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,
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.