HAGERSTOWN — Justin Warner would like to clear up one thing: He doesn’t wear lipstick.
For some reason, judges on “The Next Food Network Star” were nearly as obsessed with Warner’s red mouth as they were about his food.
Lately, the only thing that’s been painted on Warner’s lips has been a smile.
On Sunday night, Warner was named “The Next Food Network Star,” catapulting his career from self-taught chef to standing alongside other “cheflebrities.”
Warner, a Hagerstown native, is now based in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he runs his restaurant, Do or Dine. Earlier this year, he began taping for “Star” with 14 other contestants who were divided among three chefs — Alton Brown, Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis. Warner was paired with Brown.
Joining Warner in the top four were his Team Alton teammate and show “BFF” Martie Duncan, Michele Ragussis and Yvan Lemoine. Warner was declared the winner during the Sunday night airing of the show.
“It’s kind of crazy,” he said during a telephone interview from Brooklyn. “You pinch yourself a little. ‘Is this real?’ You’re like, ‘Yeah, snap back to it, buddy. Now it’s time to work.’ It felt like going from a dream to champing at the bit.”
As winner of “The Next Food Network Star,” Warner’s pilot, “Rebel with a Culinary Cause,” will be produced by Brown and aired by Food Network. A feature story will run in Food Network magazine and Warner will have a featured spot at the New York Wine & Food Festival.
Warner said he doesn’t know a schedule yet for his show. He said there are some things that need to be hammered out before they begin.
“It’s really a complex calendar between mine and the network,” he said.
Although Warner has plans of what he’d like do with his show, the rebel actually seems a little cautious.
“You know they say the easiest way to make God laugh is to make plans,” he said.
Warner has known since July 18, that he won. But the news wasn’t made public until after Sunday night’s episode, making the fan favorite into a bonafide star Monday morning.
“I remember very nicely when I had 500 followers on Twitter, now I think I have 13.6 thousand,” he said. “That’s a heck of a friend’s list.”
As of Monday evening, his Twitter feed @EatFellowHumans had nearly 15,000 followers.
But Warner is taking his newfound celebrity in stride, even talking about his new puppy, Kewpie.
“I think I’m going to hang out here, maybe make a kimcheese sandwich and then jump into the cab, head over to Food Network and do a live chat on Facebook,” he said.
As for his “baby,” Do or Dine, Warner said his appearance on “The Next Food Network Star” has made his restaurant an even more popular hot spot.
“It’s something we’re trying to wrap our minds and supplies around right now,” Warner said.
Warner continues to recognize his ties with Hagerstown, often giving a “shout out to SHHS ’02” (South Hagerstown High School Class of 2002). Even the title of the show, “Rebel with a Culinary Cause,” is a sly wink at his alma mater’s mascot.
“I bleed green sometimes,” he said.
But he credits Brown for helping him use it as his show’s title. In the first episode of “Star,” Warner said Brown heard that word “rebel” and told him to go for it. And he’s happy it associates with South High.
“I’m so completely overjoyed to have a little bit more than a mascot associated with that school,” Warner said. “I hope that people, and students, will pay attention.”
As to his Hagerstown fans and loyal followers, Warner has been glad of his hometown base.
“That’s something that separates people in Hagerstown, and South High and everyone in general in Washington County,” he said. “When there’s something that we believe in, we will put aside all differences, if we believe in it. That in itself is an act of rebellion.”