Chatting with Guest Judges Jemele Hill and Jaymee Sire
The Food Network Star competition has narrowed to just four remaining hopefuls, which means that this week, with just a few challenges left until the finale, the pressure will be on the competitors to deliver Star-worthy performances every step of the way. In addition to Bobby and Giada, two perfect-for-the-job judges will be on hand Sunday night to help evaluate finalists' presentations. ESPN's Jemele Hill and guest Jaymee Sire, who's set to be the floor reporter on the upcoming series Iron Chef Showdown, will join the Up Your Game Day Star Challenge, featuring a series of shared segments and culinary demos. To be successful in a livelike setting, the rivals must execute on multiple tasks at once, and no one knows the demands of that more than game-day enthusiasts Jemele and Jaymee. We caught up with them on set to get their take on the challenges ahead, their advice to guarantee game-day success and their own tailgating traditions at home.
Tell me a little bit about how food plays a role on game-day.
Jaymee Sire: I think food is the one thing that everybody can rally around. Everybody has their different team or their different players, but everybody can agree that you need good food on game day, and you need to fuel up, especially if you’re going to be drinking. It’s definitely something that everybody can rally around.
Jemele Hill: In a way, a game-day food is more challenging, because you’re taking fairly basic things and you have to find a way to make them special. Of course, at any game-day party — nachos. OK, basic dish, but what kind of nachos? How will your nachos be different? Will there be seven layers? Will there be three? Will there be no layers? You have to take some of the most-basic things and figure out a way to make them special, and the worst thing you can have, especially when people are trying to have a specific sports experience, is have a dish that bombs. If you have the dish that bombs that just chilling on the table that nobody’s eating, that’s so awkward.
JS: Continue doing what you’re doing. Be yourself. Make sure to let that personality shine, because that’s what we’re watching. That’s why we come back. We have a lot of stuff to digest, so one thing I would say is take one or two things at a time and really work on that, and once you get that down, then you can move on to the next thing.
JH: One tip, to piggy back off Jaymee's point, is certainly something I have kept in mind as I’ve progressed in my TV career — you get good at TV when you get better at being you. When you get better at being you on TV, you’re striking gold right there. Just remember, whatever are your quirks or the things that make you unique, don’t feel like you have to hide them to fit into television.
JS: I’m like a kid in a candy store. I’m nerding out for sure. This is super fun.
JH: This is a great experience. It’s kind of hard to put into words as you’re going through it, because there’s a part of you that can’t believe you’re actually here. For as long as I’ve watched Food Network, as long as I’ve watched Bobby Flay and Giada, it is going to be so weird to be sitting at the judges' table, like: "Oh my god. I’m actually going to be on Food Network as a judge." It just exceedes all expectations, and even just from a TV standpoint, it is really insightful to see how they do things.
JS: I think you have to have something that’s going to appeal to everybody, something that’s very accessible. … That’s why I think sliders are really good or deviled eggs, because you can take one. I’m the kind of person who, if I go out to dinner, I want everybody to share their food. I want to have a little bit of everything, so I think having stuff that is a little bit more shareable or mini — I think mini is always a good idea for game day, because then you can have lots of bites.
JH: People have to remember, especially when you’re watching sporting events, the entire theme of it is to have an experience. It’s usually a community built around sports, so if you have food that more or less inspires community, I think it adds and accentuates the event itself. I definitely am with you, Jaymee. Having small things that you can nibble and dip in and out, food that you can visit then revisit, go back for seconds. Let’s be real. Most sporting events are long. So, you need to have something that’s going to withstand two and a half, three hours, and that’s why nachos work and sushi doesn’t. You don’t want the sushi that’s been sitting out for three hours.
JH: Game day’s probably not pretty in the sense that I’m in some old sweatpants …
JS: I was going to say, I’m in sweats and there isn't any makeup on, because we’re so used to being “on.” Sometimes I just like to watch by myself, in the comfort of my own home.
JH: I think that’s the part that would probably surprise most sports fans or most viewers. I tend to watch a lot of sports by myself. Finally, I’m like: "Oh, I’ve got five minutes of peace. Let me sit down and watch it there." I went to Michigan State, so if there’s a big Michigan State game on, I’m there in my most-comfortable clothes, I’ve got my favorite salsa, some Tostitos scoops. People swear they’re endorsing me or something, but I love those things. I’m just chilling. It’s very, very laid back and casual. I also like watching games by myself, because I tend to swear a lot, and I don’t want to scare anybody that I’m with. So, I’m just like, "You know what, I’m not mature enough to watch games with other people." With teams that are not my team, I can do that, but those that are my teams, I need to watch that just by myself.
JS: You have to go to the basics and not try to be too fancy, because at the end of the day, people just want to eat and have a good time and socialize. I think if you’re trying to get too fancy or do too much, you could have a fail there.
JH: I agree with you, Jaymee. You staying that reminds me of when I went to a tailgate and they had shrimp cocktail, and that was a huge mistake. Picking the wrong food, especially mixing it with the wrong kind of weather, can just nullify a tailgate. Don’t break out the chili in September. Wait until November when we’re deeper into football season.