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

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

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.

In celebration of the upcoming 4th of July holiday, there were even more stars on set than usual this weekend as the finalists broke out their best patriotic party fare for a red, white and blue cookout. While they were set to prepare classic summertime eats, in true Food Network Star fashion, the challenge didn't stop there. Not only were the rivals to present their dishes in a live on-stage demo, but they also were forced to endure an unexpected ingredient swap.

A few finalists benefited from being gifted their rivals' ingredients — Jay, for example, took advantage of what were previously Dom's meaty rib eyes — but a few struggled with the surprise, including Rosa, who took on the challenge of preparing a vegetarian dish after inheriting portobello mushrooms. She'd been insecure about her culinary decisions all morning, and being forced to make do with portobellos didn't help. Fortunately for her, she delivered a firework of a presentation, earning high marks on what Bobby had deemed "The Dials of Doom." But it was her portobello sandwich that ultimately fell flat. Once again after tasting her dish, the mentors were left questioning her kitchen chops, and this time she met her fate at elimination.

Read on below to hear from Rosa in an exclusive exit interview, and learn all about her favorite behind-the-scenes moments with her fellow finalists.

What three words best describe how you're feeling right now?

Rosa Graziano: Relief, sadness and a heightened sense of insecurity

What was your initial reaction to hearing that you were being sent home tonight?

RG: A sense of relief that I don’t have to do another crazy game-show-style challenge! I was really starting to have anxiety around doing the timed challenges. I love cooking, I love food and I love being creative in the kitchen — playing music, enjoying wine, cooking with friends. The timed competitive cooking thing is really not my style. The moment I felt like I was not having fun and enjoying the actual process of cooking, tasting, plating and being creative in the kitchen was when I knew I needed to check in with myself. I come from a certain “let it marinate” tradition, waking up on Sunday mornings to the intoxicating smells of a beautiful Sunday sauce that has already been cooking for hours, prepared by my amazing Italian mom. Food has always been a full, rich, passionate experience for me, and to rush or force something that didn’t feel natural was starting to become frustrating. With that being said, I had a total blast and feel so thankful to have been able to be a part of such a great experience.

Finalist Rosa Graziano preparing her dish, Balsamic Portobello Sandwich & Cucumber Tomato Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette, during the Star Challenge, July 4th Cookout, 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-cooked dish and presentation?

RG: No, not at all! Once I heard about the grocery store food-shopping swap, I knew that I was in trouble. I totally knew I wasn’t going to be able to redeem myself in the kitchen, so I made the most of the day and tried to just have fun. I’m so happy that the day was filled with sweet guests and kids to serve. Engaging and being silly with people truly brings me such joy. I love being with people and getting to know them and their stories. Making people feel like they are a part of something and creating true personal experiences for the guests comes very naturally to me.

In your own words, how would you explain to fans at home what this competition is really like?
RG: At some point I just decided to wear my step counter during challenges. I mean, I had to be racking up some major steps, running back and forth into that pantry to find a spice in the pantry. (Don’t get me started with jogging across to the different refrigerators and stoves!) It all looks so easy on TV, but trust you me, when you are on set and things are spread out everywhere, hot lights are on and you have sweat pouring down your face with a camera person all up in your grill, all you can think is, “What was I thinking signing up to be a part of this experience?" Sure enough, as you are dealing with your internal monologue, beating yourself up and questioning all your stupid life choices, guess who comes sliding on over to your cooking area to have an on-camera “chat” with you? The mentors! I’m already cooking at Italian nonna speed, now you want to have a kiki?
What one piece of mentor feedback will you always remember and keep with you?

RG: The phrase “We question your food authority.” It still gives me the shakes. With that being said, I do deeply appreciate all the positive feedback and kind words about my personality and charisma.

Finalists Michelle Karam, Rosa Graziano and Sita Lewis talking to the Selection Committee about their dishes during the Star Challenge, Trendy Dinner, 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 were your most-favorite and least-favorite challenges, and why?
RG: My favorite challenges were always anything that had to do with presenting or doing some kind of performance. I truly enjoy hosting or sharing a certain kind of experience with others. I feel comfortable with being me and encouraging others to do the same, with all our own silliness, insecurities and idiosyncrasies. As for the least-favorite challenges, I have to admit I never cared for doing any of the timed cooking challenges. This experience has made it very clear to me that I have no competitive impulses whatsoever! If anything, I found myself freezing at the idea of having to prove my personal value and gifts in this kind of game-show setup. With that being said, I really do think I made the most of it all and tried to stay as authentic as I could. I really had a blast doing it all, even when I had to push through moments that I didn’t really care for because, I mean, what an awesome opportunity. We got to work with and meet all these amazing Food Network Stars! These people are like rock stars to my family and friends. My only burning question after all this is: Will it be just as hard for me to get a last-minute reservation at their restaurants?
What's one funny behind-the-scenes moment with your fellow cast members you can share?

RG: The amount of silly moments that went on behind the scenes is beyond comprehension. I mean, you could only imagine the instant bond you create with your fellow cast members during such a short period of time, in such an extraordinary setting. The amount of laughing-till-it-hurt moments we all shared will be forever imprinted in my head and heart.

Finalists Sita Lewis, Michelle Karam, Rue Rusike, Rosa Graziano and Emilia Cirker during the reveal of the Star Challenge, Trendy Dinner, 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

Fill in the blanks with your fellow finalists' names:
_____ is the class clown. Me
_____ is the quietest. Christina because she was the first to leave
_____ is the most daring. Matt
_____ has the best recipes. All the trained chefs
Considering Bobby, Giada and all of the special guests, you've worked with quite a few big names in the culinary industry and beyond. Did you find that to be intimidating, and how did you deal with the nerves?

RG: I wasn’t intimated by Giada, Bobby or any other special guest, because they are people just like me, but cooking for them paralyzed me. I would cringe every time I had to serve these amazing talents in the kitchen. I mean, these are the people who have set a certain kind of bar or standard in cooking and cuisine. Trust me when I tell you it was beyond humbling and intimidating.

Which special guest or mentor were you most excited to learn from in this contest and why?

RG: Chef Alex Guarnaschelli was just so freaking solid, with real charm and wit. She was good at offering tough love to us all. I just appreciated her strength and ability to deliver advice in a real down-to-earth way. She also busts chops, which I like because I sense she has a real perspective on life and things. I will say this about the mentors and all of the special guests: They were pretty much always right on point. They were all very honest, sometimes brutally honest, which is a big blow to the ego, but it was all really valuable info and advice to help us be better versions of ourselves.

What's the best piece of advice the mentors or Committee members gave you?

RG: I guess very early on I realized that many of my fellow cast members were professionally trained chefs that had an amazing sense of food authority and plating skill that was beyond even my Italian mom’s cooking talent or skills. So I kind of had an, “OK, Rosa, you gotta make the most of this” attitude. The mentors were really encouraging during the process and tried to remind me to just do me and do what I know and not to try and be something I’m not, which was pretty cool.

Finalist Rosa Graziano 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

What do you want fans to remember most about you?

RG: I really hope and pray that my zest for life and love for people translates to the fans as they watch. I truly mean it when I say I didn’t do this show because I want to take something from Food Network; what I really wanted was to bring something special to Food Network. I would love to bring and share a certain feeling, tone that I was raised with by my crazy, loving, fun, big Italian family. I only hope everything I say or do makes people laugh and offers you an experience that leaves you with some food for thought!

Who are you rooting for now?

RG: I really could see a certain kind of food show with all the finalists, which is what is so exciting about this season of Food Network Star.

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

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