Where are you living and working now?
I'm currently living in Venice Beach, Calif., which has led to much ridicule from my East Coast friends for being a "sellout." I will accept this moniker in exchange for the weather and being six blocks from the beach. I work (if one could call it that) all over the country in any given city on any given day.
What have you been up to since FNS?
I began my Food Network show, Will Work for Food, right after FNS4, and I feel like I'm still stuck in the whirlwind. I did a special for FN called Extreme Sweets, followed by a series of "Freaky" specials for Fine Living Network, including Freakiest Festivals, Freakiest Foods and Freakiest Vacations. These have all been travel shows mostly involving the world of food throughout the country.
I recently participated in episodes of Food Network Challenge and Chefs Vs. City, both of which were incredibly fun and educational experiences. Most recently I began working on Kid In A Candy Store for The Food Network. This is a show where we travel the country to discover the most delicious, creative and unusual desserts out there, which reminds me I have to call my dentist today and schedule an appointment.
What was your favorite thing about being on FNS? And your least favorite?
I met some friends that I plan on having for the rest of my life. I got to bring the two things I love to do most in this world together and somebody put it on camera. It would be an understatement to say that being on the show was a life-changing experience. My least favorite thing about being on the show was watching the mistakes that I made on TV and just kicking myself. I often found myself saying, "Dude, did you really just do that?", "What were you thinking?", "Why weren't you thinking?" and many other incredulous reactions to my behavior.
Do you keep in touch with other finalists?
I do still keep in touch with several of the finalists from my season. In the past few months I've hung out with Lisa Garza, Kevin Roberts, Shane Lyons and, of course, Big Daddy himself, Aaron McCargo Jr., who is just the coolest, truest, most talented dude. I'd be on his team any day.
What was the funniest/coolest/weirdest (or worst!) incident to happen behind the scenes?
I always remember Shane and I just going crazy at the house. Acting out the show and doing our impressions of Suzie, Bobby and Bob as well as each other. There was a lot of laughing back there and that's just about my favorite thing to do. It's weird being an adult and having a TV crew member put you in a time-out because reality must essentially be frozen when the camera is not rolling.
How did being on FNS affect your culinary career?
I became reinvigorated in my love of food and all things culinary. Being on the Food Network inspires you to step up your game. I've been cooking a lot and learning all of the different styles that I can. My heart still beats the hardest for good old American barbecue, though. I still love spending a day tending the smoker in pursuit of the finest experience one could hope to have with a piece of meat. In California my brother, Keith, and I have begun a catering company called Happy Fire Cooking Co. We're doing things inspired by barbecue and expanding our horizons to include influences of Mexico, California, New Orleans and some great Asian styles. I still love the food and the food business, and hopefully soon Keith and I will have a spot of our very own again.
What advice would you offer the next round of finalists
Be in the moment. Have fun. Know that you're just making a TV show and the experience is what you make of it. Don't search for nasty things that people say about you on the Internet because you will find them.
When you look back, what would you have done differently?
I can talk all day about some of the bad cooking choices I made back then but the fact is those were my choices for where I was in my life at that time. I'm very happy how things have turned out so it's hard to say what I would have done differently. If I had done something differently I may have adversely affected the outcome. I think I watch too much Lost. I know you don't believe me but I'm really glad Aaron won the show. Out of everyone on the show I believe he deserved it the most.
Do people recognize you from being on the show
All the time. It's very cool that people can just come up to you wherever you may be, even places that you may not even have been to before, and say hi.
What was the greatest lesson you learned from your time on FNS
"If you will it, it is no dream, dude." This experience has been the culmination of a lifelong dream for me. Put yourself out there, don't hold anything back and then at least you can say you gave it your all. Pretty cheesy, I know, but I figure anyone on this website must like cheese.
What's your current favorite recipe or signature dish?
Ever the barbecue guy, I've been doing some fusion ‘cue. I brine and smoke a pork butt till tender and serve with a grilled pineapple chili relish on flour tortillas. I love substituting the bun for the tortilla and the grilled pineapple is a cool alternative to classic barbecue sauce.