Star-a-Day: Rosa Graziano

Get to know Rosa, a finalist on Food Network Star, Season 11.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

There are traditional job interviews, which are surely daunting, then there's Food Network Star: an intense 11-week journey that requires nothing short of flawless technique in the kitchen and a downright sparkly personality on camera. Beginning June 7 at 9|8c, 12 all-new rivals will put their dreams on the line as they endure mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis' lofty challenges, all in the hopes of scoring the most-sought-after culinary career: Food Network host. Star Talk is bringing you the first look at each of the finalists in exclusive, candid interviews, and today we're introducing California's Rosa Graziano.

Rosa, 38 (Los Angeles), is a first-generation Italian-American who grew up in her family’s deli and catering business in New Jersey and learned to cook at her Neapolitan mother’s side. She eventually moved to Los Angeles and noticed a void in Southern Italian cuisine, so she decided to bring a taste of her mother’s dishes to the West Coast with her own food truck, which she operated for several years. From arancini to zeppoles, Rosa is ready to share her love of Southern Italian food and culture with kitchens across the country.

Describe your culinary POV in one sentence — if you can.

Rosa Graziano: Southern Italian foods, Southern Neapolitan foods. First-generation Italian girl. I was raised by the side of my mother. It's not a choice when you're an Italian girl. You just — you just have to do it. So that's how I learned about cooking and food.

If you could ask Bobby and Giada to teach you one thing in the kitchen, what would it be?

RG: I want to grill with Bobby. Giada is so delicate; there's something really delicate about her. I'm fascinated because she's such a delicate Italian. To me, when I think of my family — we're Southern Italian — it's a little bit heartier. She's intimidating to me because she's so great at what she does. I would make a pizzelle with Giada. To me, that's a metaphor of who she looks like and what feels like to me.

What one thing do you really want to convey to the mentors about you, your food or your would-be Food Network show?

RG: I want to be authentic and be who I am. I don't think I could give anything less or more than that. That's important to me. I also want to own not being perfect. I think it's intimidating when you watch certain cooks on TV and you see them stylize; it's intimidating for other people. Cooking shouldn't be that scary. It becomes unapproachable. I want it to be more approachable. I want people to feel like they could relate to my silliness and me calling out the insecurities — and almost over-vocalizing it because I want people to get that it's not that complicated. It isn't. Everyone's following a recipe — and yes, follow a recipe, and you're going to probably nail it when you follow a recipe. But there's a creativity in the kitchen that is missing, and that's where the fun part is. Pour the glass of wine and have fun; smell this herb and be like, "This is going to taste good in this chicken." That's the dance. That's very Italian of me to say, but you have to be creative in the kitchen, I think.

How did you prepare for this competition?

RG: You never feel like you know enough. You really don't — 'cause I'm not a trained chef. I don't feel clean and professional enough. And that to me is intimidating. When you say "chef coats," I'm like: "Really? Give me an apron." To me that's a real distinct difference.

I have no idea what challenges they're going to give me, so to prepare is almost stupid in a way. I could only say, trust your palate, trust your instincts, go with the flow, don't get in your own way, allow your creative nature to show up, trust that you have a sophisticated palate because you've been in food your whole life — you've been raised in this — you know. Trust that: You know, you know, you know, you know, you know. My insecurities come up, but I have to have faith that I do know and that I'm going to show up. With that being said, if I knew just a baseline of a lot of different recipes and tweak them based on what's being asked upon us.

Win or lose, what's something you want to take away from this contest?

RG: Win or lose? Win. I want to win — that's what I want.

What's your greatest strength in the kitchen?

RG: Being willing to be creative and take chances, I think that's going to be my biggest strength in the kitchen. I don't live by the recipe card. I'm willing to take that chance; I might fall on my face, but ... Again, this is your canvas, and you have to be an artist when you show up, and you have to be willing to paint your way, to your palate, what you think. I know taste; it's a blessing and a curse.

What is the strangest thing we'd find in your refrigerator right now?

RG: I'm always on a diet, so it's a lot of chemical processed foods. You'd be like, "She does not." Oh, no, no, no. I do. I do. I like my American processed cheese. We were raised Italian, so my house was always raised with these gourmet Italian foods, which I'm grateful for. But there was a part of us — my brothers and me — that had American food envy.

What was the first dish you perfected?

RG: A pasta puttanesca — it was one of my favorites.

What dish or ingredient will we never catch you eating?
RG: Curry
What's your favorite late-night snack?

RG: Nutella, Nutella, Nutella and Nutella. And a little bit more Nutella.

What is one must-have dish at your last supper?

RG: I say, bury me with Nutella and pasta. If, God forbid, for the afterlife I need something, give me pasta and Nutella. I'm good.

What do you want to say about yourself to fans watching at home?

RG: I hope I'm relatable. I think I'm likable. I'm authentic as you're going to get. This is no façade. I try to keep it real. I have nothing to prove. I've been around the block. I'm hoping not to have much ego. I'm sure some will come across, because it does. Whatever. But I want to be relatable to people. I want people to be like: "Oh, she's cool. I want to hang out with her. I want to cook with her. I want to roll with her." And I hope there's a likability there and that they want to welcome me into their homes. And maybe one day, them into mine.

Rapid fire: Think fast!
Ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise? Barbecue sauce
Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate
Bagels or doughnuts? A bagel-oughnut
Cream cheese or butter? Both
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Burgers or hot dogs? Burgers
French fries or onion rings? French fries
White meat or dark? Dark

Cake or pie? Can I have it together? I'll have it together with ice cream and whipped cream, please.

Beer or wine? Wine
French toast or pancakes? I'm torn.

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