Comeback Kitchen Mentor Tyler Previews What’s Ahead: 'I Always Pull for the Underdog'

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The countdown. Is. On. With the premiere of Comeback Kitchen on Sunday (8|7c), seven Food Network Star alumni will return to the starting line for the redo of a lifetime. Recently Star Talk caught up with Tyler Florence, one of the two judge-mentors who will ultimately decide which hopeful rival will earn that coveted second chance at Stardom.

Tyler has nearly two decades of experience on Food Network, so he knows just what it takes to succeed in the job these hopefuls are fighting for. Read on below to find out what he thinks the finalists ought to do to grow in this contest, and hear his been-there-done-that advice to the returning rivals.

Comeback Kitchen has never been done before, and there’s so much at stake. What are you most excited about in being part of this new series?

Tyler Florence: I always pull for the underdog — somebody who has all the heart and soul and potential in the world, and occasionally they miss it by a point or two when they [don't] win. It's really nice to see a whole very enthusiastic group of people that have already been through it once, and Valerie and I have a ball, hanging out together. She’s got a very unique perspective on television, with a career as long as she’s been doing [this]. … It is just amazing to get a chance to actually coach a very talented group of people and really polish them up so they are prepared for this next competition.

Speaking of coaching, how do you balance the mentoring aspect of your role with the part that has to eliminate finalists?

TF: The cream always rises to the top. So, when we’re tasked with finding one really good person who can go on to Food Network Star, and not only just be a part of the show, but compete and hopefully win, we are really picky about everyone that we wanted put through. … The people that [will make] it through the competition are people that listen and try hard, and they take our feedback, and they come back even stronger the next day.

You have only three weeks to work with the finalists — not a ton of time. What skills do you need to see in the eventual winner, be it growth or true skills?

TF: I want to see in the winner someone who should’ve been chosen in the first place, but for whatever reason missed the opportunity.

Does the fact that all of these finalists have competed before on Food Network Star change the way you judge them? Do you critique their presentations and food more harshly?

TF: No, honestly, when they competed on Food Network Star before, they weren’t selected [on account of] small, little idiosyncrasies. … A little better … presentation, a little better … recipe concept or [if only they] knew themselves a little better. And now we get a chance to dive through all of this and really get to know these people better, and have great conversations about their own talent and who they are as chefs and television hosts potentially, and really dial it, dive in into their own nuances of how to be great.

Looking back on your day one at Food Network and thinking about how this opportunity could lead to a finalist's first day, what lessons learned can you offer them?

TF: You have to love what you do. You really, really do. You can’t fake it. … Even if you feel like you’re not, if you’re intimidated by it, that’s going to show really quickly. You have to stand up in front of the camera, look down at the mise en place on your station and have stories about everything just because you did it and you lived it and you were there, and be able to cook gracefully and easily and look in front of the camera and gift a great, confident recipe. Because the audience — that’s the most-important thing, is to really have a great relationship with not the camera lens, but the people behind the camera lens, and it’s really one person at a time.

Related Reading:

Part Food, Part TV, All Success: Tyler and Valerie on Mentoring Together on Comeback Kitchen

Meet the 7 Returning Rivals Competing on Comeback Kitchen

Food Network Star, Season 12: 1 Game-Changing Prequel, 13 Formidable Rivals and 2 Expert Judges

New: 12 Star-a-Day Interviews

QUIZ: Can You Guess the Food Network Stars by Their Dishes?

How Far Would You Go on Food Network Star?

Which Food Network Chef Is Your Spirit Animal?

Tune in to the premiere of Comeback Kitchen on Sunday, May 8 at 8|7c, and watch the Food Network Star, Season 12 premiere on Sunday, May 22 at 9|8c.