• Image about Bobby Flay

Ubiquitous celebrity chef Bobby Flay dishes on his busy schedule, embarrassing moments, and the newest season of The Next Food Network Star.

[dl] Television

OVER THE PAST DECADE, food has become big business, thanks in part to the growing popularity of cooking shows such as Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen and to the rise of the celebrity chef. One of the key figures in this culinary ascendancy is Bobby Flay, the New York native who’s made a name for himself with his twists on Southwestern and, more recently, Spanish cuisines. Flay owns six restaurant concepts in the United States and the Caribbean and has released eight cookbooks. His verve and passion make him a natural for television, and since 1994, he has hosted eight shows, five of which still air on the Food Network. (Throwdown! with Bobby Flay and Boy Meets Grill are among the most popular.) Without a doubt, the guy has earned his stripes.

That’s why on the popular reality program The Next Food Network Star, Flay is happy to take it easy for once and let others do the hard work while he serves as a judge. The show, which debuted its fifth season earlier this month, features up-and-coming chefs from across the country going head-to-head for the chance to win their own cooking show. Flay says that this season’s crop of contestants is incredibly competitive, which makes for some must-see television.

“I was surprised every week by what transpired -- by what they made, how they worked alongside each other, or, sometimes, how they didn’t work alongside each other,” he says. “There is definitely a whole bunch of drama and lots of good food.”

Flay feels the show is more appealing than some similar programs because of the chance it offers its contestants. “Somebody actually gets a chance for a new career, not just a check or a title,” he explains. “You’re going to get six 30-minute programs and a chance to prove yourself on one of the most popular networks out there.”

  • Image about Bobby Flay
Despite all the success he has achieved, Flay admits he still gets nervous before doing a show, whether live or taped. Perhaps that goes back to his first appearance on Iron Chef, which he describes as the most humbling moment in his career. “It was a total disaster for me,” he says. “I almost sliced my thumb off, I got electrically shocked, and I lost.” There was also a bit of controversy when Flay, at the beginning of the show, stepped on his cutting board and raised his arms in the air. The show is taped in Japan, where tradition says that the board is sacred. But in the end, he admits, there was a silver lining. “There were all of these unfortunate moments, but I think it wound up being good for the network and created Iron Chef America down the line,” he says.

Though his TV work has arguably done the most to expand his notoriety, Flay says he is “a better chef [in person] than on television.” True to form, while he keeps busy with TV, books, and public appearances, he remains extremely hands-on with his restaurants. Whether he’s training a sous-chef, tweaking a dish at one of his establishments, or visiting with a customer, Flay makes sure his eateries are always his top priorities and that all his other activities are scheduled around them. And he insists that the increase in the quantity of his commitments in no way affects the quality of any of them. “I’ve always tried to have a high energy in everything that I do,” he says, “whether it’s in the restaurants or being on television or coaching my daughter’s basketball team.”

When it comes down to it, Flay knows that his TV persona isn’t the legacy he’ll leave behind; he’ll ultimately be judged on his food. That’s why he’s constantly striving to improve and to learn more about his expansive industry.

“I love my business because I love the people in it,” Flay says. “I love the people who are my competitors because there’s great camaraderie between us. I also know that I can learn from other people around me. That keeps it interesting for me all the time. I know that I’ll never be able to actually master my profession. I’m just a participant.”