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Marietta native Justin Balmes to compete on ‘Food Network Star’

credit: Food Network

credit: Food Network

Would you want your own cooking show? Not me — I have absolutely no desire to be on television. But I can tell you who does: Justin Balmes of Marietta.

Pursuing his long-held dream of having his own cooking show, Justin competes on the new season of the “Food Network Star,” which starts this Sunday (June 5, 9 p.m.). He goes head-to-head against fourteen other contestants to battle for the coveted prize of a Food Network show.

Justin Balmes, graduate of The Art Institute of Atlanta, is an avid fan of “Food Network Star.,” Justin knows each of the six previous seasons, even correcting me about the season number of a former contestant we discussed. Watching the show, he always thought, “I can totally do that.”

His confidence didn’t come from a childhood of cooking with mom. Justin grew up in Marietta in a house where the cooking was terrible. In fact, when I ask him how his mom feels about being called “the worst cook,” (see audition video) he says, “She totally owns it. She’s thankful it brought me success.”

Success was not immediate, however. Justin admits that as a teen, he was “on a dark path.” After getting back on track with rehab, he jumped on the line as a cook at Georgia Grille. There, he was mentored by Chef Jason Dauble, who encouraged him to attend culinary school. Justin did just that and stuck with Dauble, eventually partnering with him in several concepts including Eleven50 in Midtown.

At the moment, Justin is taking a break from restaurant cooking and works as a fishmonger at Whole Foods. He has also been honing the skills he’ll need in this competition by teaching classes at both Whole Foods and The Viking Cooking School. Justin notes he is great in front of a crowd where he feeds off the energy of the group. What about in front of a camera? Well, he admits that “took some getting used to. It doesn’t feel natural.”

The cooking — even with the judging — was more enjoyable for Justin. During the season, he cooked for Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis,

credit: Food Network

credit: Food Network

Wolfgang Puck, Alton Brown, Robert Irvine and many more. He was most intimidated to cook for Bobby Flay, “a very talented veteran Food Network personality.”

Time limits on challenges are major stumbling blocks for many contestants. Not for Justin who says excitedly, “It was a total blast. I think of myself as an athlete in the kitchen. I thrive on the fast-paced high energy.”

Another pitfall for many former contestants has been articulating their concept for a show. Justin thinks he “came into the competition with a strong viewpoint.” His show would be about “getting in touch with food [and] developing a relationship with food.” He wants people to understand ingredients so that they can create their own recipes.

I would watch Justin’s show, just as I’ll root for him on “Food Network Star” this season. You can read about the other contestants and vote for Justin in the “Fan Forecast” on the Food Network website.

Would you want your own cooking show? Which judge would make you most nervous? (For me, it would be Alton Brown!)

–by Jenny Turknett, Food & More blog

– Jenny Turknett writes about Southern and Neighborhood Fare for the AJC Dining Team. She also publishes her own blog, Going Low Carb.

11 comments Add your comment

Carla Roqs

June 3rd, 2011
11:20 am

nope, do not desire a television show of any type. as long as he has a better attitude than hugh from allstars, and that meatball guy from next great restaurant, i will try and root for the ga boy. i hate the way the cooking competition shows are going away from the art of true cooking to doing just anything to try and keep the public’s eye. well,i view cooking shows to learn new techniques, not to learn how to cook eggs in a microwave or how to cook with one arm behind my back. so hopefully, this season will be a decent. i think alton is fair. the most negative judge to me is… alex? not the guy- the female that judges on the show where four people cook and the winner gets 10,000.00. she is sooo negative and she did not have a good showing when she did iron chef herself! one.

Cobb Native

June 3rd, 2011
11:32 am

What part of Cobb did Justin grow up…Marietta is “vastly” large!

Jake Ryan

June 3rd, 2011
2:06 pm

Does anyone actually need to be Chef to be on food network anymore??? Cooking channel FTW Food Network and Bravo Fail


June 3rd, 2011
2:16 pm

Had made a decision not to watch this season after Herb Mesa lost last season (the show is rigged, I tell ya!). So I see Justin’s picture all over the website and TV, and I’m thinking “This guy looks soooo familiar”. After reading this article, I now know why – that’s the cute guy that I flirt with while getting my fish! Great – now I have to watch.


June 3rd, 2011
4:14 pm

I enjoy watching this show, so yeah, I’ll be rooting for Justin to win..

@Carla..Amen to that one..She’s so snooty with her curled up lip and rolling eyes..I mean those people go on there and really give it their best and the judges act like it’s such an easy task..I would love to see Alex try to cook something “great” in 20 minutes…


June 3rd, 2011
7:42 pm

Re: “what part of Marietta” – I know for a fact he went to The High Meadows School ( International Baccalaureate) in Roswell.

Jenny Turknett

June 4th, 2011
6:37 am

ET – You’re right. He did go to HIgh Meadows which is in Roswell, right on the East Cobb line.


June 4th, 2011
6:01 pm

Justin is a truly awesome, kind person who really respects food. Everyone should watch him represent Atlanta, as he will do so with class and style! He has the highest standards for food out of anyone I’ve ever known!!

Side note: He went to High Meadows and Milton & Lassiter :)

Cobb Native

June 6th, 2011
10:20 am

Thanks guys! I actually went to Walton and he looked familar. I hope he makes it to the end! You could sense him being nervous last night & I was hoping he didn’t get the cut! Hopefully he will open up a little bit more!

[...] Orchid Paulmeier, a frontrunner in the current season of “Food Network Star” (competing against our own Justin Balmes). The ribs, brisket and pulled pork are all solid at One Hot Mama’s and I guarantee you won’t [...]

Carla Roqs

June 9th, 2011
8:31 am

finding him interesting on the show, a much better representation of our state than hugh.