Star-a-Day: Melissa Pfeister

Get to know Melissa Pfeister, a finalist on Food Network Star, Season 12.
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.

It was only recently that Star Talk broke the news that an unprecedented 12th season of Food Network Star is set to unfold this summer. For the first time ever, a prequel competition — Comeback Kitchen — will bring together seven past Star contestants for a no-holds-barred battle. The winner of this three-week tournament will join the dozen first-time Food Network Star finalists in the premiere episode on Sunday, May 22 at 9|8c. But before the new season kicks off, we're introducing all 12 of the hopeful rivals in exclusive, one-on-one interviews. Keep checking back every day to meet a new member of the cast. Today we'd like you to meet Melissa Pfeister.

Melissa, 34 (Los Angeles), trained for her whole life to play basketball, but when an injury ended her career, she turned to cooking for inspiration. Melissa now takes the everyday foods we love and re-creates them in healthy and delicious ways. Melissa moved from Ohio to Los Angeles to pursue her culinary dream, and she would love to combine her passion for food and sports on her own Food Network show.

Describe your culinary POV in one sentence.

Melissa Pfeister: I take foods that maybe aren’t the best for you and re-create them in a healthy way.

Who are you most intimidated to be working with, Bobby or Giada?

MP: I taught myself how to cook. So, I didn’t go to culinary school; I’m just self-taught and I literally taught myself by watching Food Network back, like, I think 10 years ago I started. And ... Bobby and Giada were starting at that time, and I literally remember their first shows and their backgrounds and the set, and just to see the difference. I mean, those two for sure ... they’ve been the staples. ... Without a doubt. And I remember when Guy started, because Guy won this show, he won Next Food Network Star, and then he started with Guy’s Big Bite, and then he was amazing, and he got Triple D, and boom, here we are.

If you could ask one of them to teach you one thing in the kitchen, what would it be?

MP: I want to be as amazing as they are on camera, in the kitchen. ... They’re brands, and that is why, for so many reasons why, I want to win this competition, but I don’t want to win just for a show. I want to be a big brand. I want to be a Bobby Flay. I want to be a Giada. I want to be a Guy. I want to be a Rachael, where you have so many shows and you have cookware and you have cookbooks and you are jamming. ... I want a combination of Giada and Bobby on camera, and of course I just want to be bomb in the kitchen like they are. So, I could not just say one thing.

What one thing do you really want to convey to the mentors about who you are?

MP: I want to convey to them that it’s not just about this show. It is about what I just said. It’s about not just one show and six episodes or 52 episodes and just one thing. It is about this show, and then that goes to this show, and then that goes to this, and then I’m a part of their shows, and then we do, you know, Christmas All-Star Food Network Holidays at Bobby’s, and I get invited over to Bobby’s, and I’m with all the Food Network stars. ... I don’t want one season. I want someone 10 years from now to be talking about me like I’m talking about Bobby and Giada. I think that’s the ultimate success.

How did you prepare for this competition?

MP: I own my own business. I started my own business by myself, a healthy, gluten-free baked goods business, and on my own I started this. I built it; I got into Whole Foods in the LA area on my own. You know, from baking a bread that I came up with in my studio apartment to renting a kitchen and baking at 1 in the morning all night to then delivering to stores to then growing and getting a manufacturer who’s making breads for me and sending me 10,000 pounds of bread at a time. That, playing sports my whole life and training to play basketball in college — none of that can compare to getting up to here, because it’s the unknown. You have no idea what’s going to hit you in five minutes, and that is crazy. There’s nothing to prepare for because you just don’t know, and that in itself, mentally, is crazy.

Win or lose, what's something you want to take away from this contest?

MP: Well, I can’t lose. So, I can’t even think that because it’s go big or go home. And ... when I started and I’m like, I want to create a business, it’s not like, "Oh, I’ll just sell to a few stores." It’s like, "Nope, I’m going to get into Whole Foods, and then I’m going to get into every other retail store in the country." Because, I just, that’s just how I roll. So, when I win, I hope to take away many, many things for years and years to come, and starting with my own TV show that will then develop into an amazing career like Bobby and Giada.

What's your greatest strength in the kitchen?
MP: My greatest strength I would say is adapting. I eat healthy, and I have a lot of allergies ... I’ve always had allergies my whole life. ... Lactose, dairy, I’ve always been that, and then as I started getting older, more allergies developed. So, you really have to learn how to, like, get creative with food if you want to be able to eat something. ... If cheese is in something, what else can I put in it?
What is the strangest thing we'd find in your refrigerator right now?

MP: Some people may think it’s weird — I don’t. I live off of green drinks where it’s, like, you know, your kale your spinach your parsley your apple.

What do you consider to be your signature dish?

MP: It’s baked, not fried, French fries, but they have flavor; they have taste. Or chicken fingers, but same thing — a healthy version. So ... simple things.

What's your favorite food city to visit?

MP: I think now being in LA, just because it’s like my lifestyle; it’s like my eating. It’s so healthy, [and] it’s clean.

What dish or ingredient will we never catch you eating?

MP: I mean, never say never. I shouldn’t eat a lot of things. ... Either it’s a really good day or it’s a really bad day if you see me going to town on a Blizzard, but I’m telling you, if my stomach would allow me to eat a Dairy Queen Blizzard every day, I would eat one, extra Oreos and cookie dough. You go big or go home. That’s it.

What's your favorite late-night snack?

MP: I love making my own pizzas. Again, it’s about ingredients that you can get and you can always find nowadays. Five years ago, even a few years ago, it was a lot different, but now ... you can find good things to substitute. There’s so much more. There’s so much more if you have gluten allergies or if you need nondairy cheese. So, I love getting a tortilla, a healthy tortilla or even an English muffin or something like this [and] making my own marinara sauce. ... Spread that on your bread or whatever, and then I have awesome vegan, nondairy Parmesan cheese, and then of course you can put any veggies on it you want, but even that takes two seconds. Cook it under the broiler, and it’s like a little mini pizza.

What's your guilty-pleasure food?

MP: I mean, Dairy Queen for sure. The thing is I’m happy that I don’t know here Dairy Queen is around me in LA, so it’s kind of a good thing. But when in doubt, if it’s, like, "no, I don’t care, I am just going for it," then I will just drive myself to the store, and I will get an either Oreo or cookie dough ice cream, and then I’ll be sick, because [of] my dairy issues. But eating it those few bites — it’ll be worth it.

What is one must-have dish at your last supper?

MP: Definitely chicken. Something chicken. A healthy chicken Parm — that’s always good. Again, I love making sauces. I think sauce can do a lot for a dish, and that’s what I love, too, because I feel like with herbs and spices, you can add so much flavor to things without adding extra unnecessary ingredients.

What do you want to say about yourself to fans watching at home?

MP: I would say it’ll be fun. You know your body, and mentally, physically, everything, making the foods that I make will thank you, because when you eat good you feel good. Everything’s connected, and I would say, too, that most [fans] are probably like me. When I started out I didn’t want to be intimidated. When people start, I feel like a lot of people don’t get into food and cooking because they’re like, "Oh, it’s going to be too hard." Or they’re just intimidated, or they think something it’s not, and I was like them. I started out knowing nothing. I had sweaters in my oven because I didn’t know how to cook, and I watched some amazing Food Network stars, and now here I am. And that’s how I started, and I know that there are millions of people like me that don’t have the time or the money to go to culinary school, but they want to know about food and getting in the kitchen and how to cook some cool, easy, quick and good-for-you meals. And so I think they’ll really relate to that.

Rapid fire: Think fast!
Ketchup, mustard or mayonnaise? Mustard
Chocolate or vanilla? Chocolate
Bagels or doughnuts? Bage ... doughnuts
Cream cheese or butter? Neither
Coffee or tea? Tea
Burgers or hot dogs? Burger

French fries or onion rings? Baked, not fried, fries

White meat or dark? White
Cake or pie? Cake
French toast or pancakes? Pancakes

Beer or wine? Depends. With the game, it’s beer. Out with the family or at my mom’s house, 'cause she still probably drinks Franzia, wine.

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Don't miss the premiere of Food Network Star, Season 12 on Sunday, May 22 at 9|8c.

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