My friend Kenny, and Coping with Stardom
I’m going to begin my Episode 3 recap by writing about Kenny, because he is one of my favorite people in the world. Time and time again, he has given me the wisdom of being present and keeping perspective on the bigger picture. As I replay the moment when he gets kicked off Food Network Star for being unable to execute his breakfast dish, I’m finishing the last crumbs of the perfectly executed, exquisite strawberry-rhubarb pie he brought to my house this weekend. As we see him salute the camera with poise and grace, he is selling off the last Rickshaw Dumpling truck in NYC, part of his insanely successful restaurant turned food truck fleet. Yes, this guy killed it in the Big Apple. His life is great, and he is a star.
A lot of people ask me “How did you manage to film on Food Network Star?” “How on God’s Earth! did you stand the nerves and the harsh critique of the judges?” Or, “What did it feel like to finally earn some praise?” I’ll save my on-set answers for another recap. Today, I’m more interested in sharing the bigger challenge of managing what it feels like right now to be publicly broadcast to millions of TV-land eyeballs! How do I reconcile what is admittedly a “very, VERY, big deal” for my culinary career, while at the same time recognizing that it could be small peanuts. If I was living in a refugio on the flanks of Volcano Cotopaxi, the passing courier or baby llama would be of much more significance than Bobby Flay’s verdict on my breakfast sandwich. But right now, this is the world I want to take by storm (that is, with a crimson-sunset type of storm), and I care if Bobby Flay likes my choco-bacon invention.
Kenny has been a huge part of my coping strategy. When competitive friction gave the rest of us rug burns, Kenny was napping, reading or telling a story from his life – forever positive, relaxed and confident. Since I’m constantly traveling to visit my twin sister and dear friends in NYC, Kenny and I have managed to catch up quite a bit in our daily lives. Instead of rehashing the details of past episodes, he’s excited about hearing what’s cooking up now. (His business acumen is unrivaled, and he’s given Bobby and me great advice as we build Firelight Camps.) Kenny has mastered the art of seizing the moment, without letting other important elements of his life – like family – fall by the wayside, and then letting those moments fall into the wake of new adventures. He is the kind of guy that would cast his knickers to the wind and jump in a swimming hole still icy from the spring thaw. My kind of pal. (Read his exit interview)
Second to none is the role my friends, family and Ithaca community have played in sharing this adventure with me. I feel a groundswell of support and love from people around the country and the world, but there is little comparison to having my local cinema – Cinemapolis – print “Food Network Star” on Sunday’s ticket stubs and feeling the rumble and roar of eighty folks cheering your win with you! The following Q&A was almost more interesting than the show, paving way for discussions around how, together, we can boost agricultural and culinary tourism in the Finger Lakes.
Ah, yes. I won money!
My luck in raffles and prizes has always been slim, and I was prone to winning competitions that only awarded titles – a string of words – which is all very well for the minimalist in me. Things started to pick up when I won a pair of Smartwool socks at an Adventure Film Festival (those who love to romp in the outdoors for hours will appreciate this win). Shortly after I won three spiritual coaching and healing sessions with Ravi Walsh. I waltzed into his serene meditation room, just weeks after marrying my the love of my life, unsure of what to expect when I was feeling so damn high! Ravi gave me invaluable tools – such as meditation, and tracking dreams, habits and patterns – that have helped me navigate through life when things are both peachy-keen and seemingly destitute, like Episode 1 on Food Network Star.
You might imagine the shock I had when the judges announced I won the Cutthroat Challenge in this Episode, along with $1,200 in cash! As if the opportunity to be on Food Network Star was not a magnificent prize in and of itself!! I am so thrilled to be able to invest this prize in my work with my husband’s company, Firelight Camps, designing food, beverage and guest experiences that will highlight the Finger Lake’s culinary treasures and the stunning natural world of waterfalls and wildlife. Stay tuned!
Chocolate-Bacon Breakfast Sandwich
So, Cutthroat. For those of you who don’t know, Cutthroat Kitchen is Alton Brown’s masterpiece competition; a battle complete with hideous sabotages that make it near impossible for the most targeted chefs to cook. By the end of our two-minute shop, I was panting more than after any soccer-field sprint. I was terrified of being sabotaged, because let’s be honest, I was just trying to hold my own and cook! I was also hesitant to dole out a sabotage – you know I prefer to make friends than enemies.
The chocolate-covered bacon Kenny saddled me with was a gift in disguise, and we both knew it. There seemed little sense in boiling off the chocolate to refry it plain while also trying to bust out my Everything Biscuits. Anticipating some disaster, and grasping for some sense of comfort from home, I had stuffed a pack of English Muffins into my shopping cart as backup. They served perfectly for my Monte Cristo-style sandwich.
When I think of bread and chocolate I’m instantly transported back to summer holidays in the Italian Alps, where my mom would assemble this decadent pairing to power her troop of four children up the trails. Italy is, after all, home to the queen of spreadable chocolate: Nutella! I wouldn’t be surprised if it was discovered from these very sandwiches, melted in the bottom of a pack. (My friends at home never believed we were allowed such snacks, while I was always in fits over never having Doritos in the pantry.
Now, truth be told, Mamma took one for the team. When she saw the sandwich debut on TV, she said “Emma, I would have never made you chocolate-covered bacon and cheese sandwiches! Ew!” Now now, they are good – rich, but good. But it’s true that the charcuterie and cheese would be somewhere on the picnic blanket next to, not ON, the chocolate sandwich. This inspired breakfast sandwich was a happy, albeit stressful, accident where I took Alton Brown’s advice to heart: always look for a way to turn your liability into an asset.
My favorite part, really? Donning a chic, black chef’s coat. I always like to wear what feels most comfortable in the kitchen, from Saturday morning brunch in the buck to my patched jeans and a tank top. Since the only restaurant kitchen I’ve ever run was in Nicaragua (read = obscure to no health codes), I’ve almost always had the privilege of cooking barefoot when I want to. But sometimes it’s nice to feel professional and legit. Chef coats do that.
Theater 5 in Cinemapolis was in hysterics watching Chris Kyler (a crowned Cutthroat Champion) slice meat with a compromised “hand.” Reuben was cute as a button in the tiny kitchen, which I secretly coveted to save from running around a kitchen at least twenty times the size of my modest space at home. Nicole was the bees knees with her mock “gnocchi” – a fast thinker, and grape-stomper to boot! I love how she’s candid and owns it. Karma IS a bitch. It’s real stuff. And good ole’ cowboy Lenny. While clawing his way out of at least three horrendous sabotages, Lenny pulled off the most complex dish of us all. The guy can cook, and apparently, ride a bicycle!
I’m feeling much more encouraged, thrilled!, with my performance this week! This was a HUGE win and redeeming considering my ranking in Episodes 1 and 2. I’m looney with excitement for Episode 4, and can’t wait to hash out all the details with you here next week!
While in suspense, enjoy these links!