Where are you living/working now?
I continue to reside in San Diego, Calif., and work a very full, full-time job as a busy banquet chef for the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel.
In addition, I have a weekly Wednesday cooking segment that I've been doing on San Diego Living called Haute Cuisine with Chef Carissa.
I continue to write and test tons of recipes for individual and private in-home cooking classes that I do as well as a cookbook I'd like to get published. I continue to teach as a culinary instructor at various cooking schools throughout San Diego, as well as continue to pursue my ongoing daily goal of having my own cooking/travel show someday. Yeah!
What have you been up to since FNS?
As mentioned above, I am juggling a lot of culinary-type balls and loving every minute of it. I am continually trying to get the television career doors to open so that I can host my own cooking and travel show, come out with a cookbook of all my recipes, write for a food magazine and eventually open a gourmet food store and tea salon. There are so many things I'd like to do. I just keep plugging away as much as possible to try to open some doors for myself.
What did you enjoy most (and least) about being on FNS?
The thing that I enjoyed the most was meeting all of the wonderful people, including the contestants, Food Network staff, production crew, Food Network personalities and everyone involved throughout the entire process. There's nothing like being surrounded by top-notch personalities and people.
What I enjoyed the least about being on FNS was having a hard time relaxing and just doing what I love to do, and what I'm good at. When you're in the moment of an intense competition for something you want so badly, there is a ton of pressure and it was hard for me sometimes to monitor that, control it and harness it in a positive, constructive way and focus on just being in the moment and having fun with it all.
Do you still keep in touch with other finalists?
I most certainly do! This experience bonded us together in a very strange and interesting way and we're like a mini Food Network family now. All 12 of us know what we went through during our experience like no one else can. I was lucky to be surrounded by a group of really great individuals with a like-minded goal.
Any behind-the-scenes happenings from FNS you can tell us about?
All of my Season 2 pals and I were a very close-knit group of folks with a like-minded interest. We were all very different in our own right, but meshed extremely well from the very beginning through today. I couldn't have gotten any luckier than I did to be able to work with such a talented group of individuals, both professionally and personally. No juicy details from our season as we were all there for a very specific purpose and didn't lose focus at all. For some fun behind-the-scenes photos, you can go to my website, www.simplycarissa.com.
How did being on FNS affect your culinary career?
My experience on NFNS introduced me to a whole new world that I'd always dreamed of being involved in. It allowed me to better understand the inner workings of a television show and familiarize myself with the entire process. It opened up doors for me to teach culinary classes, get inspired to write and test recipes for a cookbook, speak in front of large groups and get me out in front of people who could potentially open up doors for me in the professional television culinary world.
What advice would you offer the next round of finalists?
I'd say to be prepared for absolutely anything. No, scratch that. You can't be prepared. You just have to be you. Be absolutely prepared to do anything and test your limits like you never have before. Throughout everything, just be the truest "you" that you can be and that will lead you as far as you can possibly go and as far as you're meant to go. If you aren't able to relax and just be yourself then other people won't be able to relax, see your passion and enjoy what it is that you can truly bring to the table — pardon the pun.
When you look back, would you have done anything differently?
I think that my biggest obstacle on the show was just trying to relax and be "me." It is hard sometimes when you're surrounded by so many new things, facing tough challenges, in a new environment, meeting your culinary idols and intensely competing every minute while being sleep-deprived. If I could change anything I'd just let it all flow, be myself, relax, let my personality shine through and not worry so much about the end result. Cook, be happy, relax, enjoy the moment and share your talent and passion with the world.
Are you recognized from your time on FNS?
It's funny, but yes, I do get recognized occasionally. I was recognized much more while advertisements for the show were running, during and immediately following the show's airing. Even now, I continue to get people that ask, "Don't I know you? You look soooo familiar ..." When I respond, "Food Network?" they gasp and cry, "That's right!" It's quite an honor and still so cute and funny.
What was the greatest lesson you learned from your time on FNS?
The greatest lesson that I learned from the show was that things happen for a reason and that timing is everything. You may not know now why things worked out the way that they did, but there must be something higher working and pushing you towards something else, in a different direction or a different timetable. I also learned full well that you can't accomplish anything at all unless you try — and sometimes fail — so never say no to your dreams and always pursue your true passion in life no matter what the initial outcome may be. Never give up and never settle!