After 11 weeks of Mentor and Star Challenges testing both culinary chops and on-camera comfort, as well as constructive feedback from mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis, one hopeful finalist has risen to the top to become Food Network’s newest Star. Eddie Jackson, a former pro footballer, scored the ultimate culinary touchdown tonight when he was crowned the Season 11 winner.
Star Talk was on the set of the finale and caught up with Eddie just moments after he took in his victory. He dropped to his knees in overwhelming emotion, then welcomed hearty congratulations from his fellow competitors, as well as the Selection Committee and the president of Food Network, Brooke Johnson. “I’m beyond speechless,” Eddie said. “This is a feeling that I’ve yet to feel.”
Read on below to hear more from Eddie in his first exclusive interview as a Star, then click the play button on the video above to go on set with Eddie and learn about his transition from football to food.
What did you learn about yourself during this competition?
Eddie Jackson: I had never done anything like this, so to speak, in front of a camera one-on-one. So I kind of learned that I can actually do this. I’ve been in front of the camera in front of, you know, 60,000 people, playing football and things like that, but never one-on-one talking directly to a camera by myself. And over the course of this show, I realized that I really can do this and this is something that I want to continue to do for the rest of my life.
What one piece of mentor feedback will you take with you going forward?
EJ: One of the key things that stands out to me that I was told when we first started this competition was from Giada. And she said: “Just always smile and always be yourself. You have this charisma, and just always use it.” And I think when she told me that — because no one had really told me that — once I heard that, I tried to use that each and every time I stepped in front of the camera.
Knowing what you know now about what it takes to be successful in this competition, what do you wish you’d known on Day One?
EJ: I wish that, from Day One, I had a little bit more comfort with how to speak in front of a camera. Just slow down. You can actually just speak normally. I had this perception that I had to speak above the camera and get loud, so that the camera can hear me, but as I went on in the competition, I realized that — and I actually learned it from Jay, who has a lot of experience — just speak calmly and you can definitely be heard.
Can you talk a bit about how your POV evolved from “cheat day” to Caribbean flavors?
EJ: I started out with the cheat day concept, which is something that I still stick by with my clients — they come to me and they talk about, “What can I eat on cheat day?” So it’s something that I really love talking about and experimenting with, with fun recipes. But at the end of the day, this is a competition and Bobby Flay told me at the very beginning of this competition, he was like, “Just forget the cheat day concept and just worry about cooking good food, and you’ll be alright.” One thing I learned at a very young age is when somebody of a certain stature tells you something — you have Iron Chef Bobby Flay giving you advice — you need to listen. So I listened. I got rid of the cheat day concept for the show and just worried about cooking good food, and it paid off for me, so you should always listen when your superiors are giving you advice.
In the last few episodes, the competition turned into The Bro Show, of sorts, with the top-five finalists being all guys. It seemed like you all developed a real camaraderie and friendship.
EJ: Toward the end of the show, the last couple episodes, it was like The Bro Show: me, Dom, Jay and Arnold. … It was fun. We built a nice camaraderie over the course of the season, so I felt like those were the individuals that I bonded with the most. It was pretty cool to have them right there at the end with me.
Which special guest judge did you find the most intimidating to work with?
EJ: I think the most-intimidating guest that we had would have to be Iron Chef Zakarian. I mean, he’s an Iron Chef, so to be able to cook for him and get feedback from him and actually know what he thinks about your food and what we can do better from an actual Iron Chef — [we] already had Bobby Flay, but to have another Iron Chef here in the kitchen with you, it’s pretty intimidating.
How would you explain to fans what this experience is really like?
EJ: It’s a roller coaster. This competition is definitely a roller coaster. It’s going to test you mentally, physically, emotionally. Eleven weeks is tough. And the thing about it is, you never know what you’re going to be doing. You don’t know what the challenges are going to be. You have no idea what you’re going to be cooking, so you have to be on your toes. It’s definitely one of the most-difficult things I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve been through a lot of difficult things in my life, and this is at the top.
Be on the lookout for Eddie’s new show, BBQ Blitz, premiering Friday, Oct. 9 at 10:30|9:30c.
Have a question for Eddie? Stop by Food Network’s Facebook page tomorrow, Monday, Aug. 17 at 2|1c. He’ll be answering fans’ questions live.