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.
With the competition down to just the last four finalists this week, Bobby and Giada didn't let up in their search for Stardom — instead, they intensified their demands by challenging the rivals to their first-ever live TV tests. With no opportunities for retakes, live productions require the very best in time management, and unfortunately for Alex, that proved to be a struggle. In the Mentor Challenge alongside Catherine McCord, Alex struggled with time so severely while talking about his one-pot, date-night dinner that he ran out of time in the segment and didn't allow Catherine to taste his bouillabaisse.
Come the Star Challenge, the situation didn't improve for him, as he was tasked with preparing a dish for a summertime family reunion and chose to make ramen, a seemingly oddball selection for a hot-weather occasion. It was up to him to involve his fellow rivals, as the guys were working together as an ensemble on Summer Live, but ultimately he kept the focus on himself as he put together his bacon-scented ramen. Come Alex's evaluation, Bobby simply said that he and the other Committee members "got bored." He added: "We weren't learning anything about you, or we weren't learning anything about the dish. It just didn't have any rhyme or reason." With just two weeks until the finale, Alex was sent home.
Read on below to hear from Alex as he explains his choice of ramen in the summertime-focused challenge and looks back on his highlights of the competition.
Alex McCoy: I'm immensely proud of myself. ... I'm not upset. I feel so lucky and so lucky to have made it as far as I made it. And at the end of the day when I think of everything that everyone else goes through in their daily lives, I had an opportunity to not only be on this television show but to make it to the top four. That's something to be incredibly proud of so. And so I'm proud that I gave it my all, that I went in at 100 percent and that I made it as far as I did. And that's what I feel. I'm not upset, because I know that I was edged out by some really, really spectacular people.
AM: I had a feeling after I gave my presentation, when I saw how well the other guys did. I was so far out of my comfort zone with this. I don't do family reunions. That's not something I can immediately connect to. ... It pulled me into this place that I wasn't really sure how I was going to work it. And I was hoping I could connect some dots and pull a story together, and it just didn't happen, unfortunately.
AM: I stand behind my dish 500 percent. I just didn't do a great job connecting the dots between why I chose to do this dish and family reunions as a whole. ... I've never been to a family reunion in the U.S. The only family reunion I've ever been to is in Indonesia, and one of my favorite dishes, there is this soup called sotanghon, which is this chicken soup. It's like chicken noodle soup, basically — Indonesian chicken noodle soup. ... I could have easily come up with a sandwich, like, any sandwich and been like, "Oh, this would be great for family reunions." But I wanted to be able to have a story — something that meant something to me. And because this was the only family reunion I've been to, to me [it] was the best way to kind of connect a personal experience I had with the dish with the challenge. The real challenge for me was to connect all those dots, and that's what I didn't do. But in terms of the actual dish, I was very happy with it. Happy with the flavors of it. And you know, when you think about summertime foods, in 90 percent of the world, people are chugging soup like left and right in the hottest parts of the world, and that's summertime cuisine. It does kind of fit with my POV in the sense of international flavors and new ingredients and new dishes.
AM: I wish we had, like, a sandwich challenge, like him and I, a sandwich throwdown. He's hysterical, though. He's funny on television. He's a lot funnier in person than he is on television. ... He's always on. I didn't have as much time to talk to him as I would have liked, just given how the challenge was set up. But I'm glad that ... I had an opportunity to meet him.
AM: Just to relax. First day I walked in, I saw Bobby and Giada, and I was like, oh man. It's nerves. It's not like "I can't do this" kind of nerves. It's, like, this is really happening, this anticipation, this am I going to do a good job? Am I going to do a bad job? What's going to happen? It's just like fear of the unknown, I think. And there was a point where that was a big part of every presentation I did — like, controlling that. And then one day I was like, why am I giving all my warmth up about this? You know what I mean? Just be yourself. And so if I were to tell my Day One self anything, it's just let it go. Just relax. Just be yourself. It's all they want to see. 'Cause I feel like a lot of us came into this and we had, like, two people: We have us, and then we have the person that we thought Food Network wanted. Whether that's me looking at Jeff and being like, that's the type of guy I have to be in order to get a show. But in a reality, they want to see you be you. You don't have to be Jeff; you don't have to be Giada or Bobby to get your own show. You just have to be yourself.
AM: It's very mentally stressful. I know when I used to watch this show, I'd be like, I can do that easily. ... But when you put yourself in this situation and you see just exactly how stressful everything is and the pressure that's put on you. And also you get to know your other competitors and some you like, some you don't like — or whatever, however it works for you. But just seeing your friends leave and seeing people upset and just the stress that's put on other people, too, after a while it just drains you. And I think that this show's a lot more psychological than people realize. ... And that can be a big killer in this show.
AM: Always be able to tell a story is one bit of feedback. ... You don't have to come up with the story, just tell a story. And even if it's a story that you feel is, like, inconsequential, just feel free to talk. ... What may be simple to you, or seem basic to you, may be really exciting for someone else. So don't be afraid to just put yourself out there and tell a story.
AM: My most-favorite challenge was the 4th of July challenge. That was really cool. Just being outside and cooking with the grill and all those people. It was a lot of fun and even with all the ingredients switched, it was such an interesting challenge. I had to make mayo from scratch and ketchup from scratch, but it just felt so good while you're doing it, you're just like: "Yeah! Ready to go!" ... The worst challenge is the pizza challenge, just because I didn't expect that. I didn't expect the pizza. And I put everything in and I'm literally sitting there, watching the clock go down and I'm watching my pizza crust not crisp up the way that I want it. And I'm looking at it, like oh, my God ... knowing that the crust is the most-important part of the pizza. And having that feeling of helplessness, like there's nothing I can do. And I take my food very seriously, and to pull that pizza out and be like, I'm just going to have to serve it this way, it was like such a dagger in my heart. ... And I knew exactly what they were going to say before they said it, and then they said it, and I was like: "Nooo! This is so frustrating."
AM: I'm going to say the 4th of July again. In the short period of time that we had, not only did we plan a menu originally, we thought we bought groceries for it, then we thought we were going to use that menu, then they gave us someone else's ingredients, then we had to create a new dish from scratch, from someone else's ingredients, the three of us. I was able to make homemade mayo, homemade ketchup, make a Japanese katsu sandwich, make Japanese mustard, make a tonkatsu sauce, which is like this sweet barbecue sauce. And I was able to do all of that with someone else's ingredients with, like, the bare minimum. It was a lot to do in a short period of time, and I was so happy it all came together. I took a big risk by attempting to do that, and it paid off.
AM: I wasn't expecting five guys in the final five — that I wasn't expecting. ... But the fact that after nine weeks of the judges pushing us to be individuals, then they throw us all together, and they're like, "OK, now do this as a group." It was a complete change of pace that I didn't expect. And with all the other curve balls they threw us, it was, like, completely different than anything I thought it would be.
AM: It's just one of those things: We're all doing this together. We're all in this same competition. We all want the same thing. What I love about this season, and it's not like I've been on other seasons to know this, [is] everyone here is so talented, and more so than that, there's a level of respect for what they do to the point that we all respect one another so much. Like, I respect Eddie and I respect Dom and I respect Arnold and I respect Jay, because I know that they respect everyone else here, and they respect how talented everyone else is. ... In that way, we're all, like, rooting for each other, even though we're still in a competition against one another. To me it felt like you're brothers, where you're always fighting with your brothers, and you're trying to one-up your brothers, but at the same time, you're always your brother's biggest supporter. It just felt like that. We were all looking out for each other; at at the same time, we were all trying to edge each other out. It was great to be able to do battle against guys who really respect and know that they're going to give it 100 percent, so you better give it 100 percent, because they're not going to give you any slack.
AM: They felt debilitating at times. You just get to a point where it clicks. And I think what it is, is that you're spending so much time thinking what you should say, what you shouldn't say, what they said that you should do, what you shouldn't do and all that ... you kind of lose track of what you want to say or who you are. And you just kind of psych yourself out, and there's a point where one day you're like, what am I doing? And it just turns off. ... You get to a point where you reach [the] realization that you're your own biggest enemy at that point, and you're just giving your own self a hard time and you don't need to. You have to come to that realization; it has to happen internally and not someone telling you. And then it just shuts off.
AM: Alex Guarnaschelli. I liked Alex Guarnaschelli. I mean, Chef Blais is a great person to learn from. I think given the challenges, Alex Guarnaschelli was probably the one that I would say I was most excited to meet, because I actually had some one-on-one time talking to her. And I love the fact that she dishes out criticism in a humorous way and so it doesn't feel as harsh. It's kind of like you take it to heart a little bit more, but you don't feel bad about it. ... She just has a way of speaking that puts everyone at ease. But then what she says is so poignant at the same time.
AM: It seems simple enough, but Giada said, "We just want to see you." And that was all it was. And I was like: "Wow. OK. Yeah." And that's kind of the same time when I, like, shut off all those nervous voices, and I was like, alright, they just want me to be me.
AM: If the fans are chefs, I want them to never compromise the quality of the food that they make. Your food is your tool to reach people, and you should always make food that you love to make; make food that you're proud of, and always go 100 percent. Don't ever half-ass your food. It has to be perfect. For non-industry people, don't be afraid — and it sounds like a cheesy saying — but don't be afraid to follow your dreams. I was a kid washing dishes, and I worked my way up through this industry, and I had a dream — something I wanted to do. And I never gave up. I never stopped. And here I am on this television show right now, having the opportunity to give advice where I was in a place where I was trying to take advice from people a long time ago. And so you really can, if you really work hard for something and love what you do, and treat it with passion and excitement and try to spend every day enjoying what you do, you can get to the places you want to be.
Keep coming back to Star Talk for the latest on the Food Network Star competition.