Hans Rueffert

Where are you living and working now?

My wife and I own the Woodbridge Inn restaurant and lodge in downtown Jasper, Ga. Come and see us!

What have you been up to since FNS?

Just two weeks after the finale of FNS, Season One, I was diagnosed with stage 3 stomach (gastric) cancer. In the surgeries that followed that diagnosis, I lost half of my stomach and half of my esophagus. I went through a regimen of chemo and radiation therapies and ended up losing more than 70 pounds (never trust a skinny chef, right?). I'm happy to report that I'm in remission and living every day as if it were my last. Since my cancer experience I've filmed more than 50 cooking shows and penned a cookbook, Eat Like There's No Tomorrow. I also teach at the Cancer Wellness Center in Atlanta, which is tremendously rewarding. Most importantly, I'm a father of two fabulously curious children and the husband of an inspiringly creative wife. Life is good. Check out www.hanscooks.com, my website, and try and keep up.

What was your favorite thing about being on FNS? And your least favorite?

I walked away from that experience with lifelong friends and an education that you couldn't hope to learn any other way. I loved the anticipation of each day's challenge and inventing dishes on the fly based on the selections at the communal pantry table. Plus, it's always nice when you have someone else cleaning up your mess in the kitchen. Though it was the challenge I dreaded the most, the media "eat and greet" event was my favorite challenge. I just seem to be in my element with a live audience.

Do you keep in touch with other finalists?

Absolutely. My Food Network friends were in constant contact with me during my cancer battles and continue to be a regular part of my life. They're just great people. Marc Summers has been a constant mentor and supporter. Michael Thomas and I have worked together, and get together whenever we can for "eating tours." Dan, Steve and I are hoping to cook together in 2010, and Eric and Susannah check in on me from time to time as well. They are my Food Network family.

What was the funniest/coolest/weirdest (or worst!) incident to happen behind the scenes?

Most of the funny/cool/weird/embarrassing stuff happened in the Green Room while we were waiting on our challenges. We were in there for hours at a time and the combination of heightened nerves and anticipation made us all a little goofy. That's where the friendships were made. There really wasn't a sense of competition behind the scenes. We were all genuinely concerned about everyone's performances and gave tips and suggestions after each challenge.

How did being on FNS affect your culinary career?

I was already doing a bit of television work prior to NFNS, but the show really helped me hone my on-screen skills and taught me to connect with the person on the other side of the camera.

What advice would you offer the next round of finalists?

Don't try and be someone you're not. Stick to what you do best and don't second guess yourself. Ultimately, it may not be what the judges are looking for, but the camera sees right through you if you try and fake it. Also, enjoy every minute of the experience. It'll be over before you know it.

When you look back, what would you have done differently?

I don't think there’s anything. I'm proud of my performances on the show and I am happy incredibly happy with the experience.

Do people recognize you from being on the show?

All the time. I do a good deal of traveling and I am always surprised when people recognize me. I keep an online blog and many fans of the show followed my cancer journey as well. It's nice when people approach me with a kind word and a wish of health. What more could you ask for?

What was the greatest lesson you learned from your time on FNS?

Wow, that's somewhat of a beauty-pageant question. I guess I learned to trust myself. Every time I questioned my ability to perform a task, I always came through it just fine.

What's your current favorite recipe or signature dish?

A recipe from my cookbook: Honey-Cumin Okra. My favorite way to eat okra is to simply flash-heat it with a few spices until the pods are hot but still crunchy. If you have an aversion to okra, give this recipe a try. I've converted quite a few folks over to okra with this one. For a twist, add a solid dash of your favorite hot sauce. The combination of sweet, hot and crunch is downright addictive. Give it a try.

Anything else?

This year marks my five-year, cancer-free anniversary, which is huge in the life of a survivor. I'd love to be able to share my cancer story with America and perhaps spread a bit of hope.