With his "Rebel with a Culinary Cause" point of view, America selected Brooklyn, N.Y., restaurant co-owner Justin Warner as winner of the "Food Network Star" TV show. The final episode aired Sunday, July 22.
Fifteen contestants vied for the title while being tutored by one of three Food Network Stars — Alton Brown, Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis.
Contestants were voted off weekly until only four were left standing. Approximately 4.5 million viewers cast their votes, giving Warner the win. His new show will air in the fall.
One day after learning his fate, he answered the following questions.
Why did you try out for "Food Network Star?"
My restaurant, Do or Dine, is basically kind of a ragtag group of loveable miscreants. The way that we approach food here is special and fun. I had heard that Alton Brown said he was looking for teachers. I come from a long line of them; something clicked and I said maybe this is what I should be doing. It seemed like a logical step.
How nervous were you during your initial meeting with Alton Brown?
I was exceptionally nervous but he has an interesting way of making someone feel at ease. He's a charming fellow with a quickness about him that pulls the rug out from under you, but simultaneously helps you get your footing. For example, when I met him I was wearing a sweatshirt with a skeleton on it. When I walked in he said, "Justin how are you. Come sit down, rest your bones as it were." I was like, "Dude, I can hang out with this guy." When he says something like that it's like he's just another guy who just happens to be awesome.
On one of the episodes you declared a heartfelt connection with Brown. When you were declared the winner Brown said he felt like a proud papa. Why do you think the two of you clicked?
It's difficult to put it into one bite. My dad was born in 1927, trained as a psychologist and thought it was a rational idea to have a kid at the age of 57. He died when I was 18 or 19 and I never got to experience what I call the paternal push, the go get 'em tiger kind of thing. Alton and I just clicked in sort of a paternal nature. He's funny, he's witty and there's a little bit of him in me. For example, when we had the Meet the Press challenge our mentors weren't there We were in a holding room and there was a copy of a Food Network magazine, so before that challenge I ripped out a picture of Alton and put it in my pocket. I carried a little bit of him with me, literally.
Point of view in regards to food was stressed on the show. Going in to the competition did you know what your perspective would be?
I knew I wanted something edgy, something that wasn't so huggy-feely, but a little more hip and with it. I live in New York, an R-rated city. It's tough having a PG lifestyle here, so I thought I could compromise on PG-13. That's how I was going in to the competition.
How did you get tagged as the "Rebel with a Culinary Cause?"
During one challenge we had to make a Southern dish. I'm from Maryland. We don't often identify ourselves as Southern. We are more like the Switzerland of the East, but I said, 'Hey, I'm from the South, too. My high school mascot was the rebels.' When Alton heard that he said, "You are the rebel with a culinary cause." Rebels are edgy and rebellion often involves a little discomfort. That sounded like PG-13 to me.
What was the harshest criticism you received from Alton?
He said I was coming across as a little bit brash and a little bit cocky and that I needed to watch it. It's something that I have known about myself for the majority of my life. For one teacher I would be the best student, yet for another teacher I would be ruining the class. This is the problem with being a rebel. If you believe in the cause you will fight for it.
You developed a close relationship with teammate whose "Martie with the Party" vision seemed totally opposite of your own. What was it about Martie Duncan of Birmingham, Ala., that drew the two of you together?
Martie is an incredibly caring wonderful and thoughtful person. She was also the smartest person on the show. She has more life experience than anyone that I know. Why wouldn't you gravitate toward that?
Is it possible that "Food Network Star" fans might see Martie on your show?
If it's physically possible for me to do the things I want to do, then absolutely. I would double head with her any day. Martie and I would often say we had our own little thing, the wacky Justin approach and the Martie approach. Give us a chopped basket and we would each come out with something unique. It would be the difference between pajamas and stilettoes. Martie Duncan can really rock stilettoes, and I can really rock some pajamas.
Food Network received 4.5 million votes from viewers. What do you think set you apart from the others?
Twitter is what set me apart from everyone else. When I saw that they were using star as a hash tag I knew that Twitter would play a big part in this. I went from having 500 followers to more than 13,000. I had a strategy to engage people, but also to hunt them down. For example, if there was an episode where I said eating fish bones is like eating fried lace, I would search for tweets that said fried lace and I would re-send saying 'Hey I said that.' Then they would be like oh my god, it's Justin, and they would send to their friends and they would send to their friends. I think that's how I won.
Will your show be called "Rebel with a Culinary Cause"?
I think that's to be determined. It's what it took to win the show but it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue easily. The real mission behind "Rebel with a Culinary Cause" was to say that this is the spine, this the guts of whatever Justin does and I think America wanted to see that.
Warner prepared the following recipe on the show.
Yields 6 servings
¼ cup grated pepper jack cheese
¼ cup grated cheddar
¼ cup grated Parmesan
Vegetable oil, for frying
20 corn tortillas, quartered
1 For the cheese powder: Preheat the oven to 175 degrees. Mix the cheeses and spread in as close to a single layer as possible on a cookie sheet. Bake for 8 hours. The cheese will appear dry and a little greasy.
2 Remove the cookie sheet and blot dry with paper towels. Remove the cheese and place on another clean cookie sheet. Blot again if necessary. Bake until very dry, 2 more hours. Remove the cookie sheet and blot a final time. Allow to cool in a dry place.
3 Put the cheese crisps in a blender or spice grinder and pulverize.
4 For the chips: Heat 2 inches of vegetable oil to 375 degrees in a deep skillet. Fry the tortillas, in batches, until golden and crisp, about 3 minutes per batch.
5 Place on a wire rack to drain. While still hot, season with the cheese powder.
Note: Feel free to riff with other flavors by adding powdered herbs, spices or different cheeses. Just remember to make the cheese dry.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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