Star-a-Day: Rue Rusike

Get to know Rue, 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 Brooklyn's Rue Rusike.

Rue, 26 (Brooklyn), is originally from Zimbabwe but has lived all over the globe. She is a private chef who is passionate about southern African cuisine and believes good cooking comes from love, patience and a happy soul. Rue is ready to introduce her favorite dishes and heritage to a bigger audience by taking away some of the mystery and making the cuisine approachable to the everyday home cook.

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

Rue Rusike: My culinary POV is southern African with modern French techniques.

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

RR: I would love to learn from Giada how she is so at ease on camera, how she's able to keep the smile and cook the way that she does. She makes it look absolutely flawless. Bobby Flay, I would love to gain his speed with knife skills.

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

RR: I just really want to convey to them that my show and my food is about bringing to the nation something that people feel is complicated or unapproachable, which is African cuisine, and more specifically, southern African cuisine. It's unique in that people haven't seen it on Food Network yet. I want to show people how rich and warming, and just how homey it makes you feel when you eat southern African cuisine. I grew up on it. I grew up in southern Africa, so that's I want to portray.

How did you prepare for this competition?

RR: Honestly, I think every day, every five minutes, I was like: "Oh my, gosh. I'm going to be on Food Network." That was part of the preparation 'cause I was trying to prepare my mind for it. But I also called my mom and my sister and asked them what their favorite recipes were when we were growing up and the things they remember about the foods that they liked to cook and what they liked to eat. I thought that was important for me: to get in touch with what my family really loved about southern African food.

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

RR: Win or lose, I just want to take away from this experience that it doesn't matter whether you have a different point of view or outlook when it comes to cuisines, because southern African isn't something that people really know very well in America. I want to take away a confidence within myself to say: "It doesn't matter what people think about what you do and the point of view you have if you go at it with your heart and your soul. You're going to come out on top one way or another."

What's your greatest strength in the kitchen?

RR: My greatest strength in the kitchen is that I don't take "no" for an answer, and I am willing to jump over any hurdle.

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

RR: It's a fight between pig's feet and intestines, like tripe — stomach lining.

What do you consider to be your signature dish?

RR: A Mozambican coconut crab curry. When I was in culinary school, a friend of mine was from Mozambique, so she started teaching us all these different Mozambican ingredients, and she made me this coconut broth that she actually cooked with chicken necks. And I took that and I evolved it into a seafood dish that now I cook all the time and I absolutely love.

What was the first dish you perfected?

RR: A traditional African dish, it's a cornmeal cake, which we call sadza in Zimbabwe. It's just water and fine-grain cornmeal, and you cook it to a thickness where it's pliable with your hands. And I make that with a peanut butter and spinach dish, and together for me, it's just simple; it's phenomenal. You have everything you need in that meal.

What dish or ingredient will we never catch you eating?
RR: Caviar. I absolutely hate it.
What's your favorite late-night snack?

RR: So, a few people that I used to work with when I was bartending, they used to make fun of me because I'll wake up, and for me a late-night snack isn't going into a bag of chips or getting some candy. It's actually at the stove, at midnight, braising a fish with, like, red pepper and onions. So for me, I love making a whole meal. But if there is one thing I will make, it doesn't matter what time it is, it's chicken. I'm in love with chicken wings. It's crazy. Chicken wings and then strawberry gelatin right after.

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

RR: My grandmother makes this Zambian dried fish and it takes about 12 hours to cook, and it's smoky [and] it falls off the bone. It's got some spice to it — tomato, onion. And it just kind of boils and simmers for 12 hours on a fire outside. That's my must-have dish.

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

RR: I want to say to them: Give every cuisine an opportunity. Try everything at least once. You might just be surprised. And I think that everyone is going to be pleasantly surprised by southern African cuisine.

Rapid fire: Think fast!
Ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise? Ketchup
Chocolate or vanilla? Vanilla
Bagels or doughnuts? Doughnuts
Cream cheese or butter? Butter
Coffee or tea? Tea
Burgers or hot dogs? Burgers
French fries or onion rings? French fries
White meat or dark? Dark
Cake or pie? Cake
Beer or wine? Wine
French toast or pancakes? Pancakes

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