously. I wanted the right person to win Star Salvation, and I wasn’t going to make it easy.
It's the nature of the Food Network Star beast that even though no matter how badly finalists want to achieve their dreams of stardom, ultimately only one can win the coveted title, and with that, 11 finalists will be going home. Every week Star Talk will bring you the first exclusive interview with the most-recently eliminated finalist. From thoughts on mentors' critiques to reflections on past challenges and hopes for the future, be sure to check back every Sunday night for the latest one-on-one chat. We're about to break down the ins and outs of tonight's new episode and reveal who went home, so if you've yet to watch the show, read no further until then.
It was just 10 weeks ago when 12 hopeful finalists took their first steps into the culinary spotlight in Food Star Kitchen, full of dreams and anticipation — and anxiety over what the future held. Now, just one week before the finale, there are only three rivals remaining, and on Sunday, a fourth will join their ranks, as the champion of Star Salvation will return for a second chance to claim the coveted title. It will be up to these four finalists to pitch themselves to the Selection Committee before the panel must select the competitor most worthy of filming a pilot.
Take a peek at the first-look photo above from Sunday's brand-new episode. Rachael Ray will be on hand to guide the hopefuls through the pilot process, and surely no one could better serve as the lead director than her, a Food Network legend and the maker of numerous successful series. What kind of advice do you imagine Rachael is dishing out, and what key points do you think she's stressing to the finalists?
After making hot ramen for a summertime family reunion and failing to explain exactly why he went with that seemingly oddball dish, Alex was eliminated from the competition, though he indeed has a chance at redemption. He joined Dom and Rue in the sixth and final Star Salvation battle, and for the last challenge of their journey, Alex Guarnaschelli and Jeff Mauro tasked the top three with plating and presenting "one last bite," according to Alex.
In keeping with their POVs, Alex tackled a cheesy sandwich — inspired by one from his travels in London — while Dom kept it Italian with grilled lamb chops and Rue focused on seafood with a poached salmon plate. Now, after screening each hopeful's video and tasting their dishes, it's up to Alex and Jeff to choose who among them is most worthy of a second chance at Stardom. Before you tune in Sunday to find out who's returning to Food Network Star, Star Talk wants to hear whom you, the fans watching at home, want to see earn redemption. Cast your vote in the poll below.