OK, I've been a bit sparse with the blogs lately. Blame holidays or life or me or something.
But we should note that this is the start of the summertime skills competitions. We're not just talking about singers and dancers and comedians; it's prime time for cooks and designers and even artists.
Here's a line-up, followed by two stories I sent to papers -- on chef Bobby Flay and designer Vern Yip. These are guys who have talent, zest and wonderfully short surnames.
The line-up includes:
– “HGTV Design Star,” 10 p.m.
Sundays, starting June 13
Kitchen,” 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Fox;
-- “Work of Art” debuts at 11 p.m.
Wednesday on Bravo, then moves to 10 p.m.
-- “Next Food
Network Star,” 9 p.m. Sundays, Food Network.
-- "HGTV Design Star," 10 p.m. Sundays, HGTV.
-- “Top Chef, D.C.,” 10
p.m. Wednesdays, starting June 16, Bravo.
-- “Masterchef,” 9 p.m.
Tuesdays, starting July 25, Fox.
By MIKE HUGHES
Bobby Flay's life has known two speeds
– zero and overdrive.
The first filled his early years. “I
was 17 and I had no interest in anything,” he said.
He dropped out of high school and
worked at a restaurant, mostly because he had to work somewhere. Then
everything clicked. Now Flay owns five restaurants and a string of
burger spots; he has his own shows and hosts “The Next Food Network
Star,” which is starting a new edition. In his spare time, he's a
football buff who's married to a glamorous actress.
His schedule takes some focus; Flay is
up by 6 a.m. daily and was doing this phone interview at 7.
“You have to be relentless,” he
said. “Restaurants are living, breathing things.”
Being a TV celebrity is also
complicated. That's clear in “Food Network Star,” now in its
Here are 12 amiable contestants. They
range from veteran chefs to “someone who has a lot of knowledge
about food because she's been cooking for her family for years,”
All are good at food; not all are good
at meeting time limits. “There's a tendency to overshoot,” he
said. “We think we can do more than we can.”
Some are naturals at working in front
of a camera. Aria Kagan, a single mom from rural Wisconsin, impressed
judges quickly. “She's very likable,” Flay said.
Others flounder, he said. “It's very
complicated – doing something and talking to the camera.”
Flay suspects his own early appearances
on “Live With Regis & Kathy Lee” were “a little dull.”
Still, people always seemed interested in this combination – a New
York Irishman who studied French cooking, then specialized in
Once his restaurant job hooked him,
Flay went to the French Culinary Institute in New York. He studied
with two chefs, one of them big on Southwest ingredients. That became
a specialty in restaurants, barbecue shows and more.
TV also became key. Flay is known for
cooking contests, in “Throwdown” and “Iron Chef”; friends
introduced him to Stephanie March, who has played Assistant District
Attorney Alexandra Cabot, off and on for a decade of “Law &
Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Conviction.” Their marriage
in 2005 was his third, her first.
And does March ever do the cooking? “I
like him, I wouldn't cook for him,” she once said. “That would be
terrible. I wouldn't do that to him.”
They eat out, order in. Flay likes to
cook on Sundays, the one time he might slip out of overdrive.
By MIKE HUGHES
At times, the thrust for fame comes
down to something this basic:
Here is a room – bare and boxy, small
and white and unadorned. Now make it pretty.
“HGTV Design Star” contestants
tackle that each year, but this time (June 13) it's the first
“I love the idea of starting with the
white box this year,” said Vern Yip, a judge on the show. “It's a
level playing field …. It's such a wonderful way to get to know
Each summer brings a fresh flurry of
skills competitions. Alongside the usual (singers, dancers,
comedians), there are shows for cooks and artists and designers.
“Design Star” is one of the
leaders, partly because the winners quickly become HGTV stars.
Indeed, David Bromstad (the 2006 winner) debuts a show right after
the “Star” opener.
Still, there are also some key changes
– Mark Burnett, the “Survivor”
boss, is the new producer.
– There's no host. The judges –
Yip, Candice Olson and Genevieve Gorder – handle that.
– The show has moved to New York
City, where it will embrace local flavor. Contestants will find
themselves designing at a firehouse, a flower market, a runway show.
Still, some things remain constant.
That includes Yip as judge and the white-box room as a challenge.
To fix up that room, contestants have
little time, little money and some odd requirements. This year, each
had to design it around the tastes of another contestant.
Some people try to do too much. This
year, one inexplicably tossed feathers around the floor.
And some do too little. Yip proclaimed
that one room ended up looking like a prison cell; the contestant
“sort of admitted she didn't have a lot of excitement there,” he
And sometimes, people get it just
right. Last season, Yip decided that Dan Vickery had created the most
perfect white-box design in “Star” history.
That led to a strong finale: The
quietly precise Vickery was runner-up; Antonio Bellatore – a
former rock guitarist, big and bold and bearded – was the winner.
“Antonio sort of represented a variation we didn't have before,”
It was a reminder that HGTV designers
come in all variations. Yip also proves that.
Born in Hong Kong, he grew up in the
U.S., in a family of achievers. “The Chinese culture, puts a lot of
attention on math and science, because that's where we see people
succeed,” he said.
His family is filled with doctors and
scientists. When a kindergarten teacher noticed his talent and
suggested an arts-oriented school, his mom refused. “I'm really
glad that's what she did,” he said. “It made me a more
He majored in chemistry and economics
and added a Master of Business Administration. Then he became an
architect, a designer, a TV host (coming next is an “Urban
Oasis” special) and a TV judge.
That last part often leaves him
overshadowed (literally) by his colleagues. Yip says he isn't really
as short as it seems, but his colleagues have high heels. He stands
5-foot-8, Gorder is 5-10-and-a-half; Olson – a former member of
Canada's national volleyball team – tops 6-foot. Design stars, it
seems, come in many varieties.