“Next Food Network Star” winner Justin Warner could be called Food Network’s next generation Alton Brown.
The baby-faced 28-year-old Brooklyn restauranteur is cerebral, quirky and unafraid to mix it up in the kitchen. His theme on the show: “Rebel With a Culinary Cause.”
“We’re cut from the same cloth,” Warner said, comparing himself to Brown, who will produce his show. “With his camera skills and my wacky food, you’ll get something no one has ever seen.”
Brown – the mad scientist/food genius of Atlanta - joined “Next Food Network Star” as a coach/mentor this season after his signature show “Good Eats” ended.
In its eighth season, “Next Food Network Star” changed its format this year so the contestants for the first time were split into teams. I think it worked well. It showcased Bobby Flay, Giada de Laurentiis and Brown in a different light. Each teams reflected its respective mentor: Flay wanted hard-core chefs, Giada was drawn to good looks and Brown collected the oddballs.
When Warner met Brown for the first time at Brown’s studios in Atlanta, he said it was tough at first to set aside the “fan boy” inside of him.
“Alton has an interesting way of being disarmingly comfortable,” Warner said during a phone press conference today. “For example, I walked into his studio wearing a shirt with a skeleton on it. He said, ‘Come on and sit down. Rest your bones!’ I was like, ‘Oh man, this guy is quick and funny!’ ”
Brown, who was in production this week and unavailable for an interview, gave the following statement:
“I had a feeling about Justin the first time we met, when he auditioned for me in Atlanta. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I’m pretty sure it’s because I thought I saw a little me in him – deep down, we all want to replicate ourselves. But as soon as the competition cranked up, it became clear that Justin is an original, possessing a singular culinary vision. I did very little to steer him through the weeks that followed, mostly I tried to make sure his real character came through in each challenge. It’s been a great honor to accompany him on this part of his journey.”
Warner agreed that Brown did not micromanage him at all. He said Brown listened to his ideas, gave him a few pointers, then let him breathe. “It was important for me to make him proud by endorsing me on how I want to do it. I think he knew he’d get the best results that way.”
As he entered the competition, Warner quickly sized up his 14 competitors and figured either his very different take on food would “either by my ticket to victory or my quick ticket home.”
Indeed, he was impressive from day one, both in front of the camera and with his food. At worst, the judges deemed him a bit disconnected, almost arrogant. But he was threatened with elimination only once over 10 episodes. “For me, it was a conscious effort not to show stress,” he said. “Adapt and move quickly.”
Warner said he heard (though he said it was a rumor) that he had received 2.5 million of the 4.5 million votes versus the other three finalists. If true, that meant Warner was the runaway winner with the public.
He said he checked the Web and figured he had a lot of support. “I really rocked my Twitter campaign hard,” he noted. (@EatFellowHumans)
Warner theorized that viewers liked him because they’re “ready to be challenged. There’s all this happy, smiley yummy food. People want a little shock value, of seeing something different. I think America was ready by electing me. They were endorsing their own confidence to eat and understand that the food world is huge, that as Americans, we’re not exposed to all of it.”
Brown was the only mentor who had two people in the finals, the other being Martie Duncan, the gabby Southern party expert from Birmingham. Though she and Warner seemed very different, they became very close. Warner said she is far more intelligent than she may appear on the surface.
Warner didn’t think he was the best cook among the contestants. (He gave the nod to the Hawaiian dude Ippy.)
“I fail a lot of times,” he said, “especially at my restaurant. On the show, I did things I knew I could execute. But I’m good at failing. Even if something is a complete failure, you have to figure out how to get it right. It’s like the scientific method.”
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk