Food Network is looking for its next star with a second round of (c'mon, guess the title...) The Next Food Network Star, premiering March 19 at 9 pm/ET. Again hosting the so-much-more-than-a-cook-off is Marc Summers, whom you either know from his "scintillating snack-making secret spilling" on Unwrapped or from his former gig on Nickelodeon's Double Dare. TVGuide.com chatted with Summers about the hunt for another Star and not just because this writer (plug-plug) appears on the April 16 episode.
TVGuide.com: Well, I just finished watching the Season 2 premiere....
Marc Summers: For my money, the big difference this year is that the show moves a lot quicker they cut it more MTV-style. Also, the contestants are a little more compelling... younger and hipper. All told, it felt like a much better show. Our [Season 1 finale] was the highest-rated prime-time series in the history of the Food Network, which is obviously why we did Season 2.
TVGuide.com: With a contest like American Idol, which is about talents that are not usually found in the typical person's life, you tune in to see a car wreck. But with Food Network Star, since we all make food to some degree most of us can sustain ourselves by throwing something together in the kitchen we think, "Yeah, I can dice an onion, but can I do it with cameras watching and at the speed the menacing Iron Chef guy wants me to do it at?" Why do you think the show connects so well?
Summers: It's partially what you said, that everybody feels like they can go out and cook. People think they're the best chefs out there so it's funny to see how, as our contestants get eliminated, they almost at times get insulted because your family, right or wrong, tells you that what you do is pretty damn good. My mother always said I was the only college kid who thought the dorm food was better than what they got at home. But certainly I've learned a lot by being at the Food Network and hanging out with folks like Bobby [Flay, now a Food Network Star judge] and Mario [Batali]. Also, the prize on our show is more relatable they're going to get their own show versus just giving them money to open their own restaurant. Season 1 champs Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh went on to find ratings success with their show, Party Line with the Hearty Boys.
TVGuide.com: Exactly. If I'm a Food Network fan, what I'm watching may be the evolution of my next favorite cooking show.
Summers: "Maybe I helped pick that person and helped grow a career?" [Season 1 champs] Dan [Smith] and Steve [McDonagh] have done exceptionally well; three episodes in, [Party Line with the Hearty Boys] got picked up for an additional 26. Will that happen again? I don't know, but we've got some strong personalities that could jump off the screen. Judging by the first episode, who do you think will be eliminated first? And who do you think is the strongest contender?
TVGuide.com: Eliminated first... I'd have to guess the Brooklyn guy.
Summers: Andy [Schumacher]? Really...
TVGuide.com: I just didn't find him very engaging. But I thought Reggie [Southerland] came across really well. And Guy [Fieri] is good.
Summers: Guy's a natural in front of the camera. He's a contender, no question about it. I find it interesting that food all of a sudden has become so hot. The chefs on the Food Network have become like rock stars! Fox now has their thing [Hell's Kitchen] and Bravo has their thing [Top Chef] they're both looking to the Food Network to rip off programming, which makes me laugh.
TVGuide.com: We don't get to see much of this on Unwrapped, but on Food Network Star you got to chide someone with your own culinary know-how.
Summers: People don't actually know that I kind of know what I'm talking about. I sit there on Unwrapped and talk about popcorn and Coca-Cola, but I do know a little bit. That's what else is cool, that people at home can say, "Hey, I make it this way, but it's interesting how they make it that way. Maybe I'll use that in my recipe." I was watching Iron Chef the other night and the stuff those guys pull off is, in my world, impossible. The secret ingredient was Kobe beef, and Bobby Flay made this breakfast thing with a quail egg on top of it. All of a sudden you had steak and eggs in the most elegant way. I don't know about other people, but I watch these shows for ideas on what to cook.
TVGuide.com: Or you'll see a Food Network Star contestant try to cook something in five minutes when you know it requires at least a half hour....
Summers: It seems like these guys almost shoot themselves in the foot trying to be so cool. As we get down to our final three and four, it gets really interesting. The final two will get a lot of reaction because they're two extremes.
TVGuide.com: In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I have at times poked fun at your dialogue on Unwrapped, where everything seems to be a "sweet and savory sensation." It's alliteration overload.
Summers: [Laughs] I know. I've asked them to pull back on that because it gets kind of crazy.
TVGuide.com: I also now realize, having watched Unwrapped for many seasons, that everything is made the same: "A batter is made... it's poured into molds... heated... and then cooled."
Summers: Yeah, but don't tell the world I won't have a job! But what can I say, people simply love to see the machinery. In some of these old factories, the things that were making Clark bars in 1919 are the same machines. They just keep fixing them! There's something about going behind the scenes. When we first launched, people were scared to death to be on the program because they thought we were doing 60 Minutes[-type exposés]. Now companies are asking how they can get on.
TVGuide.com: Who hasn't allowed you in yet? Who's afraid of you spilling trade secrets?
Summers: There are a couple of people who get a little whacked about letting us in....
TVGuide.com: You've never covered M&Ms, have you?
Summers: Actually, we have. They've been really cool about that. We've also given some people great careers. In Season 1 or 2 we did "Hometown Favorites" with this lady who, if you couldn't find a candy from the '50s or '60s, she'd find it for you. We blew up her website. She couldn't keep up with the orders! The guy who owns the Houston Astros then bought her out for a bazillion dollars.
TVGuide.com: Have you ever gone behind the scenes at a theme park to see how they churn out thousands of identical meals daily?
Summers: We once "unwrapped" Disney World. And I recently did a special where I unwrapped the Food Network that is something I've wanted to do for the longest time but nobody would give me permission. We went behind the scenes in the kitchens, talked about who does all the shopping, showed how it takes three days to prepare a segment for the Today show.... I just got an e-mail from the producer of Emeril, who said she didn't know half the stuff we revealed.
TVGuide.com: Having, ahem, guested on Food Network Star myself, I have to wonder: Is the studio always that cold?
Summers: It's freakin' cold, man. I think [David] Letterman's studio is the only one that's colder. You can hang meat in his theater.
TVGuide.com: How goes the talk of me getting a spin-off? My quippy comments seemed to go over well.
Summers: [Laughs... but tenders no contract]
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