One-on-One with the Latest Food Network Star Finalist to Go Home
With only 11 short weeks to ready finalists before a winner will be chosen, the Food Network Star beast is such that week after week, hopeful competitors will fall, faced with the crushing disappointment of elimination. Here on Star Talk, we'll be bringing you the first exclusive exit interviews with the ousted finalists as they're sent home. Check back here every Sunday night for new one-on-one chats to hear from the just-eliminated competitors, learn their thoughts on the competition, and find out how they feel about the mentors' critiques of their final dishes and presentations. We're about to break down the ins and outs of tonight's new episodes and reveal who went home, so if you've yet to watch the show, read no further until then.
Though Ana was ultimately sent home tonight, in some ways Week 9 proved to be a good one for her. After weeks of struggling with her presentations, she finally delivered strong performances back to back — first with her daughter Beba in the Mentor Challenge and again in the Star Challenge as she hosted a St. Patrick's Day party. But according to Bobby Flay, that progress wasn't enough in comparison to Damiano's, Jernard's and Tregaye's showings. "The problem is is that these guys have been doing that for a long time, and so you've sort of just entered the party," he told her. Also, for the first time this week, Ana delivered not one but three lackluster offerings. In honor of National Pretzel Day, she showcased churros, but they were heavy, according to the mentors. And at her St. Paddy's Day bash, her Cuban-inspired empanadas and shepherd's pie were flops, as Giada told her simply: "This is, like, not Ana. It's very bland." Her untimely missteps in the kitchen were enough to force her elimination, while Damiano, Jernard and Tregaye advanced to next week's penultimate episode.
Read on below to hear from Ana and get her take on what went down this season.
Ana Quincoces: I mean, I expected it. I definitely expected it. I had regret because I was upset that I didn’t peak sooner in the season, and I was, in a way, optimistic about the opportunity of coming back. ... I was also disappointed obviously ... but I mean, I did expect it, and I was regretful. I was regretful that I didn’t kind of bring it all together sooner because my last presentation was so good, and I was like, why didn’t I just do that? And I knew that the judges felt that they had no choice but to let me go, because my fellow finalists had been doing that longer.
Eddy Chen, 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.
AQ: The mentors are hard to please, because on the one hand, I tend to overthink things and do too much, and I think that I had the hardest challenge by far. St. Paddy’s Day — Cuban to St Patrick’s Day, I mean, that’s really far away from each other, and I’ve never cooked anything bland before. In fact, Bobby always says that I season very aggressively, and I do. So, I don’t believe that it was bland. ... I think that my presentation was spot-on. I was really comfortable, I was myself. ... I feel good that when I left, I left on a high note. I would have been miserable had I never been able to bring it together in the presentation department. My food had been good consistently throughout the season. I really got no criticism on my food, so the fact that I was finally able to bring the presentation, I just felt like if I leave now, I’m OK, and that’s how it happened. ... I also felt that it was fair. You know, it was fair. I mean, yes, these are the people who had done the presentations better than I had, they had found their voice sooner than I did, so, oh, I did it once and somebody else gets to leave? That’s not really fair. So, I was OK with it.
AQ: It's everything that you are, the essence of who you are. You have to bring all that, and you don’t care whether you look pretty and you don’t care about any of that stuff. You just care that they love your food and that you can show them who you are from a culinary point of view, who you are as a person, your stories. I mean, it requires juggling so many things at once: You have to tell a story, you have to be able to describe food, you have to use edible words. You can’t use words that don’t mean anything to anybody, and you have to produce amazing food with great textures, great balance of flavors in a limited amount of time, and doing all of that at one time, it’s just, it really just requires everything that you are. And, you know, it’s 15-hour days sometimes. It’s just so much, but it’s the most-exhilarating thing I’ve ever done. I mean, I just don’t regret one second of it. It’s just been so much fun, and for me, like, I would see people, like, right before a cook they were so nervous and they were pacing, and I — every time they threw a curve ball at me, I was just like, "This is so fun." It was just fun for me. I love it. Like, playing with food and just figuring out who you are ... I guess it’s a different time in my life too. I’m older than the other people, and I just, I’ve done so many things in my life, and this is just such a fun challenge for me.
Patrick Wymore, 2016, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.
AQ: I think that the mentors have been spot-on about me since day one. I’ve never really fought them on anything that they’ve said. I just find it amazing that they were able to almost immediately identify what [were] the things that were holding me back. And I don’t know if it was Giada or Bobby, or maybe they both said that it’s OK to want this, like, it’s OK. I wore this suit of armor the whole time, and it was like, you’re acting like, oh, it’s fine, I don’t care, 'cause you’re afraid that if you want it too much, then it would hurt too much if you didn’t get it. So, just, I guess, being accountable for the things — taking blame for the things that I did wrong, but also accepting the accolades for the things that I do right. It’s OK. All that is OK, and it’s OK to want it. It’s OK to really want it and put yourself out there.
AQ: My least favorite challenges were anything that had to do with the presentation when they were just standing there looking. ... I didn’t have a least favorite challenge when it came to cooking. It was fun. All of it. I mean, I didn’t love the whole idea of the frozen food stuff, but that ended up being so fun. I discovered so much about my ability to be inventive and creative. You know, I spent my life working as a lawyer; I was a lawyer for 20 years, so it was one side of my brain. It was like the analytical side, but here, to be able to realize that I am really pretty creative when it comes to making something out of nothing or repurposing something, it’s cool.
AQ: Well, I didn’t expect to have problems with presentation. I thought I would come in here being great at the presentation and being so-so with the food. Not because I didn’t have confidence in my cooking, but because I’m a home cook, I’m not a classically trained chef, and I’ve never had anybody at that level judge my food. Of course family and friends always tell you your food is good. They don’t have anybody else to cook for them. They're going to tell you it’s great — they want you to keep cooking. So, to hear that my cooking — that my food — was great every time for the most part, but to hear that I had trouble with my presentation, that was really shocking to me. I thought I would come here and kill it in presentation.
AQ: I have to say that when Alex Guarnaschelli was here and I was just telling her what was on my plate or talking to them all together, and I started, I was so nervous, and she said to me: "Ana, stop. Relax. You’re freaking out, and you’re making me nervous." ... I took a deep breath, and I finished that presentation much more calm, and every time that I — in my head, just kind of practicing … I remember to that time when she says: "Yo, relax. You’re freaking me out." And that has helped me so much because the last thing I want to do is make somebody uncomfortable if I’m talking to them about the thing I’m the most passionate about, which is food. And of course Bobby always telling me: “You know, you have this smile. Use it.” I mean, it’s simple, but it’s true.
AQ: Well, I have to say that I probably was the least popular person here. Towards the end, my fellow finalists, they just didn’t like me. You know, for whatever reason, I was very different from them. They didn’t feel that I deserve to be here for whatever reason, so I always tried to be very nice to them, but it was always like an "us and them," so towards the end I spent a lot of time by myself, which was good. At the beginning, it was great. ... There’s this camaraderie that you get from people that are in the same boat as you are, so I found, you know, some of the younger people like Erin and Monterey, they reminded me of my own children, because I have kids that age, and, you know, they were nervous about everything, and I always kind of kept a pretty level head, so we would honestly just laugh and talk about food, because that's what we love. Just have a good time.
AQ: I have to say Bobby, because he and I have [a] very similar point of view, even though his is not Cuban, but I love how nobody can make him deviate from his thing. Like, it doesn’t matter what you make him cook, he’ll put green tomatillo in it or he’ll put chile in it or he’ll — he is just so, that’s who he is through and through. ... I’ve never had a single problem with my culinary point of view. I’ve never been questioned. You know, if you put my plate in front of you, you’ll know that I made it, and I feel that he’s like that, so I love that about him, and I think he’s very bold in his cooking, and I feel that I’m that way too, so it’s just the similarities that draw me to him.
AQ: That I was a formidable competitor. That I was nice to everybody. That I handled both wins and losses with dignity, and that everybody loved my food.
AQ: I have my product line, Skinny Latina — just continue to grow that. I have a fourth book in the process, and just more TV and more just playing with food and having fun. ... It’s a second career for me, and I finally found my passion, and I’m just going to — this has assured me that I’m on the right track, that I’m doing the right thing, that I have a gift and that I should use it.