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Ousted Marietta native Justin Balmes fell into ‘personality coma’ on ‘Food Network Star’


Visually, Whole Foods fishmonger and butcher  Justin Balmes is a stand-out on “Food Network Star.” He’s tall, with big huge loops in his ears and arms packed with tattoos.

But place a camera in front of him and the Marietta native wilts. Despite cooking mostly stellar food, Balmes was axed from the show last night, the fifth person out. The judges found him stilted and dull. The few glimmers of personality he showed simply weren’t enough.

In retrospect, he probably should have gone on “Top Chef,” where good food is more important than a stellar on-camera presence (though that never hurts on any TV show.)

“People who know me,” Balmes said today in a post-mortem interview, “say I can be borderline obnoxious. I went on the show and went into a personality coma. I wanted to focus on the kitchen and make the best food.”

Balmes was really steamed when the judges found his fish and couscous dish last night wanting. “I think footage of the crowd reaction would speak differently,” he said. He really thought his food could save him.

Of the remaining contestants, he personally liked Orchid Paulmeier and the other Justin Davis the best, as well as his team partner Sunday night, Jeff Mauro (who has a solid shot at the finals). But the villain on the show Penny Davida? “I’ll be as tactful as can be and just say the portrayal is very very accurate,” he said.

She comes across as cold, calculating and kind of mean-spirited. Until last night, when she was among the bottom four,  the judges actually liked her and her food. Balmes believes her comments to the judges last night about not knowing her mac and cheese was burned were fake, fake, fake.”There was no question she scorched the cheese,” he said. “The dishwashers afterwards had to throw that pot away.”

How did Balmes feel when the judges last night deemed him awkward on TV? “I’ve got to watch my tongue,” he said. “One of the most challenging pieces of all of this is I’m not able to voice what’s going on inside. A comment like that was more irritating to me than hurtful. Whatever.” (Yes, he said “whatever” in that dismissive tone on the TV screen multiple times, then did it again with me.)

His feelings about the judges themselves? “I plead the fifth,” he said.

As for Balmes’ future, he’d like to find some work on TV, even if his performance on the show wasn’t exactly a great audition tape for other gigs. He also wants to write books and do more charity work.

Going back to a high-end restaurant, though, is not in the cards: “I’m a competitive cyclist, too, so I can’t be bound 80 hours a week in a kitchen. It’s not something I want to do now.”

He wishes the show revealed more of his warm side, especially when he interacted with audiences and not a static camera. “I’ve performed in front of large audiences and I’m comfortable and natural,” he said.


“Food Network Star,” 9 p.m. Sundays Food Network

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By Rodney Ho,, AJCRadioTV blog

7 comments Add your comment


June 27th, 2011
5:18 pm

He was quite boring. It was the right choice.

Mr. Smarty Pants by Gum

June 27th, 2011
9:43 pm

I thought that anyone who has lots of tattoos and piercing would be wild and crazy and somehow wise beyond us mere mortals. I mean they have to be soooo creative right !!! They couldn’t be hiding their total lack of deep thought and substance behind meaningless art and metal could they? Say it ain’t so….

carla roqs

June 28th, 2011
8:26 am

i loved him on the show. his food was generally always praised and i did not read “obnoxious” from him. not after watching that guy from athens on top chef, omgosh, justin seemed quite humble by comparison. i wanted him to win, but yes, he did freeze up on camera. the thing is…good cooks that do not win, still end up with food network shows. i hope he does not say anything else negative as they really did seem to like him. aaaand, he is a cutie.


June 28th, 2011
4:03 pm

I like Justin but once I saw the bottom four, I knew he was out. The other three are way better on camera. I’m disappointed by his post show comments. Has he watched any of the episodes? He can’t honestly think he put forth a good performance. You’re competing to star in a cooking show on national TV. We have no idea if the recipe you’re talking about is any good. So, the viewers have to be able to connect with you and you have to sell it. You didn’t do that Justin. Smiling more on camera and practicing your pitch before the cameras rolled would have gone a long way. If presenting to large audiences is more your thing, then you were on the wrong show.


June 28th, 2011
6:34 pm

I liked him so much and his cooking seemed stellar. I think through time he would have loosened up. Penny should have gone last night, but she makes for “good TV”. I hope I see more of Justin. His smile was absolutely charming and I wish he had showed it more because he could charm a room with it.

Rule .303

June 30th, 2011
12:59 pm

Lose the over-sized earrings dude. It’s not 1996 anymore. Also, his lack of introspect is disturbing. He can’t possibly believe he’s TV material. He wouldn’t even look into the camera or look at the guests table when trying to explain his dishes.


July 7th, 2011
4:56 pm

I thought Justin did great and just froze up on camera. Cut the guy some slack- he can cook and that’s what’s important.