Where are you living and working now?
I'm livin' large in Jackson, Mich., and still hosting Home For Dinner for JTV. Hoping for possible syndication this year. My family is fantastic: lovely wife Angie, oldest son Keatan (10), middle son Kerik (8) and Astella (5).
What have you been up to since FNS?
Cooking. A lot of cooking! I've learned so much since the show. If you have a passion going in, it's tenfold going out. I have a passion to make great food and uphold a reputation as a Food Network chef. People expect good things when I cook for them, and I'm so happy to be able to oblige. I love the challenge of always improving.
What was your favorite thing about being on FNS? And your least favorite?
My favorite was the overwhelming culture shock-type experience. Being so alien and unaware of what was going to happen. The stress, the comfort, the cold smokes and beers downstairs with Tommy. Becoming family with strangers very, very fast. All of it. No one can ever take that away from me.
My least favorite was the trip when we finished taping the finale. I knew it was the last time I might see a lot of these cats. People I became close with and loved. Damn, what a trip.
Do you keep in touch with the other finalists?
Not as many as often as I would like. Tommy and I keep in touch. That crazy [dude] will always be like family to me. We've been very fortunate to have traveled quite a bit together and performed demos in Atlantic City and at Disney World in Orlando. We had a great trip to Pensacola, Fla., with Chef Lee. I talk to Paul now and then. We became good friends after the show. He's a busy guy and has a hell of a successful catering and private-dinner business.
What was the funniest/coolest/weirdest (or worst!) incident to happen behind the scenes?
One of the coolest was spending time down at Merchants with Tommy after elimination. We made that place a hangout after the finale get-together! Also, listening to that kick-ass band in Los Angeles with JAGMan when we were on a photo shoot. Great night and great music.
Weirdest, probably Pauly's sleepwalking. Ha! Sorry, dude, some of us won't forget that.
How did being on FNS affect your culinary career?
It affected it in a big way. It forced me to learn at a rapid pace and it dramatically focused my passion for great food. I've spent a lot of time in restaurants, on the line, doing things I had never done before. I'm so grateful.
What advice would you offer the next round of finalists?
Realize that everyone is as uncomfortable as you are. Just relax to the best of your ability. Let your personality do the talking. Most of you can cook good food. It takes another to be able to teach it in a fun and attractive way. Very, very important.
When you look back, what would you have done differently?
I wish I had had a bit more culinary knowledge. I've picked up so much since the show. The insecurities I had while on the show are now gone. It's what I truly believe sealed my fate, not the Alton challenge.
Do people recognize you from being on the show?
Yeah, they really do. I was hosting my local cooking show since before NFNS and the experience only intensified it.
What was the greatest lesson you learned from your time on FNS?
You don't know reality television until you've filmed a season of Food Network Star.
What's your current favorite recipe or signature dish?
It's the Beef Tenderloin dish from the Wedding Challenge.
I had such an amazing experience all the way around. I've had huge ups and downs since the show. I love the entertainment part of this business and I feel I have so much to offer. Never give up on your dream if you feel the same. It's what makes or breaks you. I'll never stop because it's what I love to do. I continue to learn and I'm 100 times the cook I was before the show. I still feel I have it in me. Cheers to everybody at Food Network, from Emily who gave me the initial call back about the show to Bruce Seidel seeing me off when I was eliminated. Oh, I can't forget Pauly and JAG packing my bag with me before I left the Carriage House for the last time. Thinking about it makes me smile.