One-on-One with the Latest Food Network Star Finalist to Go Home
It's the nature of the Food Network Star beast that even though no matter how badly finalists want to achieve their dreams of stardom, ultimately only one can win the coveted title, and with that, 11 finalists will be going home. Every week Star Talk will bring you the first exclusive interview with the most-recently eliminated finalist. From thoughts on mentors' critiques to reflections on past challenges and hopes for the future, be sure to check back every Sunday night for the latest one-on-one chat. We're about to break down the ins and outs of tonight's new episode and reveal who went home, so if you've yet to watch the show, read no further until then.
This week marked the midpoint between the earliest days of the competition and the finale moment of crowning Star glory. Fresh off a decent performance in the taste-and-critique Mentor Challenge, Emilia had her heart set on taking a grand risk come the Star Challenge at the pop-up comedy club this week. She was looking to wow the judges — and indeed she delivered, though not in a good way and surely not how she likely hoped. "I know going into this presentation I have to do something risky, something that's going to show who the real Emilia is," she said of her plans.
It was only once she began, with the Selection Committee, including Food Network executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson, watching from the crowd, that she revealed what her presentation would include: a bold mockery of her fellow finalists. "I felt slightly abused by her," Susie admitted, after she, the panel and the crowd of clubgoers watched Emilia imitate Arnold, Jay and Dom in a less-than-flattering manner. "It got a little uncomfortable there at the end," Bobby said. It's no surprise that Emilia landed among the bottom performers this week, and come elimination, Giada revealed that this presentation was enough to send Emilia home. "You took big risks. I admire that. But unfortunately to us it came off as mean-spirited," Bob told her.
Read on below to hear from Emilia as she speaks out about this jaw-dropping presentation and reflects on the competition.
Emilia Cirker: I am surprised, disappointed and sad.
Do you stand by your last-cooked dish and presentation? Your performance at the comedy club surely shocked the group.
EC: I think that I definitely know what they meant that my performance came off as cold, as mean almost. I get it. But I wish what they had seen is that I took a huge risk and I put myself out there, and you're not going to accomplish anything if you don't take risks and you don't fall flat on your face by taking risks, right? So I stand by the fact that I took a risk; I wish I would have thought about doing it in a different manner. So that it was still funny and lighthearted and a new side of Emilia, but without making the audience feel like I was, like, honestly, throwing my finalists under the bus. But I knew the guys would laugh ... You know, they're like my brothers, so I'm allowed to make fun of them. The food, I stand by the onion rings. The bitter melon dipping sauce ... I should have just toned it down from the beginning, so I don't stand by that. But, yeah, I thought the onion rings would go.
EC: Imagine never working out and then somebody tells you that in order to fulfill all of your dreams you have to run an entire marathon tomorrow, so you start running and you're like: "What in the hell am I doing? There's no way I'm going to get through this." You want to die. Your body shuts down. Your brain collapses. And it's, I mean, it's really hard — physically, emotionally, everything. It's the most-difficult thing. But then you finish, and you're like: "Holy crap, I can do this. I should have known from the beginning that I was strong enough to do this." It's the coolest, hardest, most-challenging, life-changing experience in the entire world.
EC: The funny thing is, before I got here, I was desperate to figure out what the hell my point of view was. I know the food I cook, but since I'm a teacher, I have to cook everything. I teach Indian food classes, Thai food classes, seafood, knife skills — all of it. So since I teach all of it and I know all of it, my point of view is too broad. So my dad came up with a really good phrase of marrying traditions. I take really traditional dishes from cultures and I merge them and I bring them together. But the fusion card has been played so many times, it's kind of like people are over it. So then I came up with culture cravings. I take food that's really craveable — there's certain dishes that people just love. Those are the things I cook. Brussels sprouts are popular because they're freaking delicious. I cook them a lot because they're delicious. Beets are so popular because they're tasty. And so I went with the culture craving, but it wasn't really sinking in. Arnold came up with Spice Class for me and I thought it was brilliant, because the basic idea is that I want to take the home viewer into international markets and make them really comfortable there. Have them pick up garam masala and understand that every single ingredient in garam masala is something that they have at home — they can make this, they can put it together, it's so easy. And take the fear out of ethnic cuisine. Just make the international market more approachable. So when he came up with Spice Class, it was like a light bulb. The only problem with it is that it's still so global that you can't necessarily say, "We know what to expect from Emilia." They expect bold flavors, they expect unique spices and heat, but it's not like it's always Indian food or it's always Thai food or it's always Moroccan food. It's kind of all of them, which can be a little bit of an Achilles' heel for me. I wish I had a culinary identity that was like Rue's. It's so unique, it's so focused, it's so her. But I like the fact that mine covers everything.
EC: Have more fun. I freeze in front of the camera. I get super nervous and, like, my defense mechanism is to just go into teacher mode because I'm a teacher. So when I'm in front of my students, I am really instructional and so when I get nervous in front of the camera, rather than just being Emilia, I turn into this stiff teacher. And Giada kept telling me: "Just enjoy this more. Have more fun." And I was so overwhelmed by the competition of it all that I just didn't stop and smell the roses. Take a minute to appreciate every second that you're here and have fun. So that's what I'm going to do now.
EC: That pastry challenge sucked. That was the worst, man. That was another example of me overthinking things. I worked as a pastry chef, so I took a different approach to show them that I'm not just pastry, when that's the exact opposite of what I should have done. I should have taken that opportunity to do something that was more traditionally pastry.
EC: I was not expecting to freeze in front of the camera as much as I do. I never expected that. I'm so outgoing and extroverted and funny, and for some reason, I never met that Emilia in front of the camera before, this shy, quiet, cold, reserved person — ever. People are always asking me to stop talking, so in front of the camera, just freezing is like — I was not expecting that. But that's the bad side. The good side of it is I can't believe that I got to be selected to be a part of this year. These people are amazing. They're kick-ass chefs. They're funny. They're so good at everything they're doing, and I'm part of this.
EC: We are never silent. We're always cracking up. We're always, always laughing. I don't know if I can say I've ever seen this kind of camaraderie — now, I don't know the behind the scenes in any other show — but I can't imagine that they get along like we do.
EC: I would tell that person to remember that it's all about first impressions. And the first impression that I gave was so lifeless — it was so vacant. I would tell that Emilia to chill out, smile, have fun, don't practice, don't script, just talk. Just make the camera your friend. And allow them to see the side of you that got you here in the first place.
EC: The funny thing was, I wasn't nervous in front of them. When they were there I felt more comfortable ... I hope this isn't arrogant of me to say, but I felt they were peers, like I was talking to fellow chefs. That's what it was. They're chefs. It's not like they're, like, Oprah, just like they're only known for their personalities. We connect with food. These people cook. So when they were there, I felt more at ease. When they left and then I had to talk to the camera, that's when I became nervous. I loved it. The only thing I regret is that Alex Guarnaschelli is like my idol — I adore her — and that's the challenge that I totally messed up on. So wish I could go back and redo that.
EC: There's so many. Do not let a second go by without appreciating it. Everything. Not just in the competition, but in everything. Every step of every day you should be doing something amazing and appreciate it. Just really being thankful for all of these opportunities.
EC: I want them to remember that I'm unexpected, that you just never know what you're going to get — in a good way — from my food, from who I am. I'm a risk taker; I break the rules. I'm not who you think you're going to get. I don't know how to say it, but maybe it's the whole don't-judge-a-book-by-its-cover sort of thing. I know that I dress a certain way and I act a certain way, so those two things are kind of different. I guess also I really want fans to remember that I'm a chef, that I'm not just a good home cook with a cool personality, that I really take this career seriously and I love it.
Keep coming back to Star Talk for the latest on the Food Network Star competition.