An Exclusive Interview with the Winner of All-Star Academy
Eight weeks ago 10 home cooks entered All-Star Academy with hopes of making it to the end and leaving as the winner of the $50,000 grand prize. After many hard-fought battles, having faced numerous culinary curveballs, maniacal mash-ups and more, one person has come out on top as the winner. FN Dish has the exclusive interview with the winner.
The winner of All-Star Academy is Team Bobby's Joseph Harris.
Joseph quietly and calmly cooked his way through the competition. You might call him the underdog for flying in under the radar, but his consistent cooking was unbeatable, and his flavors were a force to be reckoned with. He and Bobby made the perfect team. Bobby's laid-back mentoring style worked well on Joseph, who fed off Bobby's confidence, bringing out confidence in himself, which definitely showed in the cooking. Read Joseph's interview below and find out what's next for him.
Joseph Harris: Probably one of the greatest experiences of my life. You know, growing up, looking at Bobby Flay on Food Network ... never in a million years would I have ever thought I'd be cooking with him, let alone [being mentored by] him. It was just a monumental experience for me to work with him, and, yeah, it was an experience I'll never forget.
What was it like cooking alongside Bobby in the breakfast challenge?
JH: It was good! Uh, it was a little scary. Just because, again, it's cooking with Bobby Flay. And, you know, I went in with just the expectation of not only wanting to learn and to see how he operates in the kitchen alongside of someone else, but I actually wanted to kind of keep my distance as well, because I knew he was a man on a mission and he wanted to win. So I wanted to stay out of his way, but stay close enough to where I could still be mentored by him and enjoy that experience as well.
Were there any lessons or skills you learned from Bobby?
JH: Yes! He taught me to season on every level. Whenever you're adding anything to the pot – season it. Whenever you're taking something out – season it. Just the constant seasoning on every level, which was a technique that I wasn't really sure of before. ... Just personally, [I learned] how to stay confident under pressure. ... Even if it looked like we weren't doing well, he still remained so confident, and I was able to take that away [and] realize that I could be confident just like him under pressure.
What did Robert Irvine bring out of you as a mentor, compared with Bobby?
JH: Bobby's method of mentoring was more stoic, and I think more of a confident, gentle approach. Robert's was more of an extreme version of that. A little bit more forceful, more direct, which is fine with me. ... I just kind of listen directly to what they're saying, not necessarily how they're saying it. ... It definitely put confidence in me to hear Robert encourage me, just to let me know that I wasn't failing – that I could redo the meatballs in that particular challenge. ... Mentoring is mentoring no matter how it comes across. And that's kind of just how I took it.
What was it like facing Michael's team in the last challenge? Was there added pressure knowing he and Bobby are best friends yet also extremely competitive with each other?
JH: From my point of view it seemed like it was just innocent, harmless, you know, a child's play type of thing. It wasn't anything serious. I thought it was more amusing to see the two of them — because they're so close — kind of going at it, and just doing it in a fun, cool way, how friends would typically do it. If anything, it actually showed me that both of them are even more human, and that they know how to have good fun, showmanship with each other.
What was it like going up against Vanessa in the final round, especially since she already had won the previous two rounds?
JH: To be honest, during that final round ... I was under the impression ... that I was going home. So I didn't expect to win. So it was surprising for me to win. I didn't have any animosity towards Vanessa at all, because I know she really wanted to win and that she needed the money too. So for me it was a win-win whether she won or whether I won. It really honestly didn't matter to me, because at that point I was just grateful to be where I was.
Did you feel confident without Bobby's assistance in the last challenge?
JH: I did. At that point I think he trusted me enough to be able to carry that challenge through, and at the end he tasted the dish [and] said it was perfect. I was grateful for that. ... I didn't really care that he couldn't press the SOS button, because at that point it was just like, OK, it was what it was. It wasn't like doing it the very first time, where I really needed to depend on him.
At one point Bobby called you a "beautiful person inside and out" and a "great cook." Is there anything you'd like to say to Bobby now?
JH: I really could say the same thing about him. The exposure that I was able to receive from him, of course, was monumental. ... Not only is he a great chef, but a great mentor, and just someone that anyone would be lucky to be a friend of, in addition to having him as a mentor. ... It's an experience I'll never forget. So I just want to thank him for it.
What does the win mean for you? What do you plan to do with the prize money?
JH: The win, for me, to be honest, was not so much about the money. It's really never been about the money for me. It was more about the confidence and the awareness to believe that I have what it takes to make it, especially to make it that far. I didn't even think that I could even get on the show, just because I doubted myself and my ability so much. So to win just blew me away ... . But as far as the prize money is concerned, I initially, of course, wanted to go to culinary school. I was going to culinary school a couple of years ago, before my mom had the stroke. And ever since that time I've looked into it, and the type of culinary school that I would like to go to, it's very expensive. And $50,000 would just be one semester. I'd have [to take] a lot more than just one semester to finish it. So just comparing that with the financial responsibility of being able to go to school, I'm more leaning toward pursuing [a degree in] culinary arts.
What are your plans for the future? Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years?
JH: In five to 10 years, I would, of course love to have my own restaurant. I have several concepts in my mind, but I would love to have a farm-to-table, family-style, soul food restaurant — or comfort food, I guess I should say — here in Baltimore, and at least have that done. ... Of course, I look up to Bobby and all of the other Food Network chefs and envy them, because that's really where I want to be in life. I mean, that's really what I see myself doing.
What is your cooking style? What are some of your favorite dishes to cook?
JH: My cooking style is just really back to basics. ... I'm very big on farm-to-table, using lots of local, healthy, organic ingredients. I'm incorporating that into the comfort food that we grew up eating, you know, like your grandmother would cook, or your mom would cook. And people always say, "Oh man, nobody makes this like my mom," or "Nobody makes this like my grandmother." That's the food that I love to cook, because that's what people build memories around, and that's what people build family around. Those core values essentially are important to me, and that's what I want to facilitate and [have] really come through in any of my dishes.
Have your mom and grandmother influenced your cooking?
JH: Absolutely! Definitely the two of them. I would say my grandmother was the one that actually sparked my culinary passion, if you will. I grew up at her house, and she had a catering company. And I would get up sometimes in the middle of the night and see her preparing dishes, and I was always curious: What is she chopping up? Why does it smell that way? And why does the food processor make that sound? And it sparked a curiosity in me that I still haven't been able to get rid of, and, as a result of that, my mom started to teach me how to cook and she helped me bake my first cake and taught me how to make crab cakes and chicken, and just all these different things.
JH: I did! Several times. My mom teaches me different secrets sometimes. I think one time I was making a marinara sauce and toward the end it tasted great, but my mom always said to put a pat or a spoon of butter in to finish the sauce off, and I thought about that when I was making the sauce. And when I did it I was like, "Oh my gosh, it tastes exactly [like hers]." And even Ted had mentioned something about it, and he was like, "Why'd you do that?" And I said, "Well, that was a little secret my mom taught me." And he said, "Mom knows right!" You know? And evidently it was right, because that's what got me first place in that round, winning the advantage for that week.
Is there one dish that you made on the show that you are most proud of?
JH: Actually, yes! The final dish that I created, the bass. I got that inspiration from Bobby's restaurant. He invited us out to dinner that week. I had that dish in his restaurant, and it was so sophisticated but yet simple and elegant and just delicious. It actually tasted like elegant comfort food or elevated comfort food. I never in a million years would have even thought to create a dish like that. So I would say when I did do it, and it tasted just like, if not better than, what I had in his restaurant, I was beyond just proud. I was so grateful and thankful that it turned out the way that it did.