By Kaci Yoder
Another week, another successful installment of Food Network star for local foodie Jay Ducote, who has now made it into the top 10 finalists on the show. Following each episode, DIG sits down with Ducote for a behind the scenes Q&A. Get his firsthand take on how things really went down in the Food Network Star kitchen.
DIG: How are you feeling about the second episode?
Jay Ducote: Good! I feel great! I don’t think it was quite as monumentally successful as episode one, but Melissa D’Arabian said my presentation was flawless in the first half of the episode, and then the second half they were very complimentary of the food that I cooked and the flavors that I brought. So ultimately, I’m now in the top 10, so I’m feeling pretty awesome.
DIG: The challenge to repurpose leftovers—you seemed like you knew what you were doing with that salmon. Is that a challenge you felt you were especially prepared for?
JD: Being more of a home cook and a tailgating cook and less of a restaurant chef, I’m certainly used to just digging through the fridge and seeing what’s available and trying to incorporate that into something else. I actually on that challenge kind of skipped the fridge. I grabbed something out of the door of the fridge, then ran to the pantry and grabbed some other stuff first.
We had to use a product from Kraft… and our choices were mayonnaise, ranch dressing, barbeque sauce, or cheddar cheese. Being an outdoor cooking, grilling guy, I knew I wanted to grab the barbeque sauce and be able to use that, so I actually went to that first and then went back to the fridge to see what I could find. Salmon is what was there. It was a dinner entrée challenge, but I made kind of a breakfast hash with grilled salmon, but with the barbeque in there, it all worked out and certainly was enough of a dinner-style dish.
DIG: How did you feel about the feedback you got in that challenge?
JD: This one was really cool for me going through it, because I had gotten really nothing but praise and compliments in episode one. And then coming into episode two and doing the presentation for that barbeque salmon hash, then Melissa D’Arabian saying it was flawless, and Bobby and Giada were saying some things along the same lines. All of their comments of course didn’t make it to TV, but it was still a lot of praise.
I actually asked them for some more feedback and kind of prodded them saying, “What else can y’all tell me? Y’all have given me a lot of praise so far. What about criticism, or where can I grow?” And that’s when Bobby said, “I’ve got something for you.” He said, “You’re good at this, but the challenge is going to be making sure that comes through every time and that you keep telling us something new and keep us interested, because being really good can get boring at some point.” So he was trying to get me to make sure that I’m continuing to push myself and let everybody know who I am and just do something different every time. OK, you know I’m a barbeque guy. What else?
But it was great feedback for me.
DIG: When you first heard what you would be doing in this savory baking challenge, what was going through your head?
JD: I certainly am not a baker, and I knew that if I was really being challenged in the kitchen, that it was going to come from some sort of baking competition. And so when they started with pastry chefs and baking and sweets, I certainly started getting a little nervous about what we might have to do and what I could do to really put myself on a plate. Then they gave all the twists—that it was really going to be a savory challenge, that they wanted us to do a savory dish that looks like a dessert. Something that looks like one thing, and then when you bite into it, it’s something else, but savory.
I kind of remembered that I’d made these things before. It was basically a fried biscuit. It’s kind of a beignet, but it’s not as much of a donut consistency. When you fry them, they look about the same, but the biscuit dough is flaky and buttery and then stuffed with some Italian sausage, meatballs that I made to stuff it with. It made sense to do that and make something that looked like a beignet but was really savory.
DIG: And you stand by what you put on the plate?
JD: I definitely stand by what I put on the plate in that round. They were tasty. It was a good bite of food, and I made a little blueberry bourbon sauce to go with it as well, and still dusted them with powdered sugar, so it’s just that little bit of sweet, and then spicy with the Italian sausage on the inside. I kind of added some Cajun spices to the Italian sausage. Yeah, I stand by the flavors on the plate, and the judges really seemed to like the flavors as well.
DIG: Last time we talked, you said Matthew Grunwald was one of the contestants you had your eye on coming out of the first episode. What did you think of his elimination this week?
JD: It was shocking—to an extent. He was the only competitor that was on the bottom both times so far. It wasn’t that surprising to see him go necessarily, but I was expecting a little bit more out of him. This time, it was really his food that let him down. I think if he had cooked a good dish he still would’ve been there, because Sita and Amelia were both on the bottom as well and really did not present good dishes in that challenge. One of them was about to go home, and then Matthew’s attitude got the best of him. He just couldn’t control—I don’t know if it’s his emotions or his level of maturity or what it might have been. But he struggled to keep himself in check. Just the way that the show looked, it kind of seemed that he had this smirk on his face, and Giada felt like, “You know, if you’re going to have that kind of attitude? I change my mind. You’re the one going home.
So it was a shock to all of us when they came back in the room and let us know that he was the one that was sent home, but it was kind of a relief as well. It wasn’t all that fun to share a kitchen with him, either.