Finalists Reveal Their Culinary Mentors (Who Aren't Bobby and Giada)

Hear from the Food Network Star finalists as they reflect on their early culinary mentors.
Food Network Star, Season 11 Finalists

Photo by: Eddy Chen ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Eddy Chen, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

In just a few short weeks, the Food Network Star finalists will begin the job interview of their lives. And while Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis will decide who among the finalists boasts glimmers of Star power and who ultimately does not make the grade, the judges will also be there as mentors to guide the hopefuls through the competition, teaching and inspiring them along the way. But to reach this place in their careers, and at the precipice of stardom, the hopefuls are bringing with them the wisdom and motivation of other mentors — professional and, often, personal too — who've helped ready them for this very competition.

Read on below as the 12 finalists reflect on their culinary mentors and what they've learned from these influences in years past.

Alex McCoy: Marco Pierre White has been my biggest influence. I had an opportunity to spend a little bit of time with him, and he's just such an amazing person. He's a pure chef, and I think the one thing that I really learned from him that I've taken through my entire career is his respect for ingredients.

Arnold Myint: My parents — both of them. My mother's a chef, and I was raised cooking with her. But my father's the one that cooked for me, so not only do I have the technique and the palate, but I also see the passion and the love behind creating a dish. Something as simple as an egg is memorable to me because of who made it.

Christina Fitzgerald: I have a lot of them. I would not want to say one, because I feel like I would hurt others' feelings because they've all done so much for me. And I'm so close to them, and I'm so grateful for all of the time that they offer up to help me.

Dominick Tesoriero: Jonathan Benno. In my opinion, he's the greatest chef to ever put on a set of whites. ... The guy's a legend and I worked for him. He doesn't just teach out that standard of cooking, but it's also how to be a good guy. Not many of his peers are in the kitchen doing the things that he does.

Eddie Jackson: My culinary mentor has been my father. I come from a long line of cooks in my family. And I was majority raised by my father, and he's an excellent cook. He taught me how to barbecue when I was about 10 years old, so I thank him for that.

Emilia Cirker: There was a chef that I studied under at my culinary school; his name is Chef Patrice, and he is this snarky old French dude ... he thinks he knows everything about everything. And you're terrified to work under him. Everybody talks about Chef Patrice. And then you learn from him, and you realize he's the most warm, loving, kind, generous, funny guy in the whole entire planet. He taught me so much, and he really kept instilling the confidence in me that I could really kick butt in this career.

Jay Ducote: I think I have two. Early on, when I first started cooking, it was my cousin Travis. When I was a freshman at LSU, which is where I went to college, the first football game of my freshman year, I went to his tailgate party and he handed me our grandfather's old barbecue utensils and said: "Here, freshman. You're in charge of the grill now." And it was kind of trial by fire. But for the next eight years — five years of undergrad, a year off, then two years of grad school — while I was a student at LSU, my cousin and I tailgated together and threw an incredible tailgate party; we'd feed hundreds of people on a game day with big cast-iron pots of gumbo and jambalaya and Cajun dishes like that. ... My second one is actually another guy, one of my best friends; his name is Eusebio Gongora, and he is an executive chef now. ... He, for the last five years or so, as I've been on this journey in the food world myself as a professional chef, he has kind of mentored and guided me and given me tips anytime that I've needed to know something. Because I never went to culinary school, and I don't have the restaurant experience, so if there's been a time where I've been like, I have no idea how to make that, he's the guy that I would lean on to show me.

Matthew Grunwald: Mom. Mom taught me how to cook. It's me, Mom and Sis, and we're tight-knit, and of course we have Grandma, Grandpa, the whole fam bam, but Mom taught me how to cook. ... I was involved in sports when I was younger, and I was decent, but I didn't start coming into my own until later on, like athletically, but she saw something with food. And Mom was the catalyst of my cooking.

Michelle Karam: All the women in my life — my mom, my grandmother. Those are the women, when everyone else was outside riding a bike and playing out in front, I was inside the house cooking with my grandma. So, I definitely draw from them as my source of culinary power.

Rosa Graziano: My mother. She's really the star. She knows how to be with people. She's charming. She's lovely. She knows the food. It's my mom. This is all her for me.

Rue Rusike: In life my culinary mentors have been Gordon Ramsay and Daniel Humm. They've taught me that you succeed in life when you persevere, when you work toward your goals, when you put your head down, and constantly wake up every day and you fight to do what you really want to do.

Sita Lewis: Besides my mother and my stepmother, I would have to say some of the personalities that I've seen on Food Network.

Get set for the Season 11 premiere of Food Network Star on Sunday, June 7 at 9|8c. 

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