Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Jay Ducote, Food Network Star season 11 competitor. We chatted about his background, personal style, and of course food. I also got to sneak in a question about Giada (I couldn’t help myself!)
Being a food blogger, radio host, and cook, you’re somewhat of a jack of all trades, how do you bridge all of those together and incorporate each into Food Network Star?
Wow, that’s a good question. I’ve been able to develop different skills along the way that have been able to merge together. I started in the food and beverage world writing my blog. The more that I wrote about food, the more that I wanted to learn about it, so I started doing research. I have a masters in political science, so the research skills that I learned, and the way that I learned how to learn was really conducive to what I wanted to do in the food world.
I cooked at tailgate parties and bbqs, but nothing ever crazy or fancy, but once I starting writing about food, I started cooking more. I started doing barbecue competitions and jumping into it just for fun. A couple years after the blog, there was an opportunity with a local radio station that wanted local content, so I approached them about doing a food and beverage show. That was in 2011. I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning and now four years later I have a pretty good handle on it. I’ve been doing on-camera work since my blog started in 2009 so it’s been a progression of food writing, radio, doing things on camera, and it all came together into an overall culinary media platform.
It’s a unique skill set that need a unique platform. It sounds like Food Network Star has been that platform for you.
I’ve been watching for many years and said “you know, thats what I really want to do, that’s where I want to go.” It was a goal of mine, to put myself in a position, to maybe get on the show. If I got on, I felt like I had the skill set to do well on the show, certainly the presentation side of it.
I’ve never been formally trained in culinary arts or worked in a restaurant. My culinary education has been self taught and it’s probably more of a ‘read education’ on cooking and the culinary world. I cook plenty but certainly not as much as a restaurant chef.
What’s been the most difficult challenge on the show so far?
For me the most difficult was the challenging at Patina in the Walt Disney Concert Hall during Episode 5. The reason is because it was in an actual restaurant setting. In episode 1 I was cooking at a winery on a beautiful grill so it was kind of like tailgate cooking which I was used to.
But episode 5 was in a professional kitchen and it is a hot, cramped, tiny kitchen and I’m a big dude and I’m tall. It got really hot and was really hard to move around in that kitchen. I’m 6’3 and at my height, it was a different level of hot. I would duck down and look at (fellow Food Network Star contestant) Rue eye to eye, she’s 5 foot flat, and it was actually cool down there. That was one time in the competition that my size, definitely my height was just rough. It wasn’t the challenge itself, but just the difficulty of operating in that environment.
Is [Jay’s show on GeekNation.com] Free Booze Friday a result of people asking you to sample booze for the blog?
Free Booze Friday came about truly because I get media sample requests all the time. I have a liquor cabinet, well no… actually multiple liquor shelves completely stocked with free booze. We were looking for stuff to do with it and I needed a way to make it fun. Originally I would sit in front of a camera and review some booze. It took a little while, but these puppets came around, and we were like, ‘thats it.’ Why not have puppets review booze?
That’s actually really funny. So if you win Food Network Star, are we going to see drunk puppets?
(laughs) That’s probably not going to happen. I wish it could. I don’t think it’s what Food Network had in mind.
You could bring a late night show show to the Food Network!
Yeah maybe so… that could be a good way to introduce a drinking show to Food Network.
On a Scale of 1 to George Clooney, how stylish would you say you are?
Um, I think I’m at about a 4. Fortunately I have assistants to help me out which maybe brings me up to a 5 or 6. I’ve got some work to do. I was actually browsing your site and saw a couple things that I was interested in. I need to work on that game a little bit.
Do they dress you on Food Network Star?
There is a wardrobe team that let me kind of wear my style a good bit, but they did do some shopping for me throughout the show. I left with a bunch more stuff than I showed up with. I think by the end of episode 4 or 5 I was out of the clothes I brought, so I had to start wearing the clothes they bought for me. They did a good job mapping my style.
You mentioned they mapped your style pretty well, how do you describe your style?
Pretty simple overall. I’m not as stylish as I should be especially now being on camera and being known. I need to work on it. I’m a very casual laid back, relaxed guy. I wear shorts and flip flops. It’s hot here in Louisiana so I don’t try to dress in too many layers or anything like that.
Where do you shop at home? Do you have any go-to places and are there any challenges with your size?
Yeah. It’s always a challenge for me. There’s a few stores in Baton Rouge, big and tall, and a few department stores like Dillards that have a good big and tall section. I can’t go to Old Navy or Gap, you name it, I just can’t find anything there. I do a fair amount of online clothes shopping as well. I think that helps being able to shop online. I can get a base wardrobe, then pick up a few things here and there along the way to keep it a little fresh.
Earlier we talked about your most difficult challenge being the one in a small kitchen. Do you think being the big guy on Food Network Star has worked to your advantage? Like the saying goes, “never trust a skinny chef.”
I certainly don’t think it’s hurt me. I think that overall the reaction I’ve gotten from the show has been extremely positive. It’s mostly all been related to my personality or food. Certainly other contestants will get comments on being attractive or adorable or muscle bound, but the comments I get are more personality or food focused. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who would say ‘Oh I wouldn’t watch Jay’s show because he’s a big guy.’ If anything it lends a little credibility to me. If I’m going to talk about cajun food, and eating red meat, fried foods and drinking beer, then I need to look like I do those things, and I do.
I think as far as that goes it is kind of funny to see how much taller I am than everybody. I don’t think I realized it while filming as much as I realize it when I watch on TV, how I tower over people and how much bigger I am than the other people.
Do you have a favorite guilty pleasure food or junk food you just have to have?
Peanut M&Ms, cheesecake… any kind of cheesecake, I definitely have a sweet tooth. No doubt about it. I’m a big ice cream guy for sure.
Do you think there is a misconception about Louisiana food? Is there a reputation about Louisiana food you’re looking to bust?
There’s plenty. I could go on and on. Certainly one thing I think people associate with Louisiana is spicy. I would say Louisiana cuisine is always well flavored and well seasoned, but not necessarily always spicy. The trick to making something Louisianian isn’t just putting cayenne pepper in on. That’s just going to make something hot without necessarily adding flavor.
People will call something, or a restaurant, cajun and creole. Cajun and creole are in some ways similar, but very are distinct cuisines. By and large a restaurant should either be cajun, or creole, but not both. Most people have no clue about that. I’ve written about the differences a fair amount and what they are and how they go back in history. It’s about where Louisiana was settled and the food they brought with them and how they survived on the land and learned how to cook. They’re two cuisines, two cooking styles, but both from southern Louisiana so they get looped together.
What are Bobby and Giada like in person? Are they as mentoring in person as they come across on tv?
I was really impressed by them the whole time. They were extremely professional and they did their jobs very well. We could tell really easily that they were qualified to be the mentors that they are. They have the experience and the right smarts about them to really just understand what it takes. They’re really good, in a really brief period of time, to get to know us and analyze us spot on. It’s not an easy job.
Their job on the show, being the mentor and judges and jury, it’s not easy on them either. They’re really good at it. Is amazing to see how much how feedback they could give when all they heard was 30 seconds of us presenting. My food style is in line with Bobby’s and he could take a couple bites of my food and know exactly how I cooked it, how I did it, and give me tips on how to improve it without even watching me cook. Just by tasting the food. It was impressive.
I have to know, did Giada ever have a bad hair day while you were filming?
(laughs) No. No. Never. She was flawless.