Exit Interview: Candid Thoughts from the Latest Food Network Star Finalist to Go Home


With only 11 short weeks to ready finalists before a winner will be chosen, the Food Network Star beast is such that week after week, hopeful competitors will fall, faced with the crushing disappointment of elimination. We'll be bringing you the first exclusive exit interviews with the ousted finalists as they're sent home.

We're about to break down the ins and outs of the latest episode and reveal who went home, so if you've yet to watch the show, read no further until then.

The name of the game this week was mash-ups, both in terms of finalists and food. While the competitors had to work together in teams of two as they created video travelogues at Los Angeles' Grand Central Market in the Mentor Challenge, they were tasked with facing off with those same teammates come the Star Challenge for guest Rev Run's throwdown. Aaron and Rob were fast friends from the beginning of the competition, so it was only natural that they'd team up to work together this week. Though their presentation of Wexler's Deli was strong, they chose not to taste the pastrami they spent 60 seconds talking about, and the mentors weren't pleased that they didn't see the teammates sample the food for themselves.

Come the Star Challenge, the guys were tasked with mashing up fried chicken and pho. Once again this week, Aaron's performance wasn't a hit, as he jumbled his words. His food, too, wasn't as strong as Rob's, and ultimately Aaron was sent home in a double elimination.

Hear from Aaron in his first exclusive exit interview, and see what he thinks of the mentors' feedback on his dish. Plus, hear from Melissa, who was also sent home this week.

What three words best describe how you're feeling right now?

Aaron Crumbaugh: Disappointed. Upset. Angry.

Tell me more about the angry.

AC: I thought my dish was good. I tasted it, and I thought it was good.

So you stand by your finished product? What do you think they missed? What weren’t they getting?

AC: Well, they had said salty and sour, and there was not one sour component in it, other than a lime wedge that they could either squeeze or not squeeze, which you have for pho. You want more acidity in it? You squeeze the lime in there. So, maybe Giada ate the lime wedge?

What was your approach to the throwdown battle for Rev's family?

AC: My approach was to have fun. I mean, it’s a fun environment, and I thought Rob and I did great. I mean, we were riffing on each other and talking about our food and having a great time. So that was fun.

It seemed like even though you guys were competing against each other, there was a lot of friendly banter.

AC: Oh, yeah. … Going back to the quality of cast mates that I had, Rob and I are going to be friends forever.

In your own words, how would you explain to fans at home what this competition is really like?

AC: I compare it to a pressure cooker. We're in this kitchen with all these other competitors. We have a time limit to cook food, which most everybody that’s cooked professionally at home, we have time limits, but we have multiple days to prepare, we know stuff in advance. ... I mean, in the professional kitchen, yeah, you do stuff on the fly, but you usually have all that prep ready, and you can make it happen. This is: "This is what you’re making, and here are your challenges. And, you know, try to make it happen, and — oh, wait — yeah, there’s 40 minutes or 45 minutes or 30 minutes to do it."

Fill in the blanks with your fellow finalists' names.

_____ is the class clown. Rob Burmeister

_____ is the quietest. Joy Thompson

_____ is the most-daring. Probably Damiano

_____ has the best recipes. We’ll go [with] Ana.

_____ is going to win this competition. Yaku

How did you handle the nerves of working with Bobby, Giada and all of the special guests?

AC: My nerves hit me … during presentation on camera. That's when the nerves hit me. Cooking, I wasn’t nervous at all.

Which element of the competition were you least expecting, be it good or bad?

AC: I was not expecting to meet as many cool cast members. Everybody's awesome.

How would you and your fellow finalists spend your downtime between challenges?

AC: Oh, god. We would get wine and drink and laugh ... and tell each other stories, crazy stories and, you know, talk about our lives. I mean, you’re getting to know someone, so we’d usually do it over a bottle of wine.

Which mentor or guest were you most excited to learn from?

AC: Tyler Florence

What do you want fans to remember most about you?

AC: I was the chef that likes meat, loves meat, but it’s more than that. It’s respect of the food and respect of where it comes from. I mean, I think that’s what I want to try to get out is know where your food comes from. Know what you’re putting in your mouth. You know, don’t settle for lesser-quality food. Demand more, and it’s out there.

What's next for you? What are you going home to?

AC: I’m opening a restaurant in the early summer. ... I’ve got two kids and a wife, and I’m busy with them.