One-on-One with the Latest Food Network Star Finalist to Go Home

Hear from the second Food Network Star finalist eliminated from the competition in an exclusive interview.

Finalists Sita Lewis, Emilia Cirker and Matthew Grunwald during elimination as seen on Food Network Star, Season 11.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

It's the nature of the Food Network Star beast that even though no matter how badly finalists want to achieve their dreams of stardom, ultimately only one can win the coveted title, and with that, 11 finalists will be going home. Every week Star Talk will bring you the first exclusive interview with the most-recently eliminated finalist. From thoughts on mentors' critiques to reflections on past challenges and hopes for the future, be sure to check back every Sunday night for the latest one-on-one chat. We're about to break down the ins and outs of tonight's new episode and reveal who went home, so if you've yet to watch the show, read no further until then.

There was no shortage of Star power in Episode 2; not only did Melissa d'Arabian join the cast as a guest judge for the Mentor Challenge, but Alex Guarnaschelli was on hand to oversee the Star Challenge alongside five of the country's most-acclaimed pastry chefs. This was the first week in which the finalists cooked in Food Star Kitchen, and for some the new setting came with its challenges. In the Mentor Challenge, the rivals were tasked with creating dinner dishes using leftovers and refrigerator staples. While both Dom and Arnold struggled through their presentations of their dishes, Matthew performed better on camera than he did last week, and Melissa even called him "incredibly charming."

For Matthew, however, the situation changed in the Star Challenge, in which the competitors had to embrace baking as they put savory spins on classically sweet treats. Matthew opted for galettes filled with greens, which the Committee found to be jumbled. Perhaps more problematic, though, was his presentation in front of the judges and pastry chefs. "I find it a little bit hard to connect with Matthew," Alex said of him, and sure enough, he placed among the bottom-three performers this week. At evaluation, Matthew was nearly spared from elimination, but ultimately he caused his own demise by flashing a too-confident smirk to the Committee.

Read on below for the first exclusive interview with Matthew and find out his take on the competition.

What three words best describe how you were feeling when you learned of your elimination?

Matthew Grunwald: Oh, devastated, defeated and sad. Like, not good. I mean, really, it was not good at all.

What was your initial reaction to learning of your elimination?

MG: Oh, I was literally so bummed. I really was. It’s very therapeutic for me to bake. So I made doughnuts and fried chicken, and I was frying everything in shortening. And I was really just kind of eating my feelings and then taking a picture of it. I was self-soothing in my own way.

Finalist Matthew Grunwald preparing his dish, Bitter Greens Mostarda Galette with Blue Cheese Greek Yogurt Ice Cream with Smoked Sea Salt, Espelette and a Marsala Berry Syrup, for the Star Challenge, Savory Baking, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 11.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Do you stand by your last dish and your last presentation?

MG: No. I think my dish needed to be simpler. I think that the flavors were there, but I was trying to do too much and it was chaotic. It was like a hurricane of flavors, when it just needed to be, like, a single raindrop. I think I should have really focused my food to my point of view. I think I not only needed to simplify my point of view but also my cooking.

In your own words, how would you describe to fans what this competition is really like?

MG: This competition is what you make it. I think if you come into it, you need to treat it with a certain level of severity, and this needs to be the only thing that matters. But you really need to have fun. And if you come into this super competitive, it really actually works to your downfall.

Finalist Matthew Grunwald introducing himself to the Selection Committee, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 11.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

You had very strong reactions to both your fellow finalists and the mentors at times.

MG: I barked at people. I’m like: "Oh, my gosh. What was I doing?" I just get so competitive.

Are there any moments in particular that you wish you could do over?

MG: Ah, no. I’m going to say no to do-over moments because I think that this was such a teachable lesson. And I am, yes, very naturally competitive, but I think it’s so important to have discernment with what you share about who you are, and really, portraying yourself in the light as opposed to this super-aggressive, like highly competitive, person, you know? And that’s good to still have that, but I think there needs to be a nice friendly mix.

You mentioned lessons learned. What’s one of your greatest takeaways from this experience?

MG: Oh, it was [having] a focused point of view. I respond really super well under pressure, and this competition really was a lot of pressure. And naturally when I’m under pressure, I’m usually in a restaurant, so I brought chef mode to this competition where I really needed to just, like, take a chill pill and, like, lighten up. You know, honestly coming into this I had sat down, written out a plan; I had my point of view and when I came here, I think that I got so nervous that it just went aloof.

Finalist Matthew Grunwald in evaluations for the Mentor Challenge, Kraft Pantry, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 11.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

After an exploration in hashtags, you honed your POV to be Southwestern. Talk to us about the journey that led to that.

MG: I think I was being too [concerned with the] strategy, and I was thinking too much about how I was going to reach a fan base. I think I was taking the back-of-camera approach, whereas with flavors of the Southwest — I had been cooking flavors of the Southwest my whole life. I don’t have hashtags attached to that. I have memories with my family and my friends and experiences that correlate with a dish, which is really what I think it boils down to.

So that was a natural fit for you?

MG: Yes and I think the hashtag, that’s still something I enjoy, but it’s not, that’s just another aspect of who I am. That’s not the core. That wasn’t the root and the trunk of the tree. That was maybe some of the branches.

What piece of mentor feedback will you keep with you going forward?

MG: Oh, when Bobby said I was fearless. That was so inspiring. That was really — I mean, I am. I am fearless.

Finalist Matthew Grunwald preparing his dish, Hamachi Sashimi, Roasted Pineapple and Poblano Chimichurri, Gochujang Aioli, Avocado, Radish, for the Star Challenge, Food Star Showcase, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 11.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

What are some of your highlights and lowlights of the competition?

MG: Being outdoors at the vineyard [was a highlight]. It’s something that will live with me forever. I love cooking outdoors. It was a beautiful 74-degree day out, the sun was shining, people were outdoors, it was a food festival, people were hungry. I wanted there to be, like, a live band; that would have been nice. But it was just being outdoors and being able to really push myself and display my culinary capabilities to the network and the mentors and JD Heyman from People Magazine. I mean, it was just the perfect day.

What elements of the competition, be they positive or negative, were you least expecting?

MG: Interesting. I don’t even know what I would say. What was I not expecting? I wasn’t expecting to get sent home the second week. That was really, I mean, it was so disheartening; it was very disheartening, being sent home that early, what with all of the hard work I’ve done. But what I was expecting: I’m not surprised, though. Because if you don’t deliver results — like passion, I mean, that’s great if you have passion, but if you can’t consolidate that into a clear sentence, then adios.

Any funny behind-the-scenes stories from time with your fellow finalists?

MG: Rosa is a hoot. She is so funny and she’s such a bubbly Italian woman. Oh, and you know what else? Hearing Dom talk about the business side of food trucks in New York City and how many logistics go into it. That was something that I really found fascinating, I mean, with all the permits and laws and how you got to hustle and beat out the halal cart.

Were Rosa and Dom your best buds in the competition?

MG: I think, I’d say I most got along with Rosa and Dom. They work hard and they have that, like, hustler mentality. So you know I think that’s kind of what — I think I got along very well with them. But it was kind of difficult being the youngest person here. There was such an age gap that it was like, what do I talk about? Do I, like, talk about emojis? Like, they’re not going to want to talk about that.

You felt that age gap?

MG: I did feel a little bit of an age gap, yes. And I think it was kind of a two-way street, especially since I came into this so competitive. I think that they were just expecting me to come into this and be like the boy next door, and then they got this, like, vicious lion that needed to be a little bit tamed.

Fill in the blanks with your fellow finalists' names:
_____ was the class clown? Rosa
_____ is the quietest? Me
_____ is the most daring? Me
_____ has the best recipes? Dom, I think, has some really good recipes.

Mentor Bobby Flay during the Star Challenge, Savory Baking, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 11.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Did you have any nerves in working with Bobby, Giada and the special guests?

MG: I get adrenaline. I get so amped up. I have such respect for them, but I don’t get intimidated. Like, I wanted to talk to them. Like, when I called Alex Guarnaschelli a beast. Like, oh my gosh, did that happen? But I think that’s what’s so special about Food Network is that because it’s such a talent-driven brand, I mean, the talent really has to be so approachable. And I think that that’s something that’s really special from their end. That even though they’ve developed these international culinary brands, they’re superstars, they’re still very approachable. And I think that they want to be approached. I think that they enjoy that. Maybe. I don’t know. ... But I think people like that, I mean, that’s that warmth. It’s that human interaction.

You mentioned being really "amped up" to learn from the panel. Was there one person in particular when you started the competition that you were most excited to learn from.

MG: Susie Fogelson. I wanted to pick Susie Fogelson’s brain. That woman is outstanding. Not to say the others aren’t, but my goodness, like, what a track record she has. She makes zero mistakes.

What was the greatest piece of advice that maybe the Committee gave you?

MG: The focus. And it was something that while I was in the process it didn’t make sense, but once the seed had time to take root, it really made sense.

What piece of advice would you give future finalists?

MG: Oh, write it down. There’s something very therapeutic and scientific to taking a critique from the mentor and writing it down. It's the follow-through. That's something I wish I would have done when they said, "Focus." Just the process of writing down focus is doing something. It’s an action. And taking that action gets you out of the chaos, so I would say writing everything, writing everything down, because it gives you something visually you can see, you can edit. You can pull from that and then have something clear and concise.

What do you want fans to remember most about you?

MG: What I want them to remember most about me is my culinary point of view, my flavors of the Southwest. I want people to want to cook family meals because of me. I want people to want to set the table, invite people over and make the dinner plate a destination.

If you could go back to day one in that spotlight challenge, what would you tell yourself?
MG: I don’t necessarily know if I would have listened to myself. I think that this was maybe a blessing in disguise to kind of, like — sometimes I need, like, a little smack to the head, you know?
Who are you rooting for now?
MG: I'm rooting for Dom.

Keep coming back to Star Talk for the latest on the Food Network Star competition.

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