This is a letter to all my people.
The first thing that comes to mind in this difficult recap is the gratitude spilling from my heart. This opportunity has already far surpassed any whims of my imagination, and I will forever be grateful for the forces that landed me on Food Network Star at this time in my life. I will cherish the friendships I’ve made and am giddy to explore the new trails I’m blazing. I will always adore and be devoted to my new fans – fans! – and hope to return even a sliver of the unconditional support my husband, family, best friends and community have shown me. I am in disbelief and honored.
There is so much to say in the cloud of reliving my “loss” in the public eye. I thought I had time to process my elimination in private when the show was filmed. I shed tears and recovered slumber, and by Food Network Star’s premier on June 1 my glow was recharged. When I watched Episode 8 this past Sunday evening, I was crushed again with disappointment, anger and regret. But, neither emotion has ever served me well, and though I feel we are all entitled to our range of suffering, my friend Tess helped me right the “wrongs” that stung from elimination.
Horrified by the recent Gaza invasion and senseless war waged overseas, she wrote to me in the context of Real Life, “I am clinging on to the small but nevertheless miraculous sights and acts of love I see around me these days.”
In the context of my more trivial culinary battle, I’ve found myself firmly planted in a miraculous act of love. When Giada sealed my fate on Food Network Star, I was nestled in Bobby’s arms in the front row of the Cinemapolis movie theater nearly hiding from the screen. I heard a hundred people behind me gasp, and because I never like to see people sad let alone on my account, I waved effusively and sung, “I’m still here!” A relieved chuckle rolled through the crowd, and along with the virtual embrace that boomeranged across email and social media, I felt a genuine smile and sense of renewal kindle inside me. I am so profoundly grateful to everyone who has accepted me in my vulnerability and imperfections.
Oh, and then I showed this:
A year ago if you had asked me what I would be doing this summer, I would have never drummed up, “Oh, you know, competing on America’s most popular reality cooking show.” I would have never thought I’d hear Bobby Flay say “Ithaca” followed by a throng of people cheering. The story of my summer is now Food Network Star, and for eight weeks I’ve maintained that I’m already a winner. I come from a place – places – with unrivaled pride for its family and heritage, and not once on this journey have I felt alone or abandoned.
I thought I might share this last episode privately again, in the safe haven of my home. But nothing could lift me up like the comments from friends and fans in the theater’s audience, reminding me that we are in this together and the future is bright. Laura Falk announced her book “Culinary History of the Finger Lakes,” a collection of recipes and stories in which my Fig and Pecan Truffles are both the sweet ending and the segue way into the next generation of food in this region. Throughout Food Network Star, I felt seen for keeping my integrity and foodways intact – arguably more challenging than selling pickled beets in Paris. Even as the judges sent me home, Giada said, “Emma was the one who stayed the most true to herself.”
Through this experience, I’ve discovered that I truly love the camera and television as a medium for sharing food as a universal gateway into people’s hearts, an act of art and beauty, and the treasure trove of culture and land. I’ve learned that there are lots of people in America craving to learn more about “food with roots.” I’ve learned to be confident in voicing my opinions, and to make my voice even louder (unless I really want a career in audio books). I believe my legacy on Food Network Star will be the springboard into my next chapter, and I hope it will be one where you can tune into more adventures with me that are funny, thrilling and enlightening. Most importantly, they will be authentic.
Life doesn’t stop, and in the end, Food Network Star will be a great story I tell my grandchildren when my curls have greyed and “farm-to-table” is plain, old commonplace. But right now, my friends, this is just the beginning…!
So let’s settle some of the who’s, what’s and why’s of Episode 8 once and for all, and prepare for the grand finale in which I still have great friends vying for the crown.
“When we eat meat, an animal dies.”
When I presented my dish of Mangalitsa Pork Loin and Za’tar Seasoned Carrots to the judges, I told folklore about the origins of pork. It’s an excerpt from Michael Pollan’s book Cooked, which follows four primal elements of cooking: fire (barbecue), water (boiling), earth (fermentation) and air (baking). He riffs on an excerpt from Charles Lamb’s “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig.” In summary, it goes like this:
Man sacrificed animals to the gods. One day, a farmer’s barn burned down, trapping suckling pigs inside. When the farmer’s aloof son ran to their rescue, he prodded one to see if it was still alive. He was scorched to the touch and instinctively raised his finger to his mouth, and lo and behold, he tasted crackling for the first time! Their barn began to suspiciously burn down more frequently. Word soon got out and the countryside became ablaze with burning barns. Eventually, people discovered they might satisfy their hunger without sacrificing the barn, and henceforth, barbecue was invented over controlled fires and the only sacrifice Gods were offered was the tantalizing aroma of roasting pigs. The end.
Last night I tucked into a venison-sausage pizza with Gordie, the farmer at Silver Queen Farm. He hunts and butchers deer, which for all their magnificence and beauty are a pest to his crops. While gobbling the last crumbs of our slice, we talked about the deeply spiritual experience of killing an animal, the value it has added to their diet, the flavor it has added to their table and the money it has saved them in grocery bills.
Now, I’m well aware that it might not be traditional to serve meat while talking about dead animals at the dinner table, and that Food Network Star is not the likely place to start getting gory on “food with roots.” But I couldn’t say it better than the wordsmith himself, “If you can’t handle that fact that dead animals taste good to us, then you should probably stay in the vegetarian section of the Garden of the Gods.” (Read Justin Warner’s full recap).
I can’t help notice some stark contradictions as well. In his feedback on the judging panel, Penn Gillette recalled happy memories of playing with pond toads while he devoured frog legs. Plus, 38 million Americans hunt every year (that’s quadruple the number of people that watch Food Network Star). While “farm-to-table” is overused in progressive towns and metropolitan cities, people are much closer to their meat in rural and middle America where the Food Network is a religion. But I didn’t not just burn with the barn, I also “dropped a bottle of jam on my Mangalitsa pork loin.” Which brings me to the special ingredients…
I nearly burst out with laughter when I read somewhere that the Food Network snuck a “closet vegan” onto the show. That’s me that they’re talking about: the girl who had her favorite butcher shop in the world The Piggery make a Frischwurst named after me. Talk about being a winner.
It’s true that I’ve never encountered Mangalitsa Pork, but I’m no stranger to cooking with protein. Mangalitsa simply hasn’t turned up on my travels, nor on any menu. It’s just a simple fact. I read umpteen food newsletters a day, scour cookbooks and generally play with the expansive world of ingredients. But if I knew everything there was to know about food, I wouldn’t be continuing into the next decade on the same career path. I’m no stranger to taking risks with new ingredients, and of course the results aren’t always perfect the first time. But it was unfortunate that this was my draw for two reasons: I had no choice but to play with fire, and I can’t find how the heck to get an affordable, fresh Mangalitsa pork loin to retest my recipe at home.
Now, I don’t want to be a luddite and slow with the changing face of Food TV, but did I miss the memo that a Food Network Star is no longer required to teach people how to cook at home? I’m baffled by a challenge that intentionally scares people away from discovering new ingredients, and makes accomplished cooks look inexperienced from being spiked by a sea urchin. But that’s why Food Network Star is pure entertainment, and we are meant to be the entertainers, not altruists that can also entertain.
Either way, I’m thorough and devoted to my trade, and my research suggests that adapting to the Mangalitsa with my traditional stuffed pork loin recipe would not have been entirely destructive to the dish. Nearly every recipe I found for Mangalitsa was loaded with fresh herbs, and a Food Network article on Iron Chef America suggested that “the shoulder cuts can be slow-cooked and work particularly well when served with dried fruits.” Though the loin is far more saturated with fat and thus sweeter, it sits next to the shoulder. Someone, please send a pork loin to Frisch Kitchen and I will confirm.
Where will I be cooking next?
I could go into the nitty gritty of how I picked teams and why the showmanship at Nobu foretold my fiery demise, but some things are not meant for dwelling and I have brighter fires to tend on the horizon.
Here’s a snapshot of where I’ll be cooking and how to come eat with me:
- I will continue to be producing videos on my blog at www.emmafrisch.com.
- I will continue #5ways5days, every week showing you how to use a new ingredient in five different ways from Tuesday through Saturday.
- I will be designing the culinary experience for Firelight Camps, which I am opening with my husband and a team of outstanding partners and investors. The first location will be in Ithaca, NY. Think: sensational breakfast and mind-boggling, homemade s’more menu.
- I will hopefully be traveling to Haiti and Ecuador with Groundswell International this Fall.
- I will still be aiming to pop up on TV, and you will be the first to know about it.
- You can sign up for my newsletter right here on my blog (on the left-hand side) to learn about cooking classes, demos, pop-up dinners, and more events and updates.
I’ll also be back on Food Network Star in two weeks for the finale, where America votes on the top three finalists! But in the meantime, enjoy these links:
Read the One-on-One Exit Interview with Emma