By Kaci Yoder
Baton Rouge gripped the edge of their seats and hundreds cheered at The Londoner’s weekend viewing party as local chef Jay Ducote lived to fight another day on Food Network Star. If you’ve been following along with the show each Sunday, DIG has the behind the scenes details of every episode from the hometown cook who just might win it all.
DIG: Would you have guessed at the beginning of the competition that it would be you, Eddie, and Arnold in the top three?
Jay Ducote: Kind of. At the very beginning of the competition—if you remember back to week one—the top three that week, that came out the gate the strongest were me, Eddie, and Arnold. And so I think ever since then we’ve all just been trying to prove that we belong there, and in the end I think they made the right decisions and the three of us did prove that we belong there.
I don’t think it was really a big surprise necessarily, I think maybe the surprise is that all three of us made it even though some people stumbled here and there. The people who come out the gate the strongest aren’t usually always the ones that make it to the end, especially all three of the people that were in the top on the first episode still alive now. It’s pretty crazy.
DIG: Let’s take it back to your first mentor challenge this week. What did you think of the feedback that you received on your after school snacks?
JD: After school snacks was obviously something that was obviously a little on the little of the trickier side for me. I remember eating after school snacks when I was a kid but, I haven’t made after school snacks for somebody ever. It was a little out of my comfort zone I would say for me to know exactly how to cook for a kid. And so I just tried to think back to what did I really love after school snack-wise. Pigs in a blanket was the first thing that came to mind. I still love them to this day. I think it’s a very American after school snack kind of a food.
This challenge was one of the only ones that I was a little perplexed in the very beginning. Time was ticking, and I didn’t know what I was going to make, and we didn’t have that much time. And so once I decided pigs in a blanket, I just kind of made up in my mind that’s what I was going to do—I went to the refrigerator and the only thing they had there for me to make it with was hotdogs. I would have loved to have used some sort of tasso, andouille, or Cajun smoked sausage or something else, but it was impossible, it wasn’t in the fridge. I had to make do with what was there, which was the hotdogs, and then I just kind of made the pigs in the blanket, that was really about it.
While they were in the oven, I realized I had time to do something else and that I should put more on the plate than just pigs in a blanket, so that’s when I added the ants on a log to it. And I did some with almond butter, some with peanut butter, and then a couple of different kind of raisins and tried to step it up a little bit. But surely it was a basic after school snack, no doubt.
DIG: You were able to pull through with your presentation, though.
JD: Yeah, that challenge was 100 percent to do a two-minute individualized cooking segment with a host, and truly the challenge wasn’t about the food that we made. It was about doing the segment. I wanted my ingredients for those dishes to be ready for me to actually demonstrate on a cooking segment. I think once the cameras were rolling, I did perfectly fine at the actual challenge at hand.
DIG: With the Star Challenge, you have to do a TV segment with the other finalists. How do you find the balance between working as a team and making sure you shine individually?
JD: The good news is that the four of us that were there all really got along well, and I didn’t see it being too big of a problem for us to get up there and be able to connect with each other. By this point in the competition we’ve been around each other so much and we’ve gotten to know each other and we have some sort of chemistry with each other—not trying to do this live show but at least at just interacting with each other, understanding each other’s sense of humor, and being able to feed off of each other like that.
What I wanted to make sure that I did was just keep everybody involved in my segment and stay involved in everybody else’s segment and really just try to have fun with it. I’ve watched multiple episodes of The Kitchen, which was what this was kind of based off of, and so I kind of understood how to keep it flowing, how to interject, and how to get your voice in there without being overbearing or overpowering or overshadowing anybody else’s segment. So it’s definitely a tricky thing to do.
As we saw Eddie and I both did pretty well at it, and Arnold and Alex both struggled with it. But for me, it was kind of just going up there and being natural. I think doing my radio show like that really helped because in those it’s always getting other people to interact, it’s never just me talking for five minutes straight. It’s about having a conversation. It’s about getting other people to interact and leading them on to be able to join the conversation, and that’s kind of how I approached it when I was my turn to get up there.
DIG: What did you think of Alex’s choice to make hot soup for a summer family reunion?
JD: I thought Alex was just a little misguided from the beginning with what he chose to do for that family reunion. I think it was just a dish that he had kind of in his back pocket—he knew that he could cook that dish in that amount of time and that it would be really good—so I think he just kind of drew a blank on what to make for a family reunion and he knew he could make that bacon ramen and so he went with it.
I think it was the wrong time and the wrong place to make that dish. He should have made a sandwich. Jeff Mauro the sandwich king was there. This was his opportunity to shine, and I think he kind of backed down from that and said, “Oh no, Jeff Mauro is here. I’m not going to make a sandwich,” instead of just going after it head on. I think that was a mistake, and certainly even if he didn’t make a sandwich, making a hot Asian inspired soup for an American, summer live family reunion segment certainly didn’t make sense.
DIG: How did you feel about the tarts and the cocktails that you served up in the challenge?
JD: My opinion of the tarts was exactly what [the judges] said. I thought it came out really well. It was something I had made before. I was able to get it done, and the flavors were there, the texture was there, that coconut chocolate ganache was really good. It just needed a little bit of decoration. It needed some fresh fruit or something like that on top that would pair well with the chocolate. I just didn’t have time to do anything like that.
That challenge was absolutely—when they were showing it and showing me take those hot tarts of the pan and showing me trying to throw it on the plate at the last second, that was real. I burned my fingertips on that a little bit. That wasn’t TV drama; that was absolutely real. So, I just didn’t have time to try to put anything on top of it, and they were also piping hot out of the oven at that time so a lot of stuff if I had added would have just kind of melted right there. Basically, I think the judges nailed it, as far as the critique of it.
And then the cocktail, they were surprised to see. I knew that the cocktail was coming. Having time left to be able to get to the cocktail was all part of my plan. But the cocktail came out great. I mean, it was fresh strawberry and basil, bourbon, simple syrup—that’s basically what the cocktail was. It was a good drink. A good, refreshing, summer kind of drink.
DIG: At this point in the competition, you’ve made it to the top three without ever being on the chopping block. How does that feel going into the next round?
JD: I’m definitely aware of the fact that I’ve still never been on the bottom or I’ve still never been somebody they were considering for elimination whenever they came down to it. It feels pretty awesome, but I think it also means that there’s just that much more pressure on me to prove that I’m not going to ever make a big mistake and that I deserve to be there. Someone’s coming back next week from Star Salvation, and then somebody else is going home. So it’s going to go back to four then back down to three, and I’m well aware that it can easily be me or any of the other guys. I don’t get a pass just because I have never been up for elimination yet. I got to prove that I belong in the top three and that I deserve to get one of the pilots for my own show.
DIG: Now that Star Salvation is coming into play, if you could pick who would come back on the show, who would it be?
JD: I would pick Rue, because I really feel like she had a lot more to give to the competition and she didn’t get a chance to because she got eliminated in what I thought was too soon for her. I really am cheering for her to fight her way back and get another shot in the competition.
Obviously we are down to the final three and for someone to come back and perhaps knock one of us out, it’s nerve-racking. Just thinking, “We made final three! Oh, no, we didn’t. We’ve got to do one more challenge to get there.” You can debate the fairness of it—it’s part of the competition, we knew it was coming. Whoever is coming back from Star Salvation certainly fought their way back and earned their way back into the competition. But if I could pick anybody that’s still alive or anyone in the entire competition to come back and get another shot, it would be Rue.