9 Questions with Jessica Tom, New Food Network Star Finalist

We caught up with Jessica about her style in the kitchen and out.

Contestant Jess Tom, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 14.

Photo by: Smallz & Raskind

Smallz & Raskind

Food Network Star is bringing the heat in the Season 14 premiere, with the first-of-its-kind episode in Florida. But before the fun in the sun — and some inevitable drama — begins on June 10, we’ve got the first interviews with all the hopefuls. Read on below to get to know them.

As a food novelist, it was destined that Jessica, 34, would incorporate food into every facet of her life. An avid foodie and home cook, Jessica started out in the kitchen as a child helping her father perfect their dishes. While attending Yale, Jessica wrote restaurant reviews for the college paper, and soon after graduating embarked on her first novel. Jessica is also a marketing consultant where she collaborates with restaurants and food trucks. In her spare time Jessica also runs a culinary blog, where you won’t find anything run of the mill to make in the kitchen.

Describe your culinary POV in one sentence.
International twists that you can easily integrate into your cooking.

What made you fall in love with food?
I come from a family that’s obsessed with food. My mom is from Madagascar, so she’s Chinese, but she’s also French influenced. My dad is from China. So between those two cultures, we’re really into food. My dad really instilled in me a love of tinkering in the kitchen. I would always see him experimenting. He’d be into smoking meats or candying chestnuts or something, and I would follow along with him. From him I learned that food wasn’t this scary thing or something that other people did; it’s something you can engage in. Once I did that, I got really excited and cooking became my passion.

What technical kitchen skill are you best at?
Since I don’t tie myself to a particular cuisine, I’m able to pull from every cuisine and make sense of it all in one dish.

What's your signature dish?
A miso-glazed halibut with turmeric tiles. I was inspired to do this because I was looking for a light summer dish that had some international flair, that you couldn’t exactly pinpoint where it was from.

What do you say to people who think they can't learn how to cook?
Cooking is not that hard. It’s supposed to be fun. I think that it’s really easy to get caught up in [minutia], and it really doesn’t matter. Just do what feels right. Just trust yourself and trust your taste buds. You know what tastes good. If you want to get into cooking, all you have to do is get into the kitchen and try. You’ll get better.

Let's say it's a regular Tuesday night and you're at home. What's for dinner?
An Asian-chicken salad. It’s something that’s really easy. It’s more about assembly, but you get this great mixture of sweet, spicy, salty, funky and lots of great textures. It really satiates you, but you feel light afterwards.

Who's your food/chef spirit animal?
I relate to Ree Drummond because I think that her love of food comes from a very personal place. It’s for her family. And I don’t have a restaurant. I cook for my friends and family. I cook as a reflection of what I grew up with, not because I need to fill a 100-person restaurant. I cook what’s important to me and what means something to me.

What's something very few people know about you?
I’m an introvert. That might be strange because like, Why are you on this TV show? Why do you want your own TV show? I need my alone time. I need to recharge by myself. And I think I can resolve this conflict between being on a show and being an introvert by spending time with myself and my thoughts and my creativity. And that’s where I gain my power and then I feel good about sharing it with the world.

Food pics in restaurants: yay or nay. Why?
Yay. Whether people like it or not, the world is changing. The way we share information and moments in our lives is becoming visual. And we all have these amazing phones/cameras/computers in our pockets at all times. Food is a memory, is a moment, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to document and share that. I think that’s a very pure instinct. I think it’s great for restaurants too; it gets the word out about their dishes. The only time I think it’s a bad thing is if it’s a really quiet restaurant.

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