Food Network is looking for the next star to host a new cooking show this year, and Sarah Penrod, from League City, has been selected as a finalist. Penrod is joined by 11 other contestants vying for the title of Next Food Network Star.
But this isn't her first rodeo. Penrod had a chance at competing in Season 8 when she was chosen as a semi-finalist. After she was eliminated, she was determined to fix whatever needed fixing and become a finalist.
Two seasons later, and she has a chance to win her own cooking show on Food Network.
We spoke with Penrod about her culinary journey and how she prepared for this season. She comes from a family of entertainers and spent most of her life performing country music onstage and participating in beauty pageants. Currently, she is a personal chef and owns her own catering service. If one thing's for sure, her bubbly personality and enthusiasm are contagious -- two excellent qualities for a potential Food Network Star.
Why did you audition this year? This year? Ha ha. Well I started auditioning in Season 8 and I got to the semi-finals, which was actually on TV that year when they did the different teams, and I almost made it, but I kind of flopped in front of Bobby Flay. So I knew I'd try again. I just wanted to train a little bit and that's exactly what I did. I took it as a real opportunity to get involved with Food Network. I sort of prepared for it a little bit, came back this year and auditioned, and made it.
Did you audition for Season 9? I actually had a baby. I was in San Antonio and we moved to the area in Houston and I had a baby. They actually called me, which was really nice of them. And I was like, 'Oh man, I just can't leave this little guy.' So I came back Season 10 ready to kick butt.
What did you do to prepare yourself for the next audition? Well I knew that cooking-wise I thought I was pretty good, but I was having some camera issues. I think a lot of people who are auditioning for the show wonder why they don't make it, and I think a lot of us don't transmit energy on camera the way we think we do and that was something that I needed to seek a little advice about. So, I did that with a lady who's actually here in Houston. I feel like in my experience, the best way to prepare for something is to do the thing that scares you the most. And to me the scariest thing was just jumping right in and doing my own show. So what I actually did was, here in Houston the resources for Public Access TV are amazing. So, I went there and I made my own show, 'Let's Eat Houston,' went to the Texas Renaissance Festival with a full film crew and did this whole food exploration with some of the chefs, and it was really scary and it was a little bit rough! But I still like how it made me feel like a producer; it made me understand what's important for interviews and how you're going to set up a spiel on camera. You can't get any better experience than just ripping off the Band-Aid, and doing it.
Do you think that any of these experiences gave you an advantage over some of the contestants? That's hard. When this show first started out, it was chefs trying to figure out if they could do the camera. You're going to find with this season, there are some people with some serious backgrounds. There are food bloggers who have done videos (really nice videos). Food Network is no longer just looking for who's funny and can cook. They have gone out and found talent that is very well acclimated to being on camera and that made this season shocking for me. I had seen all of the other seasons and was like, 'Oh, I'm totally going to be able to win this thing,' and it was so much harder because of the talent they found this year.
What got you involved in cooking? It was really my first love. There was a show called 'Great Chefs of the West,' it was on PBS, and back then, the only kid-show was Sesame Street, right? So, I would be like 2 years old and watch Sesame Street and then the chef show would come on and Sesame Street and the chef show. And it was like brainwashing because I loved the art of it all and there's something so therapeutic about cooking that I discovered. There are some things that I explored because I was a young actress and did the stage, did theater, dabbled in doing pageants -- because every blond girl in Texas does, I guess. But, I kept coming back to my house at night and cooking, and it was like a warm blanket, or like finally hooking up with your first love -- that's the way that I would describe it. Finally somebody was like, look you can do a lot of things good, but you cook all the time and you should think about that. And I did. I went to culinary school and it was just joy every day. I knew I found myself.
How old were you when you went to culinary school? Let's see. I think I was 23.
What type of food describes you? Well, it's so funny because on the show, the exact same thing happens to everyone. You go in saying that you want to do one thing and then you discover things while you're there that just come natural. I am a Texas girl through and through. I kept thinking I wanted to do this date night thing and I do, but I love Texas foods and I love exploring our state. I had never left Texas before culinary school, and I was only gone briefly, and just realized how good we have it here. They don't have Tex-Mex in the rest of the country. I never knew that! It's so weird. And the BBQ and just the love that goes into Texas dishes. I guess when you get down to it, it's who you are down inside -- I'm a Texas girl.
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What's your favorite dish to make? That's so hard. My favorite dish to make is probably chicken fried steak, and I have a couple different variations of it. I have one where I take a chicken fried steak and cross it with a green chili sour cream enchilada. So it's chicken fried steak, or chicken fried chicken, and that sour cream green chili enchilada sauce and I call it Sexy-Mexy Chicken. It's really good. I'm going to post the recipe because, oh man, it needs to be explored by the rest of the universe.
You're from League City, but do you ever come into Houston to eat? Oh all the time! I was just there cooking.
Where were you? Susie Jimenez opened a restaurant called Trenza in town and she is the runner-up from Season 7. So, I just went and did her chef table the other night. She has been really taking me under her wing and it was fabulous. I love Indian food. She does this little play on Mexican and Indian because they are so similar. You're like no that won't work and then you realize they're so similar, it's easy to make it work, and she's an amazing chef anyway. She's high class. Like I had no idea. People still talk about her who are involved with Food Network Star.
Do you view any of the mentors/judges on Food Network Star as role models? Probably Bobby [Flay]. You know, people kept expecting that I would be just terrified of him, and I kind of was because he didn't choose me in Season 8. But what he did for me was so much more than that. I went home and got so much better, and I feel like that is a side of a mentor that we don't usually think about. We think about the person who just inspires us and all this stuff, but what about the people who tell you you need more work? And then you can come back and actually be a real competitor. So, it's kind of a grey area with him and me. I'm thankful that I got to come back because if he had chosen me for Season 8, I think I would have been the first to go home. I don't know what will happen this time, but I feel like he was the one that helped me dig deep and come back strong for season 10.
How does it feel to be on Food Network Star? It's just wonderful to be here. I'm from Dallas and I lived in San Antonio for a while and I really wanted to move to Houston because I spent all of my summers down here in Galveston and in this area. So, I am really proud that now I'm on the show, I'm the Houstonian from the show. I always wanted to be here and now I get to represent for a brief amount of time what we're like. I think it's really going to come out on the show, like Texans are different in really good, fun ways.
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