By Kaci Yoder
Follow along with DIG each week as we break down each episode of Food Network Star. In this week’s episode, local culinary hero Jay Ducote once again bested his competition and moved on to the final four chefs vying for their own Food Network show. Read our Q&A, then head to The Londoner on Sunday, August from 6 to 9 p.m. for viewing party with Ducote!
DIG: The first challenge deals with personal branding, something you have a lot of experience with because of Bite and Booze. Did you find this mentor challenge easy?
Jay Ducote: It was maybe a little difficult because I wasn’t really bringing Bite and Booze into it necessarily. At this point, I didn’t really want to confuse anybody by using that brand, because I hadn’t really talked about it yet on the show, so I stayed away from my brand that’s really established as Bite and Booze. So I tried to make it about me and where I came from and who I’m representing. So that was a little bit of a challenge to me, just making sure that I got up there and I presented myself the way that I wanted to without necessarily trying to bring in my actual personal brand.
DIG: You get Thanksgiving for the holiday challenge. Was there a different holiday that you wanted more?
JD: I was thrilled with Thanksgiving. I knew that no matter what direction I went in, I could either tie it into hunting with my dad growing up or tailgating for LSU football if I had Thanksgiving, so that was really my first choice. So when Alex picked Fourth of July and Dom picked Christmas, I got Thanksgiving and I was pretty happy about it. I really just didn’t want Valentine’s Day or Halloween, but since I knew I was picking third, I knew if I didn’t get Thanksgiving I would still be ablt to get Christmas or Fourth of July. So I felt like I was in a pretty good spot.
DIG: The boudin stuffed quail looked delicious. How in this competition do you actually get a chance to sit down and eat what you cook?
JD: [laughs] Never. We taste along the way, but I never got to taste the actual quail once it was stuffed with the boudin to put on that sauce. I tasted the boudin that went into it and I tasted the sauce but that’s really all I got to taste. So it’s pretty rare.
They tell us how many dishes we have to make, and for that challenge it was three or four plates of that quail dish. So we cook pretty much exactly what they ask us to make for something like that. I didn’t make extra quail, so every one that I cooked I needed to plate it for camera, so I never actually got to eat one myself.
That same challenge, Alex made the catfish po’boys, and he actually did make an extra one, and while the cooking time was going on, he passed one over to me. So I actually got to eat one of his sandwiches, and it was actually really good.
DIG: Have made any of your dishes from the show at home to see what it tastes like?
JD: [laughs] I haven’t done that yet, but I probably should at some point. Sometimes, like the food truck challenge last week with Arnold and I, I got to taste my burger (with the praline bacon) and I got to taste Arhold’s. Once the line died down and we were just hanging out in the truck, we tasted each other’s food then. But I didn’t get to taste anybody else’s. There’s certainly some stuff that I’ve cooked on the show that I will at some point recreate. And then there’s a fair amount that I tasted as I was cooking or that I’ve cooked before and it wasn’t me trying to make it on the fly necessarily.
DIG: What did you take away from the judges’ notes for you in the holiday challenge?
JD: This was one where I really felt like I did pretty well. What I didn’t do the best at was leaving myself enough time at the end to really taste and describe the flavors of the food. It was very much a kind of TV challenge where it’s on you to make sure the people at home know what the food tastes like. I was so wrapped up in telling my story and then doing the cooking demo that both takes I got to the end I really didn’t have much time to say very much about what the flavors were like. That was something that I do have to work on as we move forward, just describing the flavors of my food.
DIG: We see Dom’s problems on camera send him home this week. Do you feel like the judges made the right call?
JD: Yeah. I think Dom had been just kind of skirting by for a while now. He’d had a couple presentations where he was able to do a little bit better when he wasn’t speaking directly into the camera. If he got to just talk straight to Bobby and Giada, it was basically like him talking to his friends. But when he had to talk to the camera, it was a little different.
Unfortunately for him, being a Food Network Star really requires that you are able to deliver to the camera as if it’s your friend. So I think we all kind of saw the writing on the wall there. The big surprise this week was seeing Alex doing so well and he and I kind of being told that we were safe. But Dom, I think it was just his time to face the music of not being able to present.
DIG: At this point, it’s the final four of the competition, and you just said talking to Bobby and Giada is like talking to a friend. Is there a point in that experience that you just sit back and think, “Wow, I’ve made it this far?”
JD: This episode—the holiday challenge in particular—was actually about the most nervous as I ever was throughout the entire time of filming the show. I remember going out there and Danaris being there and having a couple takes to do the presentation and the cooking demo part. I think my heart was racing a little bit more for this challenge, and it was because it was down to these five guys and all five had a chance to win. I really felt that pressure. There is no true weak link. There’s no extra cushion below me now, and if I mess up I could be the one going home. I felt the added pressure.
I think the first take that I gave really wasn’t nearly as good as the second one, and Danaris helped me a lot, kind of calming me down. It was a cool experience working with her. But yeah, I kind of felt the weight of it, the kind of, “Oh my gosh, I‘m in the top five, don’t screw up.” But after I got through it and realized I’m in the top four, I had to refocus really quickly, and I told myself, “You’re here for a reason, and you deserve to be here. Relax and have fun with it again.” So hopefully I can do that again next week.
It was definitely a pretty intense experience because it’s coming down to the end and it’s getting real at this point.
DIG: You and the other contestants have been hanging out a lot outside of the show. Is it easy to go from competitors to friends?
JD: Yeah, it really is, because we formed a true friendship throughout the show, especially this last five and even a few of the people that were eliminated a little earlier. We were obviously competitors against one another one the show, but we were never playing defense against one another. We were all cheering for one another throughout the entire process. We all wanted to win, but we wanted to win because we beat everybody else at the top of their game, not because they screwed up or we sabotaged them. One of my favorite things about the show was the camaraderie and how well we got along. I think that’s evident now that we are able to hang out and go to each other’s viewing parties and cheer each other on.