"It Feels So Much Better to Be on the Other Side" — Damaris Previews Her Star Appearance

Hear from the Season 9 winner of Food Network Star, Damaris Phillips, as she previews her upcoming Star appearance on Sunday.
Food Network Star

Guest judge Damaris Phillips during evaluation of the Star Challenge, Food Stars at Home for the Holidays, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 11.

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

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

It was only two years ago that Damaris Phillips was likely feeling many of the same emotions and anxieties that are plaguing Alex, Arnold, Dom, Eddie and Jay today. After championing through the remaining weeks of Season 9, she earned the coveted title of Food Network Star, and now, with multiple seasons of her own show, Southern at Heart, under her belt, she's returning to Food Star Kitchen this week to mentor this year's crop of hopefuls. Just in time for brand-building challenges and all-important camera tests, Damaris will be on hand to guide the finalists as they inch one step closer to potentially joining the ranks of Damaris and the other past winners.

Star Talk caught up with Damaris to find out what it's like for her to be returning to set not as a rival, but as a peer among Bobby and Giada. Find out what she had to say, and learn how her own experiences in the competition will affect her judging this weekend.

What's it like working with Bobby and Giada as a peer and not as a competition hopeful?

Damaris Phillips: It feels great. It feels so much better to be on the other side. Competition is awful. ... The part that I like about mentoring [is that] I feel like I actually have advice to give, which makes me feel really proud that in two years I’ve gone from literally being a hot mess to having advice that I think would help, and I mean that feels great, and I think a lot of it has to do with Bobby and Giada and their mentoring.

The Season 11 set is the exact same one you competed on two years ago, isn't it?

DP: The exact same set! Every time I go on, it is anxiety.

Does being back there bring back flashbacks?

DP: Oh, absolutely! Competition shows are extraordinarily difficult. And the ones that are one day [long] it’s, like, so high stress. But Food Network Star is so many weeks [long]. It’s just week after week after week — and what those contestants go through. It is ... woo!

This week is all about building a brand, and in fact in Season 9, you endured a similar brand-focused challenge.

DP: Oh, I loved that one. I felt like I nailed that one. They said that I seemed like I was a Stepford wife, which I thought was a compliment. Like, someone said that I had a refined charm, which no one has ever used the term “refined” with me. When I did the branding, I had no idea what I was doing and what I was talking about, any of that. And so, to be able to see them and see them work on their brands and to have advice to give, I am a little proud mama.

What have you learned about what it takes to build and launch a brand?

DP: The thing about a brand that’s so strange is everybody now uses it, like, “You have to be a brand, you have to be a brand, you have to be a brand.” At first I thought of that as like, well, “I have to be a brand.” And then what I realized is oh, that’s not true. I just have to literally be myself. ... It was just, whoever you are is what we want. You just have to be able to be OK with that person and then show that to us. And whatever that is, people are going to buy it. It just has to be authentic.

You're meeting the finalists eight weeks into the competition. They're so close yet so far. What are you hoping to see in them? What should they be able to do at this stage of the game?

DP: I feel like they should be able to talk to the camera. I couldn’t. But, now that I’m a judge, I feel like they need to be able to. But really what I’m always looking for is that sparkle — that charm that a Star has that [makes] you want to hang out with them ... listen to what they’re going to say. That’s what I’m looking for; it’s that little bit of extra somethin’.

You'll be helping direct the finalists on camera. What kind of advice do you have for them on mastering that aspect of the job?

DP: There really is an art to talking about food and to working at the same time. So a lot of it is being able to give them advice on explaining their food and looking at the camera and making eye contact, which is the most important and feels completely unnatural to just look up and hit the camera and talk to it, but once you learn to do that, it really is very powerful.

Do you think you'll judge them different because you’ve been in their shoes?

DP: Because I was a teacher for so long, I feel like I am able to give criticism in a way that isn’t hurtful. I’m not afraid to tell people what’s not working. It’s always hard to tell people that they need to do something better. But I absolutely know that this is not out of malice; it’s not out of being nasty. It’s not from any other place than just wanting them to be the absolute best and wanting them to be exactly where I am, two years from now.

Tune in to an all-new episode of Food Network Star on Sunday at 9|8c.

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