Giada Reveals Why Food Network Star Is So Hard and What Finalists Should Do Before They Get Here

Hear from Food Network Star mentor Giada De Laurentiis about the importance of self-confidence in this competition.
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Hosts Bobby Flay and Giada de Laurentiis during elimination for the Star Challenge, Tiki Takeover, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 12.

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

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

"I believe that I can see more of the heart and soul of a person. Where he sees it through their cooking, I see it in their eyes," Giada De Laurentiis says of the differences in the way she and Bobby Flay judge Food Network Star finalists. This judge-mentor duo is set to kick off Season 13 on Sunday, June 4 (at 9|8c), and immediately Giada and Bobby will be tasked with looking for the first glimmers of stardom among this year's hopefuls, both in person and on the plate.

In this brand-new, exclusive interview, Giada tells us how important it is for the finalists to enter the competition with a true sense of self, though she admits, "sometimes it takes a lifetime to get there." Read on below for her thoughts on self-confidence as well as some of the mistakes she's willing to overlook.

In recent years on Food Network Star, many of the challenges have been focused on digital trends and presentations. Have you changed the criteria you judge against as the show has evolved?

Giada De Laurentiis: I think TV has just changed with social media, but I don’t think that changes the fact that we’re looking for someone to be on television; we’re not looking for someone to do social media or to do a digital show. So, no, I don’t think the criteria have really changed at all. And we’re still looking for someone who has the skills to cook and someone who translates on camera, who connects. I think connection on social media is totally different than connection on television.

What have you learned after many years of mentoring Star hopefuls? In what areas do they consistently struggle, and what do you always have to teach them?

GDL: I think what I’ve learned is that most people come into this competition not really knowing who they are. Yet they all think they’re masters at what they do. Some people do know. ... Most of them come into the competition not really knowing who they are or what they represent or what their food is. It’s rare. And a lot of them come in over-rehearsed. And it’s funny to me that after 13 years of this show being on the air, they still haven’t remembered that or learned that that’s not what we’re looking for, even though we say it every time. I think that midway through we really start to see a change. That also has to do with being away from your family. That has to do with us peeling away at you. And also, I think that they start to realize the pressure they’re under and the pressure cooker that that kitchen can be under a timed constraint. And a lot of them start to find themselves, they start to find themselves in a good way or a bad way.

Unlike a show like Chopped or Baking Championship, Star is a two-pronged competition that involves both a cooking and a personality component. What are a few things all finalists should and should not do to be successful at this contest specifically?

GDL: We require them to have a personality, to connect on camera, and on Chopped we don’t need to do that. So this is a more difficult competition to be in for that reason in particular. I hate to say this, but I really think you need to do some major therapy before you get into this competition. Because you really have to know who you are, and a lot of people don’t. In general, a lot of people don’t know who they are or are not confident in who they truly are. And sometimes it takes a lifetime to get there. And unfortunately, we’re asking them to figure this out in 11 weeks. But if you want to be on TV, especially doing this job, you have to own who you are. Regardless of what other people tell you, you have to own it. And I think as much of that prep as you can do ahead of time, the better off you’ll be in the end. And be willing to open up about who you are and why you’re here.

Thinking back to your early days on Food Network and the mistakes you may have made back then, do you tend to forgive those things if you see them in the finalists too?

GDL: Yes, I think that I’m more forgiving when I see a person who is a little timid and a little bit shy and who has a hard time opening up. What I have less empathy for is someone who comes out of the gate so over-the-top big and doesn’t know how to come down a bit. Or someone who is overly confident. They both are actually, at the end of the day, the same characteristics, right? Because overly confident is because they really don’t feel that confident. And when you’re shy and introverted, it’s the same thing. You’re shy and introverted — you’re not confident. They’re both showing the exact same characteristics, they’re just handling it differently. So I think because I was more shy and introverted, I have more empathy for that. I wasn’t as big and over the top. ... And Bobby will do the same. He empathizes with people who are really great cooks and are having a hard time connecting. He will always have more empathy for them.

Speaking of shyness, so many finalists struggle to have fun in this competition because they let the nerves get to them. Can you offer them some advice for putting aside those anxieties and letting it go?

GDL: They’re hard to put aside; they’re very hard to put aside. I think that the more they get to know us and the more they’re in the competition, those start to diminish a little bit. They get more confident. In the beginning, it’s tough. You need to be really solid, and you have to be really comfortable with yourself in order for that to actually be put aside.

What do you think is the most-valuable asset you specifically can offer the finalists? And what can Bobby offer them?

GDL: I actually think that Bobby gives better food notes than I do. ... I think I’m better at the emotion side of it. I believe that I can see more of the heart and soul of a person. Where he sees it through their cooking, I see it in their eyes. And I think that’s what we’re both good at and that’s what we do differently, and I think those are our strengths.

Tune in to the premiere of Food Network Star on Sunday, June 4 at 9|8c.

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