As a writer and editor myself, I found myself liking Food Network Star
finalist Mary Beth Albright more and more as the season went on. Articulate, intelligent and confident, Mary Beth wowed the judges with her knowledge and flat-out passion for food and food culture. And while her dishes were often overshadowed by some of her more experience competition, Mary Beth made it all the way to the final four, proving that food writers might just know what they're talking about.
I got the chance to ask Mary Beth a few questions about this season of Food Network Star
, including the one we're all thinking: Why the hell was she ALWAYS
paired with Penny Davidi during challenges?
First off, congrats on making it to the final four! Starting out, did you think you'd make it as far as you did?â€¨â€¨
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Thank you! That first day, I felt like I'd been hit by a wall of personality. It's tough enough living with 14 people with enormous personalities, but when those people are competing for the same job? Yikes. I decided to take one challenge at a time, and allow myself to be changed by the experience. The desire to keep learning, keep getting better, compelled me to move forward to the next challenge just as much as winning the competition.
You come from a writing background. When did you decide that you wanted to start creating food as well as write about it?â€¨â€¨
Creating food came before writing about it. I started cooking in my early 20s, having no experience or training. I became fascinated by the thinking part of cooking as much as the sensual part of it, and read whatever I could find on ingredients and techniques. Cooking food, for me, is the final step in a long thought process, which is why Food Network Star
was a difficult forum -- not a lot of time to think!
What was your favorite challenge? What about your least favorite?â€¨â€¨
Favorite: Episode 2 at Scarpetta, because it was exactly the way I love to cook. I had my schedule written out, all of my ingredients, and cooked while people asked questions. Of course, those people just happened to be half of Food Network's stars.
Least favorite: Episode 3 dessert challenge. We had to cook in large quantities, in a huge unfamiliar kitchen, and decorate. I need a drink just thinking about it.
I almost needed a drink while watching it! I have to ask: You were paired with Penny so many times. That couldn't have been random. What was up with that?â€¨â€¨
Oh my gosh IT WAS random! I promise, I wouldn't outright lie. Things happen for a reason and I'm still trying to figure out what the reason is. Maybe it's just that I was meant for a travel show gig rather than a cooking show (here's hoping!).
Out of everyone still remaining in the competition, who do you think has what it takes to win? Who are you rooting for?â€¨â€¨
This is the worst answer ever, but all three have what it takes and I love them all. Jeff is an extraordinary performer, with deep cooking experience -- I can't stand tofu, and I devoured his Asian tofu wraps. Susie has the soul of a Mexican chef, and her food is unbeatable, five-star Mexican. Vic is so endearing both in-person and on-camera, and goes big on the food. Whoever wins, their show is appointment TV for me, and not just because I know them.
What is one ingredient you could never do without?â€¨â€¨
Love garlic, especially heirloom garlic -- each variety has a wildly different taste. My favorite one is named Transylvania, which I think is clever.
To keep all those pesky vampires away, right. What is your least favorite ingredient to cook with?â€¨â€¨
Can't stand tofu (which is why Jeff's tofu wrap was such a miracle).
Describe Mary Beth's Food Network show!â€¨â€¨
I still love Sunday Suppers as a cooking show, but hosting a competition or travel/life-out-of-the-kitchen show would be a blast too. I love storytelling -- honestly I think that's why I became a lawyer a million years ago.
Last week I was Tweeting about my day and a follower replied that my life as a food writer would make a great unscripted show. The day was:
1. Take friend's jet to Massachusetts to interview a cranberry farmer for a Thanksgiving piece (OK, most food writers don't have friends with jets ... but this is something I recommend that all struggling writers seek out.)
2. Media tasting at new 24-course restaurant (oy).
3. Judge Rums of Puerto Rico competition between two DC chefs, each cooking three courses of rum-laced food paired with rum cocktails. Then tried to recreate at home!
What's next for you? Where will we see Mary Beth next?
I'm writing and I'll figure out something in TV, because there's nothing like it to reach a ton of people. When the general manager of Food Network tells you that you have great qualities that they search for high and low, and when Giada says she's taking pointers from you, you don't let the first roadblock stop you.
The finale of Food Network Star airs Sunday at 9pm.
(Image courtesy of Food Network)
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