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The nature of the Food Network Star beast is such that no matter how much mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis have to teach the finalists, their time is limited, which means they’re forced to make quick decisions about who has the greatest potential for success. Week after week finalists will fall in a series of eliminations, and following each gut-wrenching exit, we here at Star Talk will bring you insider interviews with the fallen hopefuls. If you haven’t watched the latest episode, don’t read any further until you do, because we’re about to break down the show and talk to the person sent home.
While some finalists knew just what to make when they saw their lot of camping fixings, Trace Barnett wasn’t one of them. He struggled to land on a plan to make tomato-vegetable soup and serve it inside bell peppers, and even once he did, the issues only continued. He wasn’t thrilled with the taste or texture of the soup, and while he attempted to remedy the dish, it was too little too late, and the judges were ultimately not keen on what he served. Though Trace did make slight improvements in his presentation this week, his repeated struggles in the kitchen couldn’t be overlooked, and ultimately he was sent home. We caught up with him on set — read on below to hear what he had to say.
What three words describe what was going through your mind when you ultimately learned you were going home?
Trace Barnett: Surprised. Very surprised.
Talk me through that. Why the surprise? You obviously did not anticipate that ending.
TB: The challenge was difficult. We were working with a limited number of ingredients and cooking over an open flame in a tar pit, so the circumstances were a little adverse. I wasn’t 100 percent confident in my dish, but working with what we had, which was a large amount of canned goods … I felt like the presentation went really well, and I also thought my – you know we had to do the camping trick, and I really thought that the peppers was a cool camping trick. I was surprised, and I thought our team had done well, so I was surprised that we were in the bottom.
How would you explain to fans at home what this is really like? What’s this whole experience really like?
TB: It’s really difficult. It’s a lot going on, and it’s hard to think. You’re not only in a time limit, but also a specific theme and random locations. I’ve never cooked over a direct open flame before, so that was interesting. But it’s also a lot of fun. It’s very challenging but fun at the same time.
What piece of mentor feedback will you remember going forward and take to heart?
TB: The feedback’s been really good. There’s a lot of feedback camera-wise and presentation-wise that I’ll definitely keep in mind doing TV stuff in the future. One [note] that I really liked was the descriptive words when describing dishes, all the empty things we use, so I thought that was really helpful.
What element of this competition were you least expecting?
TB: I was expecting to come into the competition and have finalists that were at the top of their game, but I really think that this season, every finalist has such a strong point of view and is really talented and is full of personality, so I think the cast this season is amazing. That definitely was above my expectations. And … whether it be 30 minutes or 60 minutes, within that time you have to develop your dish, grab all the ingredients, all of the cookware. And you’re in an unfamiliar kitchen, so I guess the whole kitchen experience is definitely a little more difficult than I thought coming into the competition.
What’s the best advice the mentors gave you?
TB: Just have personality, have fun with it. You’ve got to really stand behind what you’re presenting, both idea-wise and recipe-wise. I think that’s the best advice they gave.
Fill in the blanks with your fellow finalists’ names.
_____ is the class clown? Me.
_____ is the quietest? Jason.
_____ is the most daring? Cory.
_____ has the best recipes? Addie.
_____ is going to win this whole thing? I think Addie and Cory have a really good chance to win.
How did you handle the nerves of working with Bobby, Giada and even just the nerves of being here?
TB: I think the nerves were a lot more intense at the very first start, and then you just realize that everyone’s here to help you move along and you get into the swing of things. It happens so fast that you don’t even have a whole lot of time to think about being nervous, honestly. There’s no time for that. You’ve got to get in there, do your thing and just hope for the best.
What were your most favorite and least favorite challenges?
TB: By far my favorite was the Beauty and the Beast [challenge]. I thought that was amazing. I loved the whole decor, the table setting and the themed dishes and serving everyone. My least favorite — we might as well just go ahead and say the camp. It was probably my least favorite because of the circumstances. We cooked over an open flame in a tar pit. They’ve all been really fun though. Every challenge is so different and super fun.
What was the most-rewarding part of this competition for you?
TB: Actually making it here and being a part of it. I felt really honored to even make it this far and actually be on the cast. I think just being here has been the most-rewarding thing.
When you do have time to have out behind the scenes between takes, how would you guys hang out together? What would you do?
TB: When you spend hours with people there’s a lot of weird things. We tell a lot of jokes. We talk about random stuff in each of our lives. I entertain people with multiple personalities. We put ourselves in scenarios that probably will never happen.
What special guest or mentor did you learn the most from?
TB: I’m going to say Sandra Lee. I loved her feedback. I love her whole concept of her show. She was decor, parties, entertaining. So, it was nice to hear her feedback on the presentation challenge with Beauty and the Beast. It was nice to see her feedback on the table we had created and her thoughts and what she would have done.
What do you want fans to remember most about you?
TB: I want them to take home that even though you’re on a budget or time conscious that you can still entertain or decorate or have fabulous parties with fabulous food. And just to think outside the box and be creative every day and not take yourself too seriously in the kitchen. I think that’s important.
What’s next for you? What’re you going home to?
TB: I’m going to go back home and get back on my blog and my website, and get ready to generate some cool content. We’re entering the fun summer months, so there’s a lot of entertaining and hosting that goes on. I’ll pick back up on all my regular segments that I do. You can catch me on my regular TV shows and hopefully have a show of my own one day.
Who’re you rooting for?
TB: That’s really hard. I’m rooting for everyone, because I think everyone brings something really cool and unique to the table, and I think from Day 1 I felt like everyone could go ahead and assume that position of Food network Star, so I’m rooting for everyone. I think whoever wins will definitely have a good thing going.
Tune in to Food Network Star on Sundays at 9|8c.
Chefs’ Picks tracks down what the pros are eating and cooking from coast to coast.
Unlike New York or Chicago, there are no preconceived notions of what pizza in Los Angeles ought to be. As a result, inventive pizzaiolos are letting their imaginations run rampant, spinning out an array of pies as diverse as the city’s sprawling urban landscape. Check it out for yourself. But beware: In a city this size, simply wandering the streets in search of anything is a half-baked endeavor. Allow a few local chefs who deal in (pizza) dough to guide your pursuit of the perfect pie.
A Sturdy Slice
For Executive Chef-Owner Lior Hillel of Bacari GDL, forming the perfect dough is essential to making a formidable pizza. No detail is overlooked when it comes to making the dough at his restaurant in Glendale, California. “It’s a four-hour process, kneading it and punching it every hour or so” he says. “We let it rise three times, punching between each rise, then let it rest for 25 minutes, cut it into portions, roll it out and let it rise again in the refrigerator. This helps with flavor development.” One look at the menu and it’s obvious that Hillel’s pies are far from standard. Options include smoked cremini mushroom, two-year-aged cheddar and double creme brie with jalapeño and bacon. “I was initially inspired by Pizzeria Mozza, who I think makes the best pizza in Los Angeles,” Hillel notes. “What I like about [their pizza] is that the bottom holds up — it’s not as flimsy — which is what we do at Bacari as well.”
Dough It Up
Another dough devotee is Duke Gervais, executive chef at Baldoria in downtown LA. Fashioned out of only four ingredients, the canvas for his pies undergoes two-and-a-half days of cold proofing before it’s ready to hit the oven. “I believe that if you have a fantastic pizza dough as your base, and an intimate knowledge of your pizza oven, it’s kind of hard to mess things up,” he says. “There are a lot of great pizza spots in Los Angeles, primarily because the city holds a lot of truly talented and integrative chefs with understanding of what makes good pizza.” One of his favorites is Milo & Olive in Santa Monica.
A Sizzling Standard
As a hipster hotspot, LA’s Silverlake neighborhood is notoriously devoted to all things new and next. Surprising then that Wood — one of the area’s most-successful pizzerias — focuses exclusively on the oldest, most-classic style of pie in existence: Neapolitan. “In my opinion, Neapolitan style is rarely done correctly [in Los Angeles] in its true form,” says Owner and Pizzaiolo Erik Martirosyan. “That means the pizza isn’t too thick or too thin. There are no extra additives… No frills.” When it comes to trying other pizza spots across town, Martirosyan is largely inspired by places that have also adopted the Neapolitan approach. “Two of my favorites are Gjelina in Venice and DeSano on Santa Monica Boulevard [in East Hollywood],” he says. “I will never stop trying to better the pizza here at Wood, but each pizza is a snowflake: unique and perfect!”
An Experiment in Excellence
Italian restaurant Vinoteca may be located inside the high-end Beverly Hills Four Seasons hotel, but that doesn’t mean its menu toes the line. On the contrary, Chef de Cuisine Mirko Paderno was given room to both innovate and increase accessibility. “I wanted to bring something new to the pizza scene in Los Angeles,” he says. “So the dough for our Neapolitan pizzette at Vinoteca is kneaded with cooked potato and specialty flour imported from Ancona [Italy], specifically milled for pizza-making.” Deep-fried and topped with unexpected add-ons such as smoked mozzarella, truffle honey and arugula, Paderno’s creations are a testament to how experimentation can encourage excellence. But when he steps outside of his own kitchen, the Italian chef is inspired by a local eatery that hits close to home. “If you want to experience true Italian-style pizza in Los Angeles, go to Terroni,” he recommends. The restaurant sources many of its ingredients straight from the old country, which means their pizza dough is also made from imported flour milled just for that purpose.
The Taiwanese Treatment
Peppering a pizza with the flavors of traditional Taiwanese cuisine may seem like a surprising choice, but the combination came about organically for David Kuo, chef and owner of Little Fatty in Mar Vista. “The inspiration for the duck pizza came to me when we finally mastered our green onion pancake recipe,” says Kuo. “Once we nailed the base down, I immediately thought of the classic Taiwanese beef roll. Traditionally a beef roll is made from a scallion pancake, hoisin, cucumbers, braised beef shank (and) cilantro. I am a huge pizza fan so, naturally, this made sense.”
Kuo appreciates pizza joints with more orthodox approaches, such as Bestia in downtown LA. He’s also a fan of new-school pies from Lodge Bread Co. in Culver City and The Rose Cafe in Venice. “I am personally excited for Alvin Cailin’s by-the-slice spot, Lunchini,” he adds of this new Hollywood pizzeria and bar.
Photography by Pizzeria Mozza, Baldoria, Kathy Delgado, iStock/Kari Hoglund and iStock/kudryavtsev