From One Star to Another, Jeff's Welcome Letter to Eddie
First off, congratulations on your victory. It was a long journey with tough competition, and I truly believe you deserved the W. Enjoy the moment.
When asked that my final post be an advice letter to the winner and not a standard rundown, I was excited after my 10 weeks of recaps. But now as I’m sitting here writing this letter, dearest Eddie, I, for the first time, do not know what to say, so I will try my best. Granted I’ve been at this for only four years, but I do feel I’ve had a decent trajectory, and with that comes a decent amount of experience. Take my advice or not; I won’t be offended either way. Here goes.
First off, you’re obviously an experienced host and a formidable athlete who has had his fair share of time in the spotlight. In a way, you are the first winner of Food Network Star who was already a star. Granted, that was on the football field — you never had only 20 minutes to grill shrimp for a crowd of 100 while being your truest, warmest self. You did, however, need to perform under pressure, in front of millions, so this might not be a huge step for you. Rest assured, you have just entered into a world just as competitive as the NFL — albeit one without the risk of torn ACLs and concussions prematurely ending your career. I truly believe that if you make good food, make good television and are constantly nice to those you work with, you can last a very long time in this game. Look at the careers of Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Rachael Ray, Martha Stewart, Julia Child. This is a small world with only a handful of talent. Think about the sheer number of musicians, actors, artists and athletes who are successful in their respective crafts. We are talking tens of thousands. Now think about how many Food Network talent there are. You are now part of very small, elite and extremely lucky group. You can shine hard or dim quick, and that is solely dependent upon your likability both on screen and off.
So my main advice to you is: Be nice, especially to the crew and the fans. I’ve said it before, but it’s so true. People do not realize how many crew members it takes — or the process that goes into food television. My relatives were always like: “Jeff, why don’t you guys shoot Sandwich King at my house? It will be fun!” That is, of course, until they come to the set and see what we do to the house we shoot in: 45 people all running around, drilling holes into the walls, setting up catering facilities in the basement, creating full prep kitchens in the garage. And then there's me and my family just hanging out in your master bedroom getting our makeup done and “going” in your toilets. They instantly retract their offer because they see firsthand how much goes into making the star and the food look perfect.
My point is, don’t take all of that hard work for granted. Say “thank you” and “please.” And ask questions: “Where you from? What do you like? Do you have kids?” Treat everyone like equals, whether it be the executive producers, the culinary staff (demigods in my book), the grips and gaffers, the production assistants, the publicists, or the guy who is paid to tie your shoes. Conversely, you yourself will most likely not be treated as an equal. People will dote on you, feed you water, lint roll your pants, pick you up and drop you off, carry your bags, and generally kiss your butt every step of the way. It is now your duty to not let this go to your head. The hierarchy is designed so that you are the big man on campus. Take it, enjoy it, but don’t forget where you came from or how much hustle it took to get to this rare point. Be easy to work with, and I believe you can work your whole life.
That being said, if there is something off with your food or your wardrobe, or if someone is difficult to work with, speak your mind in a professional manner. It is your show, and you’re the first and last to be judged. Once it airs, it's all on you, and if the ratings blow, it’s your fault, so make sure you are comfortable enough to perform at your best and that the product that you're putting out is the greatest representation of you and your brand. That doesn’t mean you should throw a hissy fit if your demand for organic, non-GMO, free-range bottled water in your greenroom is not fulfilled. But if you really like 2 percent Greek yogurt for breakfast, and that’s what satiates you and helps get you in the zone, by all means you should request it.
This life isn’t all about that set life, though. It’s also about being accessible to the fans, who have the power to make or break you. I have yet to turn down a photo, an autograph or a simple request: “Please meet my daughter. She’s standing over there and she’s a huge fan but is too embarrassed to say 'hi.'” Honestly, sometimes I’m tired. It’s 11:23 p.m.; I’ve been stuck for hours in LaGuardia. I’ve been traveling for days. I have a Vice-Grip-like sinus infection, and I am retaining an unnatural amount of water. A fan comes up and wants a chat and a photo. Though I feel totally at my worst, I will ALWAYS “chat and photo” — at least for a bit. We are lucky to be noticed, and it ultimately means we are connecting with the audience and, in turn, maintaining success. This is my own philosophy, but I believe it is our job, as public people, to appreciate and facilitate these relationships — within reason, of course.
You will now see the requests from family, friends and acquaintances skyrocket. It will be your responsibility to learn how to say to “no” once in a while. You have to learn to filter these requests and protect your time. You cannot do everything all the time, and there will be a learning curve with this, but I trust that being a former NFL player, you have some experience in this field.
That’s it, really. If your star continues to rise, so will your responsibilities. Quite frankly, I’m still learning as I go, so what the hell do I know? Seek advice from some of the elder statesmen and stateswomen. In the beginning, do everything they throw at you. You will travel a lot, and you might gain some pounds, so take care of your body and mind. Hire a therapist. Keep training. Keep your family and true friends close to you. Keep cooking and constantly learning, living and breathing food.
Pull up a chair and pour yourself some wine — welcome to the family.