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Next Food Network Star Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is a transcript of an Interview with Susie Fogelson and Doreen Fang on June 14, 2010 about the Food Network show Food Network Star.

Question:
Where do you think Doreen went wrong during the carnival challenge?

Susie Fogelson:
I think it was clear, obvious that we were frustrated. I don't know if Doreen did so much wrong during the carnival challenge as much as, by the second episode we really feel like, just being able to articulate what makes her unique and what her culinary point of view is. It's a pretty important thing to get at and I think I was honest because I thought it was so confusing and I could not count on an answer that was reliable and I could not count on an answer that was actually consistent so it made her feel very scattered and confusing to me, and I think that was the last thing that would work for a show. Coupled with the fact that I think she misjudged what she could accomplish in that amount of time, meaning pulled pork in a relatively short amount of time, the meat was very tough and even though I think the root beer based sauce was really intriguing to us, it didn't pan out. That's more than one thing that went wrong that comes to mind.

Question:
How difficult do you think it is so early in the competition for some of these chefs to showcase their personality?

Susie Fogelson:
I think it's really tough but I think it's really real. These finalists would one day want to do the job of a Food Network star and have to sort of have a beginning, middle and an end to a piece in 30 seconds or in 3 minutes, and during that time they would have to give information and have to communicate their personality. I think it's a great question, because we could look like we are adopting these guys and putting them through these challenges for great television, but at the end of the day this is very real. Now, while we might have a talent showcase their cuisine or cater a carnival party, the idea that they would have to think fast on their feet and deliver delicious food for a crowd and have to be compelling, the idea that they would have to put vegetable lasagna together and have a few seconds to give information that is both reliable and interesting while communicating their personality is a very real thing that Bobby and Alton and Paula and Giada do every single day. So this is a real test. Do I think this is hard? I think it's really hard. Do I think it's real thought, and what they'll have to deal with if and when they win the show? Absolutely.

Question:
Do the judges already have a sort of idea about what kind of show they would like?

Susie Fogelson:
No. I don't come in with preconceptions. Like last year, for instance, when Melissa won, I wasn't looking at the finalist going, 'Gosh, we could really use a busy mom that cooks on a budget'. I think that's a very marketable concept and I think that I have been very vocal in thinking, not only how the finalists bring a point of view that is interesting to television but also in brand building. I am always intrigued; I will tell you that my party line is always going to be: I am a marketer and my goal is to market in the ITK, find new talent that are going to help us bring new people to the block. Bringing in new people often means diversity of ideas so that there is something for everyone or something that you wanted to learn about that doesn't exist in ITK. From a purely common sense point I'm always looking for new ideas but I have no preconceptions about what works and what doesn't, I'm always open for someone to blow my mind.

Question:
What are you looking for in the contestants?

Susie Fogelson:
I'm really in a camp that they have to have the 'it' factor. I know it sounds overplayed, but I'm really looking for that spark that stops people in their tracks and makes you want to spend time with this person. Equal to that is that they have great culinary chops. Classically trained. Do they all have to go to culinary school? No. Going to culinary school doesn't always make you an expert, but real passion for food and cooking, someone who is so excited by the idea that they could teach people some new things and get people to be excited to be in the kitchen and get people excited about emulating their recipes, is something that you just can't force, and so it's really about passion, the 'it' factor and great culinary chops.

Question:
What's the trick to talking while cooking?

Susie Fogelson:
I don't know, I don't it. [laughs] I think that the real killer for any of these finalists in any season of the show is nerves. Nerves often bring out the worst in people. Either their voice vibrates or they completely flat line so that no personality comes out. Bobby is the best person to ask this. One of the things he gives to the finalists every season which I think is really cool is, the finalists always come in loving food and being really committed to wanting to work with food every day of their lives. If they focus on the food, the rest often will come. And so Bobby's advice, again, I don't do it do I don't know, there is a magic to it as much art to science in that magic. At the end of the day I think if you focus on what you know and if what you know is that you have a gleaming personality, and you let that lead the way and you get great recipes together for people to be excited about. If you love the food, and I mean they all love the food, but if you love the instruction and the teaching of cooking then focus on that and you find your groove when you find the place where you're most comfortable.

Question:
Since the show is on television and the viewer can't taste the food, how important is the food in terms of the chefs overall image?

Susie Fogelson:
It is incredibly important. This is what we are doing. We're not E! where were looking for exciting personalities. We are trying to teach and inspire people to want to get in to the kitchen and cook. That can mean everyday, that can mean special occasions, Valentine's Day, Christmas dinner, matzos for Hanukkah. It's absolutely about making great food. That's what is so cool about Food Network; all of the 60,000 on foodnetwork.com recipes people see being made on air are totally vetted for home cooks by our Food Network Kitchens culinary team. Obviously the talent makes food create great recipes but we then vet and test those in conjunction with the talent to make sure that everything works. The talent is idea and inspiration, and then going to the website or picking up a cook book is all about replicating those recipes. A lot goes into that to make sure that people don't get frustrated, we want them to have a great experience.

Question:
How hard is it to not find yourself getting attached to a certain contestant early on and favoring them?

Susie Fogelson:
It's hard. It is a very emotional experience for me. For them it goes without saying, right? They're on the ride of their lives. But I do get very attached to them. There's three of us - Bob, Bobby and Susie making the decisions, so it's never any one of us, which I think is a good way to keep us in check. I approach it with a lot of integrity and a lot of passion for giving these people as much support and constructive criticism as I possibly can. I know it sound cheesy to say, but I love them all. I think they're all super brave for doing what they are doing. These are not typical, reality show 'ambulance chasers', these are people who can't do anything but be with food. I really love that passion and I think that the earnestness really comes through for all of them. I may not feel like they are all at the same level, obviously some of them are stronger than others, but I really admire all of them. There's one finalist really reminds me of my brother, so it's really hard not to have a soft spot for someone that reminds you of your brother. But I'm here to do a job so it would be unprofessional for me to have a bias either for or against a finalist because of favorable or negative feelings that I have.

Question:
I can tell it's really hard for you tell people they are off the show. How do you mentally gear yourself for that?

Susie Fogelson:
I breathe a lot, inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. I think you know this I fyou watch the show, but we have certain lines, like 'This is really hard for us' and 'We've made our decision' and 'Somebody has to go home tonight'. You've probably heard that like 100 times if you've been watching the show from the first season. But it is a really tough part of the job. I get really teary eyed a lot, I express it in some way, shape or form. After the show I deliver the lines, we obviously try to be elegant, we are not in it to make any one feel badly. But there is one evaluation when we send somebody home and they don't leave the evaluation room. I think you'll see this if you guys keep watching, I have to say "You can go now"... and you could hear a pin drop, it is the most awkward. I've never had to say to somebody, "I'm sorry you're off the show, now you can leave", because they usually just leave, or some come up and give a hug and a kiss or shake our hands, whatever they decide to do. However they want to exit, we're OK, we're happy to embrace them and tell them thank you, we're happy they just want to walk out. There's one situation where someone doesn't leave and you can feel how awkward it is.

Question:
On last night's show, Paul and Brianna came across, for example, Paul kept calling people 'honey' and they didn't really appreciate it. Do you think contestants are able to change their personality, or is that something that they are not going to be able to change?

Susie Fogelson:
Let's start with Paul. Paul is really trying to find out who the hell he is. You can see him really struggling, what to dial up, what to hold back. He's trying to find his footing. He's also trying to find his culinary point of view and at this stage in the game both of those things are really iffy. Do I feel like Paul can change? I think he has evolved into a kind of wise guy, and I said to him last night that a lot of people thought it was very rude. There were also some finalists that think he's hilarious but that he's a little off color at times. I think he has to figure out where his comfort zone is and bring that. I don't think that will change because he's figuring out his equalizer. Paul's got a lot to work on.

Brianna is kind of interesting to me. She's an incredible chef, I think one of the best cooks on the show. She's so talented and so worldly; she's lived all over the world and has such an interesting background. I think she looks like Beyonce, she's totally beautiful. Yet, she doesn't know how to relax and let her personality come through in way that's really warm and charming. She is really awkward. Whenever I am around her I'm uncomfortable because she's uncomfortable, that's back to the nerves thing. When I see these guys in their down time and behind the scenes, she is very strong-willed woman and sure of herself. A little bit of a diva which gives her a bit of her charm, but she lacks warmth when she's around people in a crowd. I think she gets insecure. It's hard to believe that someone who's so talented where food is concerned, and so beautiful would be so insecure, but I think her insecurities come out and it really sabotages her confidence. I hope that she can work on the nerves because I think the personality will come from there.

Question:
Do you think everybody when they come into this show should have a point of view or do you think this is something that evolves with them as they progress on the show?

Susie Fogelson:
I might disagree with my co-judges on this one but hell yeah. If you don't know what you want to bring to Food Network's 99 million people, if you don't have a sense of what sets you apart and makes you different, if you don't have a sense of what you do with food versus everybody else, then who are you? I feel like we really, really, rail on this, emphasize this heavily every season and yet some people walk in without it. Some people are really good students and they just need a little help finding it, and they truly evolve because the passion is there and the skill is there but maybe they have different lanes. I think you're gonna see this with Herb. He has a few different places he can go. It's not exactly like, what kind of food you can make; it's like what brings out the very best in you. What is really authentic to your shtick? What is your doing, your constitution? Everything up until this moment, what is it about? Your upbringing, your cultural influences, the psychology of the food you make. Where do you have the greatest amount of information? How can you inspire other people to the greatest extent? It is truly an evolution for a lot of people and I'm OK with that, but I like when people come in and thought it through enough to show me something. Doreen, who I feel like, she had a Chinese upbringing, she was around a lot of Chinese cuisine. She sort of turned her cheek to that, she didn't really want to emulate that so she started doing other types of food that were a little bit more like comfort food, and I just don't know what to do with that. I appreciate when people have thought it through and stick their neck out there with something. Is it right? Is it always going to bring out the best side in them? No, but at least do your homework.

Question:
Do you agree that you lacked a certain point of view going into the last challenge?

Doreen Fang:
I actually went in with the point of view that I wanted to teach people about not being afraid to try something new. As far as my Chinese culture, it wasn't that I'm turning away from that, it's just that when I was growing up, I had Chinese food every single day. I think that people like variety. I'm somebody who loves variety and trying new things and that's what started me in to cooking different foods. What I am doing right now is exploring flavors and when I came into the show, it was like I wanted to share my passion of trying new things and not being afraid to cook new things. I feel like my confidence as a chef, I know that I can cook and I have a great palette. Why not go out there and try something new, come back and recreate that? And show the home chef that just because it's cuisine that you're not familiar with, you can still do it. That was what I was really bringing in. When I first brought that point of view out they didn't really accept that. So then at that point I was trying to figure out what I could tell them and trying to figure out what I should tell them. Having confidence in your cooking is what I know in myself, I can go out and try something and recreate it because my palette is strong enough. And as for turning my cheek away from the Asian culture or Chinese food, that definitely isn't true because I love Chinese cooking. Growing up I wasn't home all the time, but it showed me how much I wanted to learn Chinese cooking from my mom. She's already passed away and between working and my career I didn't have that time with her and I wish I had that time back so I could learn every wonderful thing she had to teach about Chinese cooking. I think that obviously in the show you only have so much time to show you can cook and there is only so much of me. I know what I wanted to do but maybe it wasn't the right fit for them, and I'm OK with that and I completely understand that.

Question:
What would you say stands out to you as a highlight of your experience on the show?

Doreen Fang:
Overall, I really tried to listen to what they were saying and I was very open to it. One of the things that I truly enjoyed was the people. I think that going in there you don't realize the friendships that you're gonna make, because you think, 'Oh it's a competition, I'm here to win'. I really established friendships with people that I will maintain for the rest of my life, and that's one of the greatest memories I have from this show. I actually really had a good time, it was a fantastic opportunity.

Question:
Did you realize that you had angry facial expressions while you were talking?

Doreen Fang:
It's not that I feel like I'm angry but other people look at it that I am very passionate and I'm very expressive with my face. Somebody actually offered, 'Hey, do you want Botox?' and I said 'No! I don't want Botox!' This is part of who I am. I'm very expressive, and sometimes people might look at it like I'm angry, but I'm somebody with a lot of feelings, a lot of diction. It's all about how you look at it. Someone may say 'Oh you look angry', but I am very intense and passionate about what I am talking about.

Question:
What went wrong with the pulled pork?

Doreen Fang:
I really wish I had a pressure cooker and I should have just realized I wasn't going to have enough time. When I did realize it we had already given the name of the product and they were making signs and I couldn't change it. I wish I could have just called it roasted pork. Because obviously, everybody knows when you use the words pulled pork, everyone's going to think it's going to be tender and falling apart and you create that mental image for people. In hindsight I wish I called it roasted pork so people wouldn't have expected that texture.

Question:
What was the biggest surprise for you being behind the scenes of the show?

Doreen Fang:
The camaraderie. Everybody was really supportive of each other and I thought that was nice, especially being that we were in a competition setting. I really liked that.

Question:
So it wasn't as competitive and cutthroat as you expected?

Doreen Fang:
No I don't think so. Everyone did their thing. You focused on yourself, that's how I felt. It was more about me focusing on doing my best and I felt like everyone else was doing the same thing, maybe I was wrong, but that's just the impression that I got.

Question:
What kind of point of view would you approach this show with if you were going to do it again?

Doreen Fang:
My point of view was really about trying new things and exploring new cuisine. That's actually the point of view that I went in with but it wasn't really accepted, which is fine. I understand that because I know they were looking for someone who was an expert. But I guess what I'm trying to teach the home chef is, have confidence in your cooking have confidence in your palette. Try new things. Go out there, go to a restaurant and see something that you like, and then go to the market and go home and make that. And not be afraid. And that's really what I'm all about. I have my own little 'Dining with Doreen' where I go and I share new things with people, or it might be something that I've never had myself. It's just about being open and not being afraid to cook something different.

Question:
What are your plans for the future?

Doreen Fang:
I'm still making little video blogs of Dining with Doreen and that's something I'd love to pursue. I know everyone loves my 'I love butter' comment, so I'm making t-shirts for people. I want to pursue a career in television where I'm able to bring travel, food, people together, because obviously food is something that ties people together in such a wonderful way of socializing and that was a huge part of my upbringing, just being around people and there was always food. So I'd like to share that in my travels and experiences, give people my perspective.

Question:
Do you think in a way that maybe you were pigeonholed? Do you think they did that to you?

Doreen Fang:
I do feel like they wanted me to be that Asian chef, growing up Chinese-American, just because I am Chinese doesn't mean that that's my area of expertise. I had traditional culinary training in San Francisco and that wasn't the focus. I am very proud to be Chinese, I'm very proud of the food and if you go on my blog you will see that Asian food and Chinese food is something I eat all the time. Just because I'm Chinese doesn't mean I only cook Chinese food. I think it would be unfair to say that to anybody, any ethnicity. It's like, 'Oh you're Persian, you have to cook Persian food'. How many chefs or cooks do you see in a kitchen in a Chinese restaurant, and they're probably like 99% Mexican. Even Anthony Bourdain, has a French restaurant, but you have Mexican workers making French food. I don't think it matters what your ethnicity is, but if you have a passion for food and you love cooking, then you can cook anything you want, and that's why my point of view is about exploring. I grew up only eating just predominantly Chinese food and I'm in this new place where everything is opening up to me. There's so many wonderful flavors and cultures and cuisines and I love that. I love experiencing that and learning that and that's what I wanted to bring to the Food Network. Not being afraid to try something new, and just because you're a certain ethnicity, doesn't mean you have to be an expert on that thing.

Question:
Out of the remaining finalists, who do you think has what it takes to be Food Network Star?

Doreen Fang:
I had actually been asked that, and my pick was Aarti. It was really between Aria and Aria for me. I think they both have wonderful personalities, and they're both truly warm and they have great presence. They're two people I really connected with, I love my friendships with them.

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