Exclusive: Bobby Flay on the Importance of Focus, the Meaning of Star Power and Stellar Advice

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Food Network Star, Season 12 kicks off in less than a month (tune in to the premiere on Sunday, May 22 at 9|8c), and just as the 12 finalists are anxiously awaiting the job interview of a lifetime, mentor-judges Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis are preparing for their roles as the deciding factors in whose culinary dreams will be made true or ultimately ended. Their expert takes on both this contest and the job of a Food Network Star make them uniquely prepared for the 11-week journey they're undertaking with the finalists and for the challenges they're set to dole out.

Recently Star Talk caught up with Bobby to chat about how he balances his dual role of mentor-judge and the value he places on first impressions. Read on below to hear about his mentoring strategy and find out if his own participation in competitions like Beat Bobby Flay affects the way he judges. Plus, see what he thinks about the elusive Star power, and get his take on the job of a Food Network Star.

How do you balance the mentoring and the teaching side of the job verses judging and ultimately sending someone home?

Bobby Flay: I think it’s all the same. I think that I’m just always trying to strengthen the roster of Food Network, so this is a great opportunity to find somebody who could really add to the network and strengthen it. That's the way I’m looking at it. It’s a big giant audition.

Does the fact that you compete on Beat Bobby Flay every week and cook on the clock impact the way you judge the finalists? Do you find yourself judging them more harshly because you do it too?

BF: I only judge people harshly if they do things out of laziness or don’t do something out of laziness. So, as long as you roll up your sleeves and try your hardest, then I have no problem with what the results are.

How is your approach to mentoring the same as or different from Giada's? What's your style?

BF: I think that we have a lot of similar feelings about when something is good and when something’s not good. Just because we’ve been doing it for so long, we’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work sometimes. I always think about it as food first and then camera second, and then she’s the opposite, so I think that that’s probably the clearest difference in the way we mentor and how we utilize our mentoring skills.

Everyone talks about looking for that elusive Star quality in the eventual winner. What is that? What does it mean to you?

BF: It’s somebody being comfortable. Somebody having an authoritative voice. Somebody who has really in lots of ways mastered their craft, whatever it is, whatever that one particular thing is. And somebody that can grow over time and is willing to evolve.

When you meet the finalists on day one, they'll face this pressure to leave you with a strong first impression. How important are those initial presentations and dishes? Are they something you'll go back to and consider later?

BF: First impressions are very important. I don’t think you ever forget the first impression of somebody, although I’m very open in terms of making people evolve. Chris Rock said something about if you’re a guy, when you first meet a girl, she’s not actually meeting you; she’s meeting your representative. It’s the same thing with these guys. They haven’t really shown their true self yet, and that’s understandable.

Do you think finalists who come into this competition with a culinary POV are doing themselves a disservice? Does it put them in a box, so to speak?

BF: No, I think you need focus.

And that focus can only help them?

BF: Well, if you have focus, then you can focus on one thing. If you don’t have a focus, if you don’t have a POV, you’re sort of all over the place.

The finalists think they know what they’re signing up for when they compete to be a Food Network Star — but they don't. How would you describe what this job is really like?

BF: It’s a lot of work. It’s a job, though, and I think that that’s the thing that sometimes gets missed — is that it is a job, and it’s not just this glamorous moment. You know, it’s fun to be on TV, it’s fun to be able to talk to people, sort of all over the place, but ultimately it’s one of those things where you have to, like, be on time, be a professional, do your job, treat the people around you really well. Just all the things you would do with any other job. Just because it’s on TV doesn’t change that.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten about what it takes to do this job and do it really well?

BF: That when you’re talking to the camera, don’t think about the fact that you’re talking to all of America. Pick one person, in your head, and then talk to that person directly.

Related Reading:

New Star-a-Day Interviews with the Season 12 Cast

Meet the Competitors of Comeback Kitchen

Hear from Tyler and Valerie, the Hosts of Comeback Kitchen

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

Tune in to the premiere of Food Network Star on Sunday, May 22 at 9|8c.