By Kaci Yoder
The competition is truly heating up in the Food Network Star kitchen, but Jay Ducote isn’t breaking a sweat. This week’s episode challenged the seven remaining contestants to present a flavorful pizza made from scratch for the head of CiCi’s Pizza, then threw bizarre dish requirements at them for a four-minute cooking demo in which they were forced to improv and try to make their audience (and the judges) laugh. Ducote once again easily escaped the bottom three, and it was his partner from last week, Emilia, whose controversial jokes sent her home.
Follow along on Food Network and check in with DIG each week to get the behind-the-scenes scoop from Jay Ducote himself!
DIG: In the first challenge, your pizza was undercooked but your presentation was good. What’s going through your head as the cameras are rolling and you’re trying to keep things from going wrong?
Jay Ducote: I definitely knew in that first challenge that the pizza dough just was not cooked all the way through, but I also knew that the show is Food Network Star, and it’s about getting up there and presenting your food no matter what. Ultimately, nobody watching it on TV is going to taste it. Unfortunately, this time Giada and Duff and the guy from CiCi’s had to taste it. But generally speaking, it’s about getting up there and telling a story and telling them about your dish, so that’s what I was able to do. I didn’t let the fact that I knew it was undercooked pizza keep me from getting up there and presenting it as if it’s the best pizza I’ve ever made.
DIG: Then the next challenge, you’re told you have to improv and be funny on the spot while doing a cooking demo. Was that daunting or exciting for you?
JD: I’m certainly no comedian. Even though I think I have a pretty good sense of humor and can have pretty witty and funny things come out of my mouth sometimes, I definitely didn’t want to try to get up there and be a comedian. It was a four-minute cooking demo that we had to do with some culinary improv things thrown in there, but ultimately I knew I just wanted it to be about storytelling and the food that I cooked. I was just hoping that naturally a few funny soundbytes would come out. What I really wanted to do was just let it be natural and not try to force anything. I didn’t want to get up there and try so hard to be funny that really I wasn’t funny at all.
DIG: Do you think your naturalness is what consistently resonates with the judges?
JD: I think it is, naturalness or whatever you want to call it. I think a big part of my success so far has been my ability to get on a stage or in front of a camera and just be myself and not feel like I need to act differently or approach my presentation in any way other than how I would do it back home and how I was trained to be able to do it. Whether that’s an on-camera challenge or presenting to an audience for four minutes and trying to do improv, just being myself and letting that shine. I definitely think that’s a strong suit.
DIG: Emilia’s risky choice of doing impersonations of other contestants was obviously the talk of the night. The judges got offended, and things got pretty tense. What was your take on it?
JD: So we were in the back room getting to watch everybody’s presentation on our TV screen, and when she started doing that, our first reaction was definitely kind of like, “What is she doing?” But then as she got into some of the impersonations, we were actually laughing. Most of us in the back were laughing because we knew it was lighthearted and it wasn’t mean-spirited, and I think it came across that way the way that it was edited. And I think for the people in the audience and even the judges, especially Bob and Susie who haven’t been there for the past five weeks to know what she was talking about, it was unfortunately one of those situations where she did a lot of inside jokes and we all thought it was funny, but if you’re not on the inside, then you probably didn’t find it to be funny.
It was a lack of judgment, I would say, more than mean-spirited. We really all laughed. We were a little shocked that she did it and she went that far and she didn’t end up talking about her dish enough, but none of us were actually upset at the fact that she got up there and tried to do comedic impersonations. We weren’t upset about it, but it also didn’t really go over well either.
DIG: You and Eddie both killed it this week. At this point, did you see Eddie as the one to beat?
JD: At this point I felt like he and I deserved to be one and two, and that the two of us were the two to beat. I wasn’t looking at him as the one to beat, but I was looking at him as my biggest competition.
DIG: After working with Emilia last week, was it hard to see her go?
JD: Yeah, it was. It’s definitely the point in the competition where each week it’s getting really hard to see somebody go because we’ve developed a friendship, we’ve worked together on challenges. Last week seeing Rue go was a huge surprise and then this week seeing Emilia go when she and I were a team last week and were on top last week and then this week she fell that far to get sent home even when Dom was on the bottom again and Alex really bombed his presentation as well. To see Emilia go home it was kind of a shock, and it was also a shock that it’s now five guys and one girl left in the competition in the final six. So yeah it was a shock and it’s hard to see her go.
DIG: You invited Rue to New Orleans to for a viewing party over the weekend. How did that go?
JD: It was great. We had a blast. She was with me in New Orleans all weekend. She actually came to a wedding with me and this was her first time ever being in Louisiana so we walked around New Orleans a good bit saw some sights and ate some good food. Got recognized on the street just the two of us walking around on the street together so it was a pretty neat experience. And then having her for the viewing party was pretty cool as well. She definitely gained a lot of fans through this show, and there’s a lot of people out there that really enjoyed watching her and were sad to see her leave. I think it was probably actually really good for her to see all her fans support her. Were really big fans of her as well and give her all sorts of positive encouragement. We were taking pictures with everybody and it was a good experience. I think it was probably good for her to be someplace like this that was just completely supportive even though.