By Kaci Yoder
We laughed, we cried, we gripped the edge of our seats. Our mouths watered and our stomachs growled with each gorgeous plate of food set before the cameras, and our hearts leapt each time our hometown hero made it through to the next week. This was our summer in Baton Rouge as we followed the journey of our own food blogger and radio host Jay Ducote as he fought his way to the finale of Food Network Star.
The prize at stake? A show of his own on Food Network.
Our local chef approached Food Network Star with a simple strategy: be natural. Ducote drew on his radio background and experience in personal branding to bring the judges—Food Network legends Bobby Flay and Giada Dilaurentiis—his background of hunting, fishing, and tailgating in Louisiana. His authenticity resonated with judges, viewers, and other contestants as soon as he stepped into frame in the first episode, and throughout the season, he was favored as one of the top contenders for the win.
After 10 episodes in which Ducote bested every obstacle from food truck burgers to pre-packaged meals and a Fourth of July cookout to Thanksgiving dinner, Ducote landed a spot in the top three to make it to the finale and film their own pilots. Shot in New York City with direction from Rachael Ray, Ducote’s potential show Deep-Fried America would focus on the best of fried food, starting with chicken and waffles—or as Ducote calls it, “chicky chicky wa wa.”
The grand finale finally came on Sunday, August 16, and a massive crowd packed the Varsity Theatre to find out what the verdict would be. But despite Ducote’s consistently stellar performances and perfect record with escaping the chopping block, former NFL player and Texas-based personal trainer Eddie Jackson took home the prize.
Though Ducote finished as runner-up, he’s certain that the future holds more for him. DIG sat down with Ducote the morning after the finale to get his take on the judges’ choice and find out what’s next for him.
DIG: Last night must have been a crazy night for you.
Jay Ducote: It was insane!
DIG: You may not have technically won, but you had an amazing run, and some would say that you might as well have won. How are you feeling?
JD: Well, I like that attitude, that I basically won. I wish I knew if I was going to get my own show on Food Network or not! [laugh] Obviously I’m a little bummed that I didn’t actually win and lock down that show, but I do still think that there’s a decent chance that my career with Food Network is not over at this point. But it would have been nice to win and know for sure that I have a show coming.
DIG: How did you feel about the pilot that you made?
JD: I felt really good about the pilot that I made. I thought that I did really exactly what I wanted to do and that I gave it my best shot at really presenting myself well and being the kind of host that I would be on a show like that. The concept itself isn’t exactly what I would be the most interested in doing, but, you know, if Food Network says they want to do a show called Deep-Fried America and they want me to host it, I would definitely sign up for that.
DIG: Obviously Eddie did well in the competition. Is he the one you would have picked to win if it couldn’t be you?
JD: For sure. I think it really came down to me and Eddie to win the show and to actually be right there to have shows on Food Network. I think he and I were both ready for that, so if it couldn’t be me, then I think he was the right pick to win.
DIG: What was the biggest lesson that you learned in your time on the show?
JD: That’s a good question. Just to believe in myself and to just have the confidence in myself to go out and do something like this and to chase my dream and to compete in this sort of a competion and really challenge myself and stretch my boundaries. Just go for it. I think that’s something that maybe before all of this I would have been more hesitant to do.
DIG: What about your proudest moment on the show?
JD: There were a good bit, but I really think in the end it was last week when the judges really loved my presentation and my dish—the crawfish etouffee and fried catfish dish. When [General Manager/Senior Vice President for Food Network] Bob Tuschman called my presentation flawless, and when I was the first one that was kind of singled out and told that they wanted to see the pilot for me, I think that was the ultimate right there, other than if I would have been the winner last night.
DIG: The Varsity was packed shoulder-to-shoulder for the viewing party. Did you ever imagine Baton Rouge would rally around you so much?
JD: I knew how big this show was. Food Network Star comes with a built-in fanbase, and certainly there’s a lot of those people in the Baton Rouge area. And then with the amount of supporters that I have already for everything that I do, I knew that we’d be able to have some pretty packed viewing parties. As it went along and I continued to do really well in the competition and the viewing parties kind of got bigger and bigger, it occurred to me then that for the finale it was kind of The Varsity or nothing. [laugh] I knew we would have that many people.
I guess before it all started, I would not have imagined being able to pack The Varsity like we did to watch a Food Network show. But at the same time, as the season kept rolling and I kept doing better and support kept coming in, it didn’t surprise me how many people we had there last night. I was expecting that many people. I told The Varsity to be read for about 500 people, and I think it was probably somewhere around 600. It was pretty awesome.
DIG: As far as the other contestants and people you’ve met through the show, are there some with whom you think you’ll continue to have friendships and even collaborate professionally?
JD: Absolutely. I think the majority of them I’ll definitely stay in touch with, and I’ll collaborate with probably a few of them—Rue being the main one. Rue’s actually going to come in town the first week of September before the first LSU game and we’ll do a pop-up dinner together, so I’ll definitely be collaborating with her. And then Alex and Emilia are both in D.C., and I’m planning to go up there for D.C. Mardi Gras in January and do a collaboration with them and with Rue as well in D.C. So there are some things like that that we’re already looking into. And then there’s several contestants that I would love to hook up with as well at some point.
DIG: The big question on everyone’s mind is: what’s next for you? What are your next projects, and what are you planning to pursue?
JD: Well, right now I want to sleep. [laugh] And then once I’m rested, I definitely want to make sure that I give my blog and my radio show and stuff like that my full attention, especially after this summer being so focused on the show and it really taking every effort we had to keep up with those things. We’ll make sure that we’re focusing on that again. And then also my barbecue sauce, focusing on that. And I have a couple other things related to the barbecue sauce that I plan on launching, like the barbecue rub that the Red Stick Spice Company already has, I’m planning on packaging that and getting that into grocery stores like the barbecue sauce.
DIG: If you could say one thing to all the people out there who watched you on the show, what would it be?
JD: Definitely thank you for all the support. It’s been truly overwhelming, the flooding of all my social media accounts, especially the last couple of days, and it really means a lot to me to see how many people out there were rooting for me and cheering me on. And then I would also like to say that they haven’t seen the last of me!