By Kaci Yoder
For local foodie Jay Ducote, this week’s episode of Food Network Star meant slimy soups, rainbow dishes, and another successful pass by the chopping block. Our hometown hero now stands as one of nine finalists still in the running for his own show on Food Network.
The first challenge of the week tasked Ducote and company with creating a small, photogenic plate based on a larger dish, while the second challenge divided the top 10 into teams to make an edible meal that included “anti-comfort” food: a raw appetizer, a slimy soup, a burnt salad, a stinky entree and an incendiary dessert.
Ducote answered the first with a red-centered steak on top of purple potatoes with a splash of green chimichurri that received positive reviews, but the second challenge saw his first disappointing dish of the season: a gumbo without enough time to truly come together. Still, the BR chef pulled through with solid presentation and escaped elimination.
DIG sits down again this week to get Jay Ducote’s behind-the-scenes take on each episode. Follow along at home and check with us every week to hear his side of the story.
DIG: Another episode this week! How do you feel?
Jay Ducote: I thought I was a great episode. I was really kind of nervous going into it just because I knew the gumbo would be the first not great dish I would serve the judges and I just didn’t know how it was going to go over. But overall, I think everything went pretty well.
The first challenge was certainly right up my alley that was basically making a little hors d’oeuvres that’s modeled after a larger dish, so steak and potatoes made a whole lot of sense to me, and I was able to take a good picture of it and tell a good story about it, so that went well.
DIG: Creating something photo-worthy is definitely something you’re familiar with. When you heard what you had to do, were you like, ‘I got this?’
JD: I felt good about it. I knew some of the things that it takes to make something that is really photo-worthy or that really pops on camera. I wanted some color and some contrast, and then I wanted some height to the dish which is why I stacked the steak on top and then had the chimichurri coming around the side. It’s kind of the elements of contrast and colors and textures and not everything lying flat on the plate that I kind of wanted to be able to incorporate there.
DIG: You got the feedback from Bobby that this dish was “less rehearsed.” Do you feel like you loosened up a bit this episode?
JD: Yeah, I think so. The previous episode, when they thought I was too rehearsed, it was because I had to say the same thing five times and repeat myself to different judges, and I was trying to tell everybody the same story. This time, I had a little bit of time to reflect on the previous episode and really know that I needed to relax a little bit and be myself and not necessarily try to sell my dish but just try to tell a story about it. I was able to take a deep breath and relax a little bit and just share.
I also wanted to make sure that I followed that advice Giada had given me to make sure I’m telling them things they didn’t know about myself every time and that I take every opportunity to open their eyes up a little bit more. I wanted to share some different stories with them other than just tailgating or hunting and fishing. I thought I was able to do all that and do it all well.
DIG: Working in teams is always a curveball in cooking competitions. Were you nervous about your success depending on other people this time?
JD: The idea of a team challenge is something that I knew would be happening at some point in the competition, so it didn’t surprise me, but it’s also something that is a different challenge because it’s not quite every chef for themselves. In this one, we still all really got to cook our own dish, it was just deciding who cooks what that was the tricky part. After hearing the different combinations that were possible, I really wanted to fight for either the burnt salad or the slimy soup. So when my team assigned the slimy soup for me and said, “Do a gumbo,” I just said, “Let me run with that. That’s one of the ones I wanted to do anyway.”
I felt confident about trying to execute that dish. I wasn’t necessarily planning to do a gumbo. When he said do a gumbo with okra in it, I was thinking, “Oh man, that’s a good idea. I better get started because I don’t have much time.”
DIG: People who don’t make gumbo all the time might not realize how long it takes.
JD: Yeah, definitely. I would much rather prefer to have two to three hours to make a gumbo, not 45 minutes. Especially when every single ingredient that goes into it was starting from scratch. There’s no chopped onions, no bell peppers or celery or anything like that already prepared, chicken that’s already cooked or anything like that. It was totally starting completely from scratch to make this gumbo and try to pull something off in 45 minutes. It was a tall task for sure.
Head to DigBatonRouge.com to read the rest of our Q&A, including Jay’s pick for the MVP of his culinary team and his thoughts on the latest contestant to pack their bags.