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Next Food Network Star Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is a transcript of an Interview with Bob Tuschman and Dzintra Dzenis on June 21, 2010 about the Food Network show Food Network Star.

Question:
On last night's episode we had the big 'SHH' moment. What went through your head when this happened?

Bob Tuschman:
I was a little shocked. I thought it was an incredibly rude display, not only in a public setting like that at a Grammy party, but in front of the selection committee. I thought it was rather un-thought out and an inopportune thing to do for Dzintra, who clearly was on the fence anyway. She's had three bad weeks in a row and that certainly did not endear her to us.

Question:
As the season's been progressing and you sort of get a feel for the contestants as to who's done well and who's not doing so well, did you start to get a sense of who's going to make it to the end?

Bob Tuschman:
I did, although I can't say I was right in every case, because a couple people that I really thought might make it further than they did, did not. Of course I'm speaking as undercover as I can. [laughs] What I really like about this show is that I like when I'm wrong. Even though I have a good sense of who I really think has potential and talent, everybody is there because initially we really are convinced that everybody has a shot at it. And what you find out is that under the stress of the cameras, the selection committee, the guest stars of all the chefs, you sort of see who is in it for the long haul and who isn't. And who really has the goods, both culinary and in terms of personality and character. I really thought at the beginning that Doreen, when we were casting, was a favorite of all of ours. She was really funny, really a full-depth personality, and in two episodes it became very clear that she could not stay in the competition. Likewise, Dzintra, although she became quite a controversial character, when she was brought in she had incredible culinary chops, she's a beautiful woman, she has a really interesting point of view, and I thought a lovely demeanor. But in the heat of competition you learn all kinds of things about people, and boy there was a lot of chatter about people wanting to say goodbye to Dzintra, and they got their wish last night.

Question:
What's the best thing the competitors can learn from Guy [Fieri]?

Bob Tuschman:
Wow, that's a great question. There's so much to learn from Guy. Guy really is the model of what you want to be doing in the competition. I think it's being yourself 110%. Guy never tried to be anyone else, never tried to be what he thought we wanted. Guy is 100% unapologetically Guy. That's the kind of bold personality and the way to navigate through the competition that really gets people ahead, is to not really try to be what you're not. A lot of people, because they've watched the show a long time, because they've known all of our stars for so long, try to imitate other people or try to be what they think a cooking show host should be. I said that to Serena in the first episode, because Serena is a very funny, very delightful, charismatic woman, who as soon as the cameras went on, tried to be a TV host. She had a fake smile plastered on and she talked in a very artificial way, and that's just going to get you sent home. That is not what's going to get you through. Guy is Guy, whether the cameras or on or the cameras are off, there is no difference, and that's the best thing to learn.

Question:
Do you give the contestants points for daring? As we saw last night, Brad's food was inedible, but he was commended for thinking outside the box. Do you think that helped him?

Bob Tuschman:
Ultimately not. I think we would penalize them if they played it too safe, even if they did the most wonderful peanut butter and jelly sandwich ever, if it was just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, they wouldn't get points for it. I give them points for thinking outside the box and trying to be inventive on the plate, but they have to get closer in the execution of it, because that is truly one of the worst things I have ever tasted in my life. We all struggled not to spit it out, and as I said, I actually don't know how it's scientifically possible to get that many really bad flavors into one little bite of food. That takes a certain amount of talent I guess, but not the talent we're looking for.

Question:
What do you think saved him?

Bob Tuschman:
That there was somebody worse than him. [laughs]

Question:
Even if it was inedible?

Bob Tuschman:
Luckily, Dzintra had so many strikes against her that I think it really saved him. And also, his personality, he does very good when he's in front of people, both at the pier last week and at the Grammy party. He's got a very charming style that people really like, so while that's not going to get you across the finish line if the food can't match, it was enough to get him to stay in this week.

Question:
I was really sad to say goodbye to Dzintra, and when she first came on the scene I thought she had the 'it' factor. Obviously so many things went wrong with her, but what would you have said to her to try and change that trajectory?

Bob Tuschman:
I'm not sure it could've been changed because ultimately, Dzintra has such an interestingly quirky personality. You see it in the way she talks to herself, in her sound bytes where she's kind of dazed and confused sometimes. Ultimately I think there are parts of Dzintra that I don't know I could change, I think they ultimately did her in. On the plus side, I think I saw in Dzintra what you're talking about, I think Dzintra really does have so many great qualities besides her culinary ability. I think she has a sort of freshness about her, I think she's a very attractive teacher, I think she has a really elegant style, a beautiful aesthetic. So I think we brought her in for the right reasons, but ultimately I think a lot of parts of her personality sent her home.

Question:
It was really painful when she came back into the room, most of the time the contestants really seem sorry and they hug them, and you didn't see that with Dzintra. Was that part of what you were alluding to, that people wanted her gone? And do you take that commentary from other contestants into consideration when you're judging?

Bob Tuschman:
We don't take the commentary from other contestants because we really look at everyone individually. And obviously they're going to have resentments and jealousies about each other, they're all trying to get the same job. So we don't listen to them, and in truth, a lot of those interviews, I don't really see at the time of the judging. I don't see them until much later when the episode is put together. I'm not always aware of what the contestants are saying about each other, but even if I did, I think ultimately Dzintra's actions in and of themselves are what sent her home.

Question:
Knowing that you're in charge of finding talent, how do you know when you see confidence or a diva?

Bob Tuschman:
[laughs] I think they're often flip-sides of the same coin. I think one of the reasons, not at Food Network, but in all of television and film, that a lot of times the kinds of personalities that are the most commanding, charismatic and exciting personalities do have a little diva in them. I don't look at it as a bad thing, I look at it as somebody that demands attention, that you're going to watch, and it doesn't always translate into bad behavior. I think our personalities on Food Network are some of the biggest, brightest personalities in television, and I wouldn't call any of them divas, I actually really love hanging out with all of them. But they do have personalities that you do take notice of, and I think under other circumstances that that comes with diva-dom, I think at Food Network we're pretty lucky that they don't always have to come in the same package.

Question:
I loved the format last night of each contestant doing an individual dish and then the pairing, I thought was neat. Would you ever consider doing a food and wine pairing episode?

Bob Tuschman:
Absolutely. We've done food and drink pairing episodes before, and yeah, absolutely we would consider food and wine.

Question:
There's always been such a focus on brand and star power, what other factors do you consider? Like with Paul last night, I had a hard time with him and his attitude. What factors keep people in when they don't have that brand and star power yet?

Bob Tuschman:
I think if we see elements of their personality that we think have promise, then we know that sometimes it takes a while to figure out what your brand is. So what we liked about Paul was that he does have a comedy background, he has a culinary background, and I see his down to earth, Mid-westernness. I thought that made him relatable and approachable. Obviously he's exhibiting behaviors that we're not happy with at all, and this is not the first time we saw something condescending come out of him. It happened at the pier also, where his behavior towards some of the party guests turned the guests off, and so I think we're definitely questioning if he's got what it takes. Again, sometimes, especially in the early stages, you're lucky that there are people doing worse than you are, because we only kick one person off each week. Paul definitely was not on our favorites list this week.

Question:
Given another chance on the show, what would you do differently?

Dzintra Dzenis:
I would've done the same thing, I think, because even if I would've done something differently maybe it would've played against me or for me... you never know. Actually I put myself on a line of who I am, and this is who I am, and that's all I could do.

Question:
I want to know what you thought of the camera challenge, because three weeks in you still appeared uncomfortable.

Dzintra Dzenis:
[laughs] Oh boy, three weeks in. It's a pretty challenging thing to be put in a situation like that, where you're going for your ultimate dream of a lifetime, and I'm one of those people that, being from a European background where we're taught to work, and you try and try and try, and each time I'm like 'Come on honey! Work harder, work harder'. But you actually just have to relax and take a deep breath, and just relax a little bit. I think that maybe after a few more tries I would've been more comfortable, but you never really get comfortable with that situation because it's something that you want so badly. Honestly, if you're not nervous before something you really care about, you probably don't care about it that much. I still want it! I'm always going to have that certain kind of energy. With time I'll tone it down, that kind of over the top bubble, but I care and I still have stage fright when I go in front of people in my classes and it's always going to be there.

Question:
The whole shushing area - was that nerves? What was that?

Dzintra Dzenis:
Well it was actually excitement because we were in front of the selection committee and we were really happy about the dishes we prepared together. We were kind of talking to each other, to the committee too and just lots of enthusiasm going there, and I just wanted to make sure that I got my little piece of information in there as well! And you know when chicks, they talk it's like [mumbles quickly] and I was just like 'Shh, just wait, just one minute, let me say that too!', and it wasn't meant like, 'No, you shush now child', it was meant like, 'Let me say something too, please!' That's really all that happened, and unfortunately it came off like, 'Stop talking, it's all about me', which is not the case at all. I was just excited, and I'm known to have things popping out of my mouth because I'm honest and open... and that's me on a plate, I guess. [laughs]

Question:
Do you think the show gave an accurate portrayal of you?

Dzintra Dzenis:
Yes and no. There's 12 contestants on the show, and they have to distribute our pros and cons and qualities throughout the episodes... boy, I don't know. It's a hard question to answer. I think if I were given more time they would get to see more and more of the real Dzintra, but I only had three episodes. In a perfect world, I'd like to be there until the end, and walk home with a big prize, but unfortunately things didn't work out for the best. If I could've shown more of myself, then I think the world could've seen more of the real Dzintra.

Question:
If you had gotten the show, what would you focus on?

Dzintra Dzenis:
I would focus on the kind of person I am, very open, very outspoken and also very encouraging for people to think about cooking in that same way. Because there are no stupid questions, everyone makes mistakes, so let's take some humor and laugh about it. And talk about the passion about cooking and trying new ingredients, and bringing different cultures onto our table. Having lots of fun with it. I think that cooking has to be fun, and that can only come through freedom of expression, and saying things that are sometimes off the cuff and laughing about it.

Question:
What were the most positive things that you took out of your experience?

Dzintra Dzenis:
To be able to be on the Food Network, to be in front of all those cameras, to meet all those amazingly creative people that put a show like that together. To improve my skills, because right now when I teach my classes, I have all that experience behind me, and no one can take that away from me. That's given me another edge, another kind of a polish I guess. I think I'm richer and stronger as a person, and it's actually added much more to my cooking. I'm even more daring now because some little hang-ups that I had before, I've said 'Life is too short. Put it out there, Dzintra'. The energy that I have, I don't care, I'm going to keep that with me, because I'd rather have the energy than not. I just love it, I'm sad that I couldn't go until the very end, but you know, life is too short and I got so many good things out of it. And my family is so happy to have me home. [laughs] My daughter says, 'Mama! I wouldn't want you to travel like that anyway all over the place'.

Question:
What were some of the negative things you learned from the show, if there are any?

Dzintra Dzenis:
Because of the stressful situation that we're put under, I was not able to shine every single time I was on camera, the way they wanted me to shine, I think. All of us have good parts in our personalities and downsides to our personalities, and if I could be like Wonder Woman and put on a little Dzintra cape and be the perfect person they wanted all the time, I would do it. But unfortunately I'm human, and even though I tried and I tried and I tried, it wasn't what they were looking for, and that's OK. That's really OK. But yeah, if I could put on a little Dzintra cape and be perfect all the time, then I would've done that, but oh well.

Question:
What is your signature dish?

Dzintra Dzenis:
My signature dish... oh boy, I have so many. I would say that it's a nice big piece of beef tenderloin that's grilled, and then I have steak-cut French fries that are crispy on the outside and nice and steam-warm on the inside, asparagus, steamed, and lots of luscious and wonderful Hollandaise sauce smothered all over and it's just... yum.

Question:
I saw that your favorite restaurant is in Paris, so I want to know, what's your favorite restaurant in your hometown of Austin?

Dzintra Dzenis:
Chez Moi [laughs] There's so many good restaurants here, but I love my cooking and people love my cooking. My family loves my cooking, my friends, my clients love my cooking, and really, it's here, it's home. It's really home.

Question:
Is there anyone else on the show you would have preferred cooking with? Who would it be?

Dzintra Dzenis:
I'd say probably Brad.

Question:
How come?

Dzintra Dzenis:
He's wonderful. He's a wonderful chef, wonderful person, also very creative. Also a little similar style of cooking to mine, I'd say. Plus he's really cute! Even though I'm married [laughs], he's a fellow Austin-ite.

Question:
And what's your favorite ingredient?

Dzintra Dzenis:
In the world?

Question:
Yes, in the world.

Dzintra Dzenis:
Probably butter. [laughs]

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