Friday, April 19, 2013

Viet Pham: The Next Food Network Star?

Celebrating Viet Pham's "Iron Chef" win last January.

Utah chef Viet Pham has been announced as a contestant on the ninth season of "The Next Food Network Star."
The reality series makes a group of chefs compete in nerve-wracking challenges, with the grand prize being their own series on the Food Network.  
Past winners of "The Next Food Network Star" include Guy Fieri of "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," and Melissa D'Arabian of "Ten Dollar Dinners." 
The season premiere is June 2.
Pham, who owns the Salt Lake City restaurant Forage, is the only Utah contestant in the group, according to a Food Network press release.  Judges are Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis and Alton Brown, with a "focus groups" of food fans taking part as well.
It will be interesting to see if Flay's judging will be biased by the fact that Pham beat him on an episode of "Iron Chef America" earlier this year.
Pham has gotten a lot of attention since he and Bowman Brown opened Forage in 2009. He and Brown were named Best New Chef by" Food & Wine" magazine in 2011.
He was also the runner-up on the Food Network's "Extreme Chef" last year.  When I interviewed him in January, he said that while filming "Extreme Chef," he managed to impress judge Simon Majumdar.
“Simon Majumdar told his agent about me, and the agent flew out to Utah and had dinner at Forage,” Pham told me in a telephone interview.
Soon after, the agent called, telling Pham he was going to be competing on “Iron Chef.”  It seems his agent is continuing to do a bang-up job.
Visiting with Kelsey Nixon at the Pillsbury Bake-Off in 2012.
The last Utahan who was on "The Next Food Network Star" was Kelsey Nixon of North Ogden. The BYU grad made it to the final four contestants before being eliminated, and viewers voted her the Fan Favorite.  
Even though she wasn't the season winner, Nixon was put on the Food Network's "farm team," (that's how she described it in a later interview with me). Her series, "Kelsey's Essentials," is now filming its fifth season on the Cooking Channel (owned by the Food Network), and last year she began hosting another Cooking Channel program, "The Perfect 3."
Last year when I spoke with Nixon, she jokingly described her "The Next Food Network Star" experience as "I had no idea of what I was getting into — the million-dollar experience you would never pay a dollar to be in again!"
And, she credits part of her success to Bobby Flay —the same guy that Viet Pham beat out on "Iron Chef." Flay's own Rock Shrimp Productions became her show's producer.
"Bobby Flay became a great mentor to me," Nixon said.
As far as nerve-wracking challenges go, Pham already has a head start due to his turn on "Extreme Chef." The chefs had to had to be physically and mentally tough to do things like salvage their own ingredients from a capsized fishing boat. Fans will remember Pham's rallying cry, "Beef tongue, baby, beef tongue!" as he improvised a quality dish from a can of pickled beef tongue in the scorching desert. 

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