Exclusive Interview: Tia Mowry on Mentoring for Food Network Star Kids

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Today it’s all about Tia Mowry, half of the powerhouse duo (with Donal Skehan) set to mentor-judge 10 budding culinary talents on the upcoming premiere of Food Network Star Kids. She knows what it’s like to be on TV as a child and what it takes to command a kitchen as the host of Cooking Channel’s Tia Mowry at Home. Read on below to get her take on what’s ahead on Star Kids and learn more about her own style in the kitchen.

What can fans look forward to seeing when this series premieres?

Tia Mowry: Heart. Number one, there’s a lot of heart in this show. I mean, you are seeing these kids’ dreams come true, but I also think why there’s a lot of heart, you see this show is about inspiration, so definitely a lot of heart. Great laughs [too]. These kids are extremely entertaining, because they’re not filtered. So, whatever comes out of their mouth, comes out of their mouth. Gosh, just lots of fun. I think what I love about this show, it’s creative, it’s very entertaining and it’s inspiring. Also, I think there’s some hard competition. You’re going to really see some excellent cooks in the kitchen with these kids. You’re going to see smart kids.

Tell me a little bit about what it’s like to work with kids specifically.

TM: Working with kids, it’s a dream come true, and it’s exciting, because you never know what you’re going to get. You never know what’s going to happen, and I like that. It’s very spontaneous. They’re geniuses. They really are. They are inspiring. … I think the special thing about kids is they’re not filtered, and that’s what makes them entertaining. So, even though this is a competition, I’m always laughing; I’m always smiling, because they are so freaking entertaining. It’s so much fun.

Culinary POVs are an important part of this competition, just like they are on Food Network Star. Why is it especially important for a kid cook to hone his or her POV?

TM: In my opinion, when you know your food personality, it shows us who you are as a person, and it’s almost like with, in my opinion, fashion and style. It’s a way of expressing yourself. So, how can you not express yourself if you don’t know your authentic food personality and your food point of view? Not only that, the clearer you are, you stand out. So, I think that’s why it’s important for these kids to know about their food personality, because it’s a way of expressing themselves, and it’s a way that they’re all unique, and that’s why I use the word “standout,” because it’s beautiful when each and every one of them, they embrace their differences, and it just makes it so entertaining. And that’s why I was saying they’re inspiring as well, because they’re opening up my mind to different foods, different ingredients. It’s awesome.

How would you describe your mentoring strategy versus Donal’s? What’s it like working together?

TM: My mentoring strategy is all about having fun and laughing in the kitchen. I know this is a competition, but sometimes I feel like this world is a huge competition, [and] being in this business is competitive, and how I personally get through it is with a laugh and having fun. So, for me it’s all about making sure that these kids are having fun. Not only that, [but] making sure that these kids are authentic. That’s kind of like my biggest advice is stay true to who you are, because being in this business ever since I was, you know, 13, 14 years old, I truly believe that’s why I am where I am today and [why] I’ve had a successful career. I’ve been in this business for 25 years, and people always ask me, they’re like, “How did you make it?” And I say that as a child star, I believe that I’ve made it into being in this business as an adult because I stay true to who I am as a person. I didn’t let anybody alter me or make me change who I am. So, that’s kind of like my approach. I want to just make sure that these kids are real and themselves and just having a good time.

Like you mentioned, this is a competition at the end of the day. How do you balance that part of your job, the part that has to send people home, with the mentoring and the teaching side of it?

TM: Being in a competition, it’s teaching them about the future, about how it’s going be like in the real world, so I say that to say you can’t sugarcoat it too much, because at the end of the day if you’re sugarcoating that, you know, this a competition, they’re never going to learn — they’re never going to grow. So, you have to have constructive criticism, because it’s all about their growth. If you’re too easy on them, then they’re not going to be prepared for the real world. … There were many of times when as a child actor, you know, I didn’t get the job, and I cried, but I learned from it, I moved on and it taught me about the real world.

How would you describe your style in the kitchen?

TM: My style in the kitchen is all about family cooking, but I think the main thing for me is practicality. It has to be practical, because I am a working mom. I’m very busy. So, I can’t be making meals and dishes that take about three hours to cook. Not only that, [but] I like healthy dishes, but not sacrificing flavor, ’cause sometimes you can get some really healthy dishes and just the flavor’s not there. So, for me that’s kind of what it’s all about. For instance, if I’m making some turkey meatballs, I like to add oatmeal as opposed to breadcrumbs and add some spinach in there. And also kind of like hiding ingredients that my son wouldn’t necessarily eat outside of the meatball.

What was your earliest memory of being in the kitchen?

TM: It was when I was, like, 6 years old, washing dishes. My mother was a drill sergeant, OK. So, she was very, very strict, and she wasn’t afraid about making sure she would put my behind on a stool, and I was in the kitchen drying the dishes, washing the dishes at a very, very young age. So, that’s my first memory of being in the kitchen. As for, like, cooking, it would have to be being my mother’s sous chef during holidays. I always look forward to holidays, because my mother would always make this really nice big family-style meal, or just holiday meals that were a tradition in the family. So, I would always look forward to it, and … I would always help her make the greens. So, I was the one that was always washing them, rolling them up, cutting them.

Tune in to the premiere of Food Network Star Kids on Monday, Aug. 22 at 8|7c.