One-on-One with the First Food Network Star Finalist to Go Home
The nature of the Food Network Star beast is such that no matter how much mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis have to teach the finalists, their time is limited, which means they're forced to make quick decisions about who has the greatest potential for success. Week after week finalists will fall in a series of eliminations, and following each gut-wrenching exit, we here at Star Talk will bring you insider interviews with the fallen hopefuls. If you haven't watched the latest episode, don't read any further until you do, because we're about to break down the show and talk to the person sent home.
Like many healthy-focused finalists who have come before him, Blake Baldwin faced the tricky task of making good-for-you food sound appetizing in a world of deep-fried, sprinkle-coated, cheese-stuffed masterpieces. He was up to the challenge, though, as he's lived the experience of losing weight, which he revealed to the mentors upon introducing himself. Come the Star Challenge, he suffered a double whammy of errors. Not only did his light shrimp dish get the best of him on account of a flopped plantain-based taco shell, but in his performance in front of the judges, he admitted those kitchen, and the judges couldn't look past that, ultimately securing his early exit.
We caught up with Blake on set following his emotional elimination, and he was quick to admit his mistakes. Looking back, he says: "It’s a lot more intense than I anticipated. I don’t think I’m usually that nervous to talk about my food." Read on below to hear more from Blake in an exclusive interview.
Blake Baldwin: Disappointed, but I felt that was coming, because my dish I gave them was not anything like I planned, and it wasn’t up to par.
Talk to me about what went wrong. It seemed like the unusable plantain taco shells were the start of your struggles.
BB: What went right? My goal was to make shrimp tacos with a mango slaw, but the tortilla batter didn’t set up properly. I usually use super-ripe plantains. These weren’t as ripe as I would have liked, but I wanted to make it work anyway. No excuses though. The batter didn’t set up right, so I spent a lot of time trying to correct that, which ate into my time for my shrimp and my slaw, so that was my first mistake. And then I spent too much time going from my work station back to the pantry, from the pantry to my work station, and back and forth. I had an issue with my mandolin. It was my first time doing something like this, and everything just — my mind going 1,000 places at once when I needed to be focused. That definitely hurt my output. Like I said, I tried to make a shrimp taco, but since I had to nix the tortilla, I ended up doing a slaw and topped that with some grilled shrimp that I marinated in some olive oil, jalapeno, garlic, salt, pepper and some lime juice. I normally use zest, but I couldn’t find a zester either. The list goes on and on with my issues. But if I was a judge, I would have said the same things they said. If you want to be a Food Network Star, the network’s name is Food Network — you have to be able to produce good food. I wasn’t able to do that today, so that’s why I really thought I was going home coming into this evaluation.
BB: Somewhat. I think I was getting there. I wasn’t able to open up as much as I would have liked to, but that’ll come with more experience. This week taught me a lot, so I’m definitely not regretting coming here at all. I learned a ton even though I was only here for a very short period of time. Overall, it was a freaking awesome experience.
BB: In that kitchen, it is intense. I thought I was way more ready for this than I was. Having not ever done a cooking competition, or anything really that was timed that short — I’ve done challenges where it’s an hour or two for multiple dishes, but 30 minutes to get your soul on a dish in a kitchen you’ve never been in is much harder than I anticipated.
BB: The one thing Bobby and Giada did say multiple times was that I need to explain to people why I am the person that they need to listen to about healthy food and why I’m the one that’ll make it exciting, because like they said — and I knew this coming into the competition — healthy food has a terrible stigma around it as it is. Everyone thinks it’s bland and boring and doesn’t taste good, which is unfortunately the exact kind of dish I gave them today. I think I do need to take that to heart and really figure out why I am the one who everyone needs to listen to about healthy food.
BB: I wasn’t expecting to be so lost in the kitchen. I just felt so, so lost and out of my element, which is not like me in the kitchen. I normally feel at home.
BB: I don’t know if I did. It’s a lot more intense than I anticipated. I don’t think I’m usually that nervous to talk about my food. My food is what I love, and I love talking about why it’s good for you. It was hard. It’s stressful.
Contestants (left) Nancy Manlove, Trace Barnett, Blake Baldwin, Addie Gundy, Suzanne Lossia, Amy Pottinger. Cory Bahr, Jason Smith, Toya Boudy, Matthew Grunwald, Coadan Tran, Rusty Hamlin and David Rose (right) at the Elimination reveal for the Star Challenge, Food Network Firing Squad,, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 13.
BB: We played a lot of cards, talked a lot about back home and our families and what we like to do outside of the kitchen. We listened to a lot of music, talked about the music we were listening to, why we liked it. We came up with random ideas for what we’re going to do with each other in the future. It’s a really, really good group of people.
BB: I want them to remember me so that when I do come back — because it’s going to happen — that they say, "Wow, he really took what they said, took it to heart," and I’m able to express myself better, both personally and through my food.
BB: I’m going to relax for a minute. I’m really excited. I left my corporate job, and I’m so excited to not go back to corporate, and use this as a stepping stone to finally make the leap into the culinary world.
BB: It’s so hard to say. I love everyone. I think if Cory can be who Cory is on camera, he’s got this in the bag.