Erika Engle

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Star search seeks
next Food Network
celebrity chef

A Food Network cele- brity chef from Hawaii -- how cool would that be?

The all-food-all-the-time cable channel is looking for "The Next Food Network Star," and is soliciting three-minute demo tapes from professional chefs and home cooks across the country for the first time.


"So many people say to us, 'I know the perfect person for your network' or 'I should have my own show'," said Kathleen Finch, senior vice president, primetime programming.

"We're giving everyone a chance to become the newest member of our on-air family. We're looking for someone who has a great personality, unique style and a working knowledge of food and cooking."

Entry information is available online at www.foodnetwork.com and the deadline is Nov. 30.

After going through the tapes, the network will air a series of reality-show-type specials in June and July chronicling the selection of eight finalists, seven to be chosen by the network, the eighth, by viewers who will vote online. The finalists will be flown to New York on the network's dime and will be winnowed down by a series of challenges until two are left standing.

Each of the two semifinalists will tape a segment of a pilot show to be aired during the final special after which online voting by viewers will determine the winner.

The network will fly the winner back to New York late next summer to tape all six episodes to premiere in September 2005 during the network's "In The Kitchen" block of programming Saturdays and Sundays. It likely will be repeated during the week, as are other shows such as "Barefoot Contessa."

Cooks who already have starred in their own national television shows need not apply. Stars of local cooking shows such as Sam Choy, who has appeared as a guest chef on "Emeril Live" would get consideration on a case-by-case basis, a spokeswoman said.

Let's see, knowledge of food and cooking and a great personality ... what about George "Chef Mavro" Mavrothalassitis? The James Beard award winner clearly knows a thing or two about cooking and exudes personality -- exuberantly, even.

"To call the restaurant Chef Mavro was an idea of my publicist who is also my wife (Donna Jung)," Mavro said. "Everybody calls me Chef Mavro, even my neighbor in my building. This means the chef is inside the kitchen cooking ... not in New York," he laughed.

He has nothing against the idea, or against publicity or even appearing on Food Network.

It's just that, "it's not me. You know, I have a lot of respect for people doing that. They are not only good cooks, they're also movie stars! I'm not a movie star," he laughed.

Word of the competition is ricocheting through the culinary academies at Hawaii's community colleges.

"I'm sure some of our faculty would be interested in getting involved in the application process," said Chris Speere, associate professor of the Maui Culinary Academy. The academy has contributed instructional cooking shows for airing on the Maui Community College channel.

"What's really special about someone out of Hawaii is that they've been raised in a melting pot, exposed to Korean, Chinese, Portuguese and Japanese food, (etc.), so actually cooks coming out of Hawaii are outstandingly educated," Speere said.

Ron Takahashi, chairman of the Culinary Arts program at Kapiolani Community College, agrees.

Not only do KCC students receive training in traditional European techniques, "we also infuse an Asian-Pacific side that a lot of other culinary schools don't have."

"We've had students come from the mainland and that's what they're looking for," Takahashi said.

While they may not have their own cooking shows, KCC has "quite a few former students that have gone on to great things on the mainland," such as Yuhi Fujinaga, chef de parte at Alain Ducasse (restaurant) in Essex House in New York City. It is one of the top restaurants in Gotham.

Takahashi regularly gets phone calls from professionals on the mainland who want more information about Asian-Pacific cuisine because "they're not familiar with a lot of the products and the different ingredients."

"This is something that's pretty much hot, global cuisine, world's fare," he said, noting that Hawaii is the source and local training gives local graduates an edge.

Some KCC chef instructors and students are going to apply, Takahashi said.

Not to "bachi" anything, but there is great hope among some local industry professionals that someone from Hawaii will not only be among the finalists, but maybe even be "The Next Food Network Star."

Chefs such as Roy Yamaguchi, Mavro and all those in "the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement have brought a lot of attention to our state," said Tom Jones, chairman of the Hawaii Restaurant Association and president of Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant. "And the type of cuisine that the chefs have been creating ... it's all coming together here, so certainly something like this would add additional credit or merit to the things that are going on in Hawaii already. The cuisine here is just fabulous. It's a regional cuisine wonder, it really is."

It's a long way from the kitschy, Trader Vic's image of "Polynesian" cuisine, which was really "pseudo-Cantonese," or was just about any dish into which pineapple was thrown, Takahashi said.

"Now we have serious cuisine and it's time for the rest of the world to see it."

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: eengle@starbulletin.com



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