Exit Interview: Scattered Presentation Sends a Food Network Star Finalist Home

By

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.

Despite serving the judges raw chicken in the Mentor Challenge this week, Monterey has been making strong dishes, so when she landed among the bottom-three finalists this week, Bobby admitted, "She has a great hand." Ultimately, though, those cooking chops weren't enough to save her, as her presentations proved to be concerning. While serving the mentors and guest Robert Irvine during the tailgate-themed Star Challenge, Monterey couldn't engage in a clear, concise conversation. "Focusing for her is really hard, and so when she tries to give you a story, it's scattered," Giada explains. Ultimately this misstep — one that Monterey's made throughout the competition — was enough to end her run for the win, and she was sent home.

We checked in with Monterey after her exit to find out her thoughts on the contest and get her take on the judges' advice to her. Read on below to hear what she had to say.

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

Monterey Salka: Disappointed, disappointed, disappointed, disappointed. I mean, that was it. I wasn’t surprised. I knew. I kind of felt that it was coming. Do I think they were completely right? Well, I mean, they’re the judges. It’s their opinion, so of course it’s right, but when it got down to them kind of pinpointing each of our flaws, I thought that maybe mine wasn’t the worst one, and I was hoping that maybe my feeling was wrong. But I was just like, "Ahh." I didn’t perform to their standards, which is — I mean, that’s how the cookie crumbles.

Do you stand by your last-cooked dish and presentation, or do you agree with the judges' feedback?

MS: It wasn’t the food that was the problem. They actually really liked my food. ... I was really happy with the dish that I put up. ... What sent me home was my presentation because all of a sudden I look up and they’re there, and I’m not ready. ... All of my food was ready, but it was all — I didn’t have my little setup to plate everything. And it’s just like Giada had said: I need to focus more. And because I was so all over the place, it came across as not confident; it came across as harried and frantic, which is not pleasing. Like, that kind of behavior is not pleasing to be around. So, yeah, I stand by my food, and I’m in complete agreement with what they said — that I didn’t give my best presentation.

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

MS: I thought that this was not going to be that hard. You know, I cook food every day. I’m in stressful situations every day. Working in a kitchen is fast-paced. It’s fast and furious, and I’ve been in front of cameras before. But it is a completely different animal. I mean, nothing could have prepared me for how stressful it is. You know, it’s hard. You're away from your family, you’re totally a fish out of water, and you’re expected to be the best version of yourself when you’re so unfamiliar with everything that’s happening. So, it is crazy stressful, and you think — time seems to not follow any rules, because you have a half an hour to cook, and you’re like, "Half an hour, plenty of time." And it goes by in the blink of an eye. When you had to do, like, a one-minute presentation, you’re like, "Oh, it’ll be quick." And then you say what you need to say and you realize you still have, like, 30 seconds left, and you’re like, "A minute’s a long time." So, it's just — it’s so hard. It’s so hard.

Is there one piece of mentor feedback will you always remember and keep with you?

MS: Yeah, it was actually crazy. It was the second week, and Giada looked at me and she was like, “You’re unfocused in the kitchen.” And I’m like, "Well, yeah, I’m getting my bearings still, so it’s hard." And she’s like, “I feel like that extends into your personal life as well. Like, your life lacks focus.” And I’m just like, "Oh, my." It hit me like a sack of bricks, and I’m like, "Oh, my, you are completely right." And the fact that she could pick that out, I mean, we don’t hang out after shooting. I had been in her presence for all of two hours combined, and she was able to notice that. So, I’m like, "Wow, that is not only great advice for me professionally, but me personally." ... I’ve been working on that ever since: trying to focus, really get a succinct idea of what my food is, what my food needs and who I am. So, that’s been something that’s — it’s actually been really cool that now I can kind of pinpoint that issue and work on it.

What were your most favorite and least favorite challenges, and why?

MS: My most favorite was actually when we did the room service at The Park Plaza Hotel. ... The least favorite. It’s a tossup between the mash-ups, 'cause that was the first time I was in the bottom three, and ... probably the Family Road Trip.

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

MS: Well, the good thing is, I would never have expected that everyone else gets along so well. ... We had a blast together, and I didn’t think that was going to happen. I thought that people would ... let the competition get the better of them and start getting, you know, catty and all that kind of stuff, so that was a really nice surprise. ... I had no idea it would be as hard as it was. I was like, "Whatever, I can cook, I’m on camera, so what?" ... It’s an emotional elevator. It’s not even an emotional roller coaster because one minute you’re up, the next minute ... you feel like: "Why am I doing this? I can’t even make food right."

What's the best piece of advice the mentors or Committee members gave you?

MS: Like what Giada said, you know, the focus thing, that was kind of a common thread, so I’m just trying to find a way to reel myself in. And they said that they like the fact that I’m creative and I have a lot of ideas, but I need to bring this huge brainstorm down. ... So that’s probably the thing that I’ll take away the most. ... There’s a time and a place for rampant creativity, but in the time frame of 30 minutes, it’s actually doing me a disservice, so I need to focus on that.

Fill in the blanks with your fellow finalists' names.

_____ is the class clown. Yaku

_____ is the quietest. Ana

_____ is the most daring. Tregaye

_____ has the best recipes. We never tasted anyone else’s food, so I honestly don’t know.

_____ is going to win this competition. Joy

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

MS: It’s kind of a double-edged sword, kind of, because I worked in entertainment for so long [that] I don’t really get starstruck. ... When I cooked for Jesse Tyler Ferguson, I was just like: "Oh, my God. This is cool. My mom loves your show; I love your show. And back to business." ... He didn’t make me nervous in that regard. I wasn’t starstruck by the judges. The fact that they were people that I looked up to and respected and they were judging me, that was hard, but, I mean, it’s not just the guest judges. I mean, Bobby and Giada, too, they’re people that I respect and admire, and I grew up watching them, and I wanted to be them. So, having someone that you’re like trying so hard to impress and trying so hard to make them proud, that’s nerve-racking. But all you have to think about is ... I would try, I wasn’t always successful. I’d just be like: "Alright, you’re at work. You’re cooking for your friends. You’re cooking for your family." It’s just ... like, pretend that you’re not under a bajillion lights with cameras buzzing around and Bobby and Giada there, judging us.

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

MS: Well, we got real personal real quick. ... We’re together for 14 hours a day, so eventually we’re talking embarrassing stories and having little mini therapy sessions. ... It was like a sleepover. We all just gossiped and giggled like children.

Which special guest or mentor were you most excited to learn from in this contest, and why?

MS: It's different for different aspects of the competition. Getting to do the live presentation with Nancy O’Dell and Kevin Frazier from Entertainment Tonight, that was really cool because they said that they really actually like my on-camera thing, which is funny because I can do fine on camera, but when it comes to face to face I just shut down. My brain goes, "Error, error." So, the fact that she was like, "You know, you have a great on-camera presence, you didn’t seem ruffled by our questions" ... I was really excited to hear that from someone who does live TV all the time. ... That was really nice to hear coming from them.

Robert Irvine was really cool. ... He called me a daemon with the slicer 'cause he came over to talk to me, and I’m slicing radishes on the mandoline, and if you don’t pay attention, you will slice off your thumb. ... So hearing his opinion was really cool as well.

What do you want fans to remember most about you?

MS: I don’t really know. What I’m trying to get across to people is that you don’t have to be a chef to make really cool food, that you shouldn’t be afraid of trying a new ingredient, you shouldn’t be afraid of trying something new, and if you — I mean, everyone makes mistakes. I still make mistakes in my restaurant all the time. ... I’m still learning new things every day, and so don’t be afraid to try something new. That’s kind of my thing.

What's next for you?

MS: Well, I go back home to my restaurant, Butcher & Bee, in Nashville. I get to see my dog again — yay!

Keep coming back to Star Talk for the latest on the Food Network Star competition.