One-on-One with the Winner of Comeback Kitchen

Hear from the winner of Comeback Kitchen, who's joining a dozen other hopefuls in the cast of Food Network Star, Season 12.

Contestants Martita Jara and Dom Tesoriero during the Star Challenge: Cook Live, as seen on Food Network Star, Comeback Kitchen.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Comeback. Accomplished. After an intense three-week journey on Comeback Kitchen, one previously ousted Food Network Star finalist claimed the crown tonight and secured a spot in the cast of Food Network Star, Season 12. With that coveted opportunity in hand, this person is set to begin yet another journey, this time to potential Stardom. We're about to chat with the winner, so if you haven't watched the episode, don't read any further yet.

"The decision we have to make here," Comeback Kitchen mentor Tyler Florence said during the finale deliberation, "is not who's going to next Food Network Star but who could win it all." Ultimately Martita, a former finalist on Season 8, was the culmination of the mentors' search, as she rose to the top to beat out runner-up Dom Tesoriero from Season 11. She showcased strong food and a dynamic energy on camera, and now she's ready for the challenges that lie ahead on Food Network Star.

Read on below to hear from Martita as she reflects on this competition and looks ahead to what's next on Season 12.

Contestants Martita Jara and Dom Tesoriero during the Star Challenge: Cook Live, as seen on Food Network Star, Comeback Kitchen.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

What was your reaction to hearing that you'd won Comeback Kitchen?

Martita Jara: I told everyone on day one when we arrived on Comeback Kitchen. I told wardrobe, I told makeup, I told the producers, I told the sound people, I told everyone. I was, like, “Hey, guess what.” They’re like, “What?” I said, “I’m going to win.” They’re like, "Oh, honey, how sweet." And they’re applying my blush, "Oh, yeah, you’re so cute." And every day I would tell them, "I’m going to win, I’m going to win." I just really believed I was going to win. I knew everyone was really good — I know they are — but no matter how good they are, I’m always going to be a little bit better, because I feel like I worked that much harder.

What was the best piece of feedback that Tyler and Valerie gave you that you'll be bringing with you into Food Network Star?

MJ: I’ll tell you what the greatest thing was that Tyler said to me. He said, “Martita, the world will know your name.” And when he said that to me I was like [sigh]. I’ll tell you, it hasn’t been easy these last few years. I mean, literally I’ve just been scrounging, sometimes scrounging up just a few bucks here and there to pay for a flight to go do a gig. They’re not paying me to show up; I have to pay, but I knew somehow it was going to pay off. I had to learn these skills, I had to improve, I had to get better. And when Tyler said that to me, I was like, it was all worth it. It was all worth it.

Contestants Matthew Grunwald, Martita Jara, Dom Tesoriero, and Michele Ragussis, preparing their dishes for the Star Challenge: Cook Live, as seen on Food Network Star, Comeback Kitchen.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

What was your greatest lesson learned from Comeback Kitchen?

MJ: My greatest lesson, I think, is no matter how good you are, you can always be better, and so I loved that after every challenge I was given notes on how to improve, and the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. ... So no matter how good you are, you can always be better. There’s always room for improvement, and I’m just trying to be better every time.

What was your greatest takeaway from your first Star season?

MJ: My greatest takeaway was that I needed to do more work — that I wasn’t ready, and I needed to do more work. And that’s exactly what I did.

Behind the scenes shot of contestant Martita Jara preparing her dish, Empanadas de Peña con Crema Dulce (Pineapple Empanada with Sweet Cream), for the Mentor Challenge: Baking, as seen on Food Network Star, Comeback Kitchen.

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

How do you think your cooking and presentation abilities have changed since then?

MJ: I’m just more secure in my cooking. ... Giada always [loved] my food … Bobby, he’d go check on his team, and then he’d come over and sample my food always, because he’s really into those spicy flavors. And then doing Comeback Kitchen was just such validation for me that not only my food was good, because Tyler and Valerie couldn’t stop eating it, but that work had paid off, that I had paid my dues and I was seeing the results, and they saw the results. They were like, "Girl, you’re ready." You know, Tyler every now and then would say, “You know, you did this really good, but I just need you to work on this little thing.” Listen. That’s what I always tell people: Listen to their notes, take it in, because they’re the experts. ... They’re the professionals. So I just listen and I put it to use; I put it to work.

What did you think of the level of competition among your rivals on Comeback Kitchen?
MJ: I thought they were all very good. Obviously they’re all veterans, and they’ve all continued to do this sort of work since their season wrapped, so they’ve been training as well, but no one, from what I could see, no one had done as much on-camera work as I have. We’re all equally great chefs, but if you can’t do it in front of the camera and you can’t sell it to the people at home — that’s the whole point of this job, right?
Tune in to Food Network Star on Sundays at 9|8c.
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