Celebrity chef Bobby Flay was a chef long before he was a celebrity, but which part is more important when it comes to becoming a successful TV cooking show host — on-camera panache or solid culinary skills? The 47-year-old restaurant mogul — who just kicked off the latest season of reality competition series "Food Network Star" as team leader of a gaggle of wannabe stars competing for their very own series — gave omg! the lowdown on what he's looking for in a future Food Network host, why he would probably lose if he competed on the show, and what just might be the best gift he ever got.
So what did you focus on more when you were deciding which contestants you wanted on your team — cooking chops or how they handled themselves on camera?
Before I was on TV I owned and was the chef in two of my own restaurants and so I was cooking for many years before I started doing this and I felt confident enough to, you know, pick up the food that I was cooking with and then at some point became comfortable in front of the camera. So that's sort of the process that I think about in terms of getting people there, so I picked people out of the audition process that were probably the best cooks in competition.
How could you tell?
Just the way that they are sort of around the stove, the finesse with their hands … and then what they decide to make, I can see if they're creative and they actually have good technique. From that point forward then I can say, "All right, you know, do I think their personality has a glimmer of hope of being a star in front of the camera with the skills that they already have and possess?" So that's the way that I looked at it.
Do you think you could win "Food Network Star" if you competed as a contestant?
I don't know. I'm sure something would come up that would just kind of throw me. It's sort of the luck of the draw in terms of what kind of challenge that they throw at you. One of the challenges was you had to open a restaurant as a team. I would probably thrive at that, I mean it's what I do for a living. But if you had me, you know … make something with gummy bears, I couldn't care less. I'm not interested, you know, and there's a lot of challenges like that. So my guess is that somebody's going to be more creative in that department than I would be, so maybe I would get cut on that one.
You know a few celebrities. Is there one who ever prepared you a great meal?
Let's see. I was going to say Mariska Hargitay, but she has somebody who comes in and cooks for her, but we've had some really good meals at her house. Hmm, the best celebrity cook?
So maybe there isn't one?
I guess Michael Simon.
But he's a chef!
I don't think there is one then.
What's your take on the Paula Deen controversy? (The TV chef, who is famous for cooking rich, Southern dishes was criticized earlier this year after she revealed she had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and was becoming a spokesperson for a diabetes drugmaker.)
I don't really have a "take" on it so to speak. I'm happy that she's working towards getting herself better. To me, that's the most important thing. She's only the sweetest woman in the world, really, and so, you know, people gave her a hard time because she paired up with that medical company. That's her own personal financial decision and she can do that. The most important thing, now that the smoke has cleared, is that she's brought a lot of attention to diabetes and the fact that there are ways to make yourself better.
Do you cook a lot when you're not in your restaurants or do you like to leave that at "the office"?
Oh no, no, no. Somebody asked me the other day, what do I do to relax and I tell them I do the same thing that I do for a living, which is cook. It's just at a different pace. I don't have to feed 400 people in a couple hours. And I just love it. I have a house in the country and when I'm there, I cook breakfast, lunch and dinner. I basically stand in my kitchen all day and I just absolutely love it.
What's your favorite Food Network show?
"Iron Chef" if I'm not on it.
I heard when you were a kid you were dying for an Easy-Bake Oven. True?
Yeah. For Christmas one year I asked for an Easy-Bake Oven from my parents just because — I think I was like six years old or something — I couldn't believe that you could actually bake a cake with a light bulb. So I had to see it for myself.
So you got it?
"Food Network Star" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the Food Network
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