Thoughts from the First 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.

In true Food Network Star fashion, mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis wasted no time in saddling the competitors with a real-world test of Stardom: a challenge to film 30-second cold open videos intended to hook their would-be audience. Though several finalists were strong from the start — Damiano, Joy and Rob were among those who made solid first impressions — many struggled to command the camera, including Havird, a Southern chef from Georgia.

After watching Havird's second-chance cold open at iPic Theaters, guest judge Valerie Bertinelli was quick to deem him "sweet," and mentor Giada contemplated the competition that surrounded him.

"We have the biggest number of Southern cooks that we've ever had," she said, "so I feel like if he really doesn't differentiate himself from the pack, he's going to get lost." Sure though, Havird's inability to narrow his Southern POV, combined with his burned chicken, was enough to land him among the bottom-three finalists this week, and he was ultimately sent home after just one week in the contest.

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

Havird Usry: Wow, disappointed and upset

What was your initial reaction to hearing that you were being sent home tonight?

HU: I knew that I’d kind of played it safe with the food, and I thought my presentation was middle of the pack. But I was still a little bit surprised just by the whole thing. But I think everybody would say that when they call your name, it gets real pretty quick.

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

HU: Yeah, I mean, I thought their feedback was fair. I think I played it kind of simple, and obviously they didn’t like my execution that much. So, you know, it is what it is, and they all tasted it, so you own it and move on.

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

HU: Just like super crazy, and it takes you completely out of your comfort zone, at least somebody like me. I mean, I’ve never really cooked in front of a camera before. I’ve never had to present food like that before, so just completely out of my comfort zone. But I would still tell them, though eliminated, it was an awesome experience. You learn; you learn a lot about yourself really quick.

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

HU: I think the biggest thing was I tried to take something that was kind of Southern and do it outside the box just to put a spin on it and show — since there was so many of us that were here that were from the South and kind of claim the same sort of thing. But just to be true to myself and not try to separate yourself by doing something too different.

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

HU: Yeah, I don’t know if it was not expected, but just cooking with a time limit, and competitively, really kind of caught me by surprise and not something I wasn’t really prepped well to do. So, you know, something I guess I have to work on if I want to keep doing things like this.

Fill in the blanks with your fellow finalists' names.

_____ is the class clown. Yaku

_____ is the quietest. Erin Campbell

_____ is the most-daring. I have no clue. Monterey.

_____ has the best recipes. I’d have to say I’d love to look into Jernard’s cookbook.

_____ is going to win this competition. I think there needs to be a male, Italian counterpart to Giada, so I’d have to say Damiano.

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

HU: I guess you just deal with them. You just do it, and there’s no other way around it. I will say that each time that you get back to that situation again, though, it gets a little more comfortable. So I think that that’s the ultimate goal — is kind of just keep going. Keep going until you feel that comfort level that they probably feel when they’re in front of cameras.

How would you and your fellow finalists spend your down time on set?

HU: I think that we’re all pretty close. I mean, even after for this short amount of time that I was here we’re all kind of like family. Just cool to meet everybody, and you know now every corner of the country you’ve got a new friend if you’re out traveling and just maybe pop into their life one day and see how they do things and what’s going on and just nice to know people.

What do you want fans to remember most about you?

HU: Somebody who was just genuine. I didn’t come here to be dramatic and be somebody I’m not. Just they kind of [got to] see who I am.

What's next for you?

HU: We're about to open a new venue and hopefully a new restaurant. In the next few months, we’ll break ground, so super excited about that, and then just get back to the grind, too, and keeping everything running smooth that we already have going.