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Hagerstown native Justin Warner competes on 'The Next Food Network Star'

May 08, 2012|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE | crystal.schelle@herald-mail.com
  • Hagerstown native Justin Warner is competing on "The Next Food Network Star." His mentor on the show is celebrity chef Alton Brown.
Courtesy of Food Network

Sure, Justin Warner hasn't had any professional culinary experience.

But so far it doesn't look like that's hurt the Hagerstown native, who will appear on this season's "The Next Food Network Star."

The 28-year-old Brooklyn-based chef recently was named on both Forbes' and Zagat's 30 Under 30 Lists. His restaurant, Do or Dine, has received culinary praise and was even recognized last year in the Michelin Guide.

And in 2010, Warner walked away the winner of another Food Network show, "24-Hour Restaurant Battle."

Not bad for a young chef who is self-taught.

"It's a very humbling experience," Warner said during a telephone interview while walking down the busy New York streets. "I used to live off Prospect Street (in Hagerstown). I did not at any time ever think I would climb to New York City. I was at E. Russell Hicks and got the home ec award and I was the only boy to get A's in sewing and food preparation. I did not think that would take me to the Forbes list. That's crazy. That's not even normal."

But not normal is exactly the way Warner operates. He said he doesn't approach food in the traditional way that other classically trained chefs would. And that's exactly how he likes it.

"I don't necessarily have a signature dish," he said. "I do have a signature style of cooking: Decidedly different. I don't like doing anything normally. I just can't stand it."

When it comes to cooking, Warner said, "I don't like to be told why, I like to say ‘Why not?'"

In "The Next Food Network Star," which premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday, May 13, the 15 contestants were separated into three teams with celebrity Food Network chefs as their mentors — Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis and Alton Brown.

Warner was paired with Brown, who the young chef said was the perfect mentor for him.

Warner said of all of the mentors, Brown was the one chef from Food Network who he identified with the most.

"I love just the way, he's kind of like a home ec teacher for adults," Warner said. "(He's) kind of like Bill Nye the Science Guy for food. I love that. I love that approach. And I think he's got a little bit of that wacky and that zaniness that clicks really well with me. That being said, I had some of his cookbooks and I definitely tried to catch as many episodes of 'Good Eats' as I could."

Warner admits he never really watched "The Next Food Network Star," mostly because he doesn't have a TV, but said, "I liked the idea and I liked the process."

The process includes putting the future stars through a series of tests. During the first episode, contestants had to put together a restaurant in 24 hours, paces Warner had been successfully been through before.

"However, this wasn't with a partner. It was with a team of people I never met or worked with before," he said.

As for the results, Warner said to "tune in and see exactly had this went."

Because the winner of "The Next Food Network Star" will get the chance to have his or her own Food Network show, the judges constantly ask each contestant what is his or her culinary point of view.

Going into the show, Warner said he envisioned his own Food Network show to be "Conan O'Brien with food; a little more late-night, more adult-oriented, more irreverent."

He also said his show would be more sketch-based compared to other shows on the network.

"Food right now, even though we've been eating forever, is hotter and more fun now than it's ever been. What Food Network needs and food, in general, needs is something that says 'You know, this is fun, let's have fun with it.'"

Filming for the show is already complete, but Warner can't tell the results.

In the meantime, he has returned to Do or Dine. During the filming of the show, Warner said he wasn't allowed to have contact with anyone, including his business partners. He said it was hard handing his new restaurant over.

"Walking away from your baby that can barely walk and leave it in the hands of albeit your best friends but not yourself. And not being able to talk to my girlfriend. You miss everybody and you miss everything, not to mention the anxiety that baby could fall down the steps or eat paint chips," he said.

After the show, Warner returned to the restaurant and is happy to report that "the baby's great."

"It survived without me. But it remembered who I was and received me with open arms. Baby restaurant arms," he said.

If he is the person to win this season eight's "The Next Food Network Star," he has a simple mission: to make food fun and for people to care about what they eat.

"I want people to watch my show and I want to kind of be the biggest like pain for children for their parents, and for parents and their restaurants, and for grocers and their customers. And I want people to want more. And I want people to want different, and I want people to be so jazzed about food and what they're putting in their body."

More than that, he wants people to think of their kitchen as their own "lab where they concoct new things."

"Everybody's an artist and everybody can have fun with it," he said. "The idea of cooking should not be a miserable thing. The idea of food should not be scary. We should not beat ourselves up because we like to eat. There's a reason we like to eat: It's so we can survive. It's that simple."


If you watch ...

"The Next Food Network Star" appears on the Food Network. Check your local listings.

A casting special will be shown at 9 p.m. Saturday, May 12.

Season eight premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday, May 13.

For more information about the show, go to www.foodnetwork.com/the-next-food-network-star

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