Talking to the Winners of Food Network Star (Yes, There Are 2!)

We caught up with the winners just moments after their unbelievable victories.

Finalists Christian Petroni and Jess Tom celebrate their win, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 14.

Photo by: Scott Gries

Scott Gries

Well, that as a shocker! In a never-before-seen twist, Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis did what hasn’t been done before in 14 seasons of Food Network Star: They crowned two winners. That’s right — three hopefuls came to the finale, and ultimately two were awarded the life-changing title of the next Food Network Star tonight.

We were on set as Christian Petroni and Jess Tom won this esteemed title, and we caught up with them to get their reaction to the news, look back on how far they’ve come, and chat about all the highs and lows of the competition. Read on below for their first exclusive interview.

OMG. This has never happened before! What are you thinking?

CP: It’s absolutely crazy. It’s the last thing I thought would happen. I’m just happy to be here.

JT: I knew that it was going to be a really tough finale being that I was with Christian and Manny. If there was any year where there was going to be multiple winners, it was our year.

After everything you’ve gone through in the last nine weeks, how does it feel to be here now, to be among the ranks of Bobby and Giada?

CP: It was such a crazy, wild ride, and it took a lot of work and going outside your comfort zone. But at the end of the day, it paid off.

JT: I think this is a superhuman experience, and it requires you to take on superhuman abilities. It’s amazing what you can do when you set your mind to something and you decide that you want to reach for the stars or do something that seems so crazy.

Host Bobby Flay talks with winner Christian Petroni while host Giada De Laurentiis talks with winner Jess Tom, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 14.

Photo by: Scott Gries

Scott Gries

How did you feel coming out of the pilot experience with your directors? Did you think you had a shot at winning?

CP: Coming out of my pilot, I had no idea what was up, what was down, left or right. I had no idea how it was going to go. It’s all a shock.

JT: I was really unsure after my pilot, because Robert Irvine was really tough on me, and I felt like he was yelling at me 90 percent of the time! But at the end of the day, I’m glad he showed me that tough love because it got me here.

Contestant Christian Petroni during the One Minute Demo for the Final Challenge, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 14.

Photo by: Michael Moriatis

Michael Moriatis

Christian, you had judged on Beat Bobby Flay before this competition, so you have TV experience. Did you think that gave you an advantage on Star?

CP: I wouldn’t know what an advantage is. When they put me in front of a camera, I just act like myself and speak from the heart. I’m just happy to be able to do it.

Just as everyone did, Christian, you had some ups and downs in the competition, but rarely, if ever, did the mentors not like your food. To what do you credit being able to cook so well under pressure?

CP: I think being in the restaurant business, you learn to live under pressure and take things as they come and attack them. It’s nonstock problem-solving in my business. Put a lock in front of me and I’m kind of used to that.

You competed on Star Salvation, Jess, and that gave you another life here. It’s the reason you came back on the show! Besides another opportunity to compete, what did you gain from that experience?

JT: When I was eliminated from Food Network Star, I told myself: “You’re on Star Salvation. This is it, and if you have anything left within you, you have to give it now, in this moment.” So what Star Salvation taught me was that I had it in me. I’ve never really forced myself to push myself that far. I proved to myself that I could, that I had it in me.

(Left to Right) Host Alex Guarnaschelli with Contestant Jess Tom during the "Classic on the Go Challenge", as seen on Star Salvation for Food Network Star, Season 14.

Photo by: Michael Moriatis

Michael Moriatis

Jess, what’s the best lesson you learned from Alex during your time on Star Salvation?

JT: Alex has a really great vibe about her; she’s very relaxed but also very no-nonsense. So I tried to feed off that energy because I respond to that type of person. What I learned most was to be confident in my knowledge and that should carry me.

What was your proudest moment of the competition?

CP: The pasta dish I put up at the aquarium was one of my proudest moments.

JT: It was winning Star Salvation.

If you could go back to day one of the competition, standing on the beach in Orlando, what would you tell yourself knowing what you know now, nine weeks later?

CP: “This is going to hurt, but roll with the punches.”

JT: “Be yourself. Trust in yourself. Don’t try to force yourself to be something you’re not.”

Finalists Christian Petroni, Jess Tom, and Manny Washington, as seen on Food Network Star, Season 14.

Photo by: Scott Gries

Scott Gries

Is there one piece of mentor feedback that really struck a chord with you and is something that you’ll carry with you going forward?

CP: Taste my food! I want to eat more.

JT: After it was announced that I won, Bobby told me that it’s really important to stick to your guns and know what you’re all about. He said that people are going to try to sway you different ways, but at the end of the day, you have to be the one that says “Yes or no, this is what I want my creations to be.”

What did you learn about yourself through this journey that you maybe weren’t expecting to?

CP: That in a weird way I enjoy being under pressure.

JT: I learned that I’m stronger than I think. I tend to go to things that I’m naturally good at, and in this competition, I had to do a lot of things I’m wasn’t naturally good at, but I still pushed through them and I did them anyway and I tried to learn from them.

How would you explain to fans who are watching at home — and perhaps thinking "I can do that" — what this process is really like?

CP: If you think you can do it, you should get out and go out and do it and see if you have what it takes. Challenge yourself and push yourself to the limits of what you thought you could do.

JT: I was definitely one of those armchair observers saying, “I could do that!” But it’s a totally different story when there’s a crew around you and cameras and nerves and you’re surrounded by all these amazing competitors. It’s a whole other story. If you can do it, more power to you. It’s a totally different experience living it.

How would you and your fellow finalists spend your downtime on set? Any fun behind-the-scenes stories that you can share?

CP: I slept a lot.

JT: We would do plank challenges. I would teach people yoga poses. Manny would stretch us out and crack our backs; that was amazing. I would analyze people’s handwriting — party trick!

What are your families going to say when they hear the news of your victories? What will this mean to them?

CP: Happy.

JT: My husband is my biggest supporter. In your life, you encounter a lot of nay-sayers or people who want you to take the safe road, but my husband has always encouraged me to follow my heart even if that’s not the safe road. He’s going to be very proud of me.

What do you want to say to Bobby and Giada?

CP: Abbondanza!


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