Season 1: Michael Thomas
Where are you living and working now?
I'm living in Los Angeles and working everywhere.
What have you been up to since FNS?
I've been cooking, traveling, surfing, hosting shows and throwing ridiculous parties for hundreds of people. Basically, the same things as ever. I was Tyra Banks' on-camera chef until she moved out to New York. I miss her. Say hi if you see her. I just shot a show called The Eatventurer that will be airing somewhere this summer. I'll keep you posted.
What was your favorite thing about being on FNS? And your least favorite?
Cooking in the FN kitchens with super cool people, and kissing Paula Deen was pretty great. Being tortured by the curveballs that make for good television was more challenging, but in the end, still really fun.
Do you keep in touch with other finalists?
I talk every once and awhile with almost everyone. Hans and I talk all the time and hang out a couple of times a year. We just cooked a giant paella for a Gastric Cancer Fund benefit — he's a survivor, you know — at an epic Palo Alto winery and it was an awesome time. Hans's the raddest and a force of pure good. Nothing can stop him. I am always on the run doing a ridiculous amount of ridiculous things and he still makes me feel lazy. He's a husband and father of two, runs his own amazing family restaurant, hosts shows, travels around the country teaching cooking, cook-counseling cancer survivors, pitching the book that he wrote, created art for and published himself and runs an art print company. See what I mean? And that's not even all of it.
What was the funniest/coolest/weirdest (or worst!) incident to happen behind the scenes?
There is a lot of downtime in between events, and we'd be sitting around for hours while things were being set up. So, eventually we got to the point where people started loosening up and revealing their stupid human tricks. Harmony had a yoga-like, floor-fish swim and magical hair, that when hung over someone's head from behind, could turn anyone blond. Hans could juggle lemons. Eric laughed and laughed like no one I've ever seen before. If you're doing stand-up comedy, make sure Eric is there. Brook and I did two-man somersaults and handstand races. Dan and Steve had musical songs always at the ready, and Susannah had a bunch of hilarious Boston-accent bits. Good times.
How did being on FNS affect your culinary career?
The show was a great experience and a springboard for other on-camera cooking opportunities, and it's always a nice thing to put on the resume.
What advice would you offer the next round of finalists?
Have as much fun as you can. It'll be over fast and you might as well enjoy it. Plus, you'll look like you're having fun, which is fun to watch. Basically, you can never lose with fun.
When you look back, what would you have done differently?
I certainly wish I would have practiced more. I'm an improvisational cook, but when you're doing it on camera, it really helps to have a game plan. I guess then that my plan was to be a goofball and the weirdest dude that's ever been on the Food Network, and though I didn't win, I think my plan was a huge success.
Do people recognize you from being on the show?
The first few months it was crazy. People I would have never tagged as Food Network fans would say hey, want to pose for pictures, buy you a drink or even want to make out. It was obviously pretty great. I would travel around with friends who are on Saturday Night Live or are movie actors, and I'd get recognized far more than them. It was hilarious.
What was the greatest lesson you learned from your time on FNS?
Competition is a great challenge and can be rewarding, but friendship is far cooler.
What's your current favorite recipe or signature dish?
Right now I'm kind of obsessed with various kinds of sliders and fries. Burgers are back and literally bigger than ever.
Eat, drink and be merry as often as possible, my friends.
Season 1: Michael Thomas