A little over a year ago Justin Warner opened up Do or Dine, a funky restaurant in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn with some former Modern employees that focused on the concept of food and what could be done with flavors, textures, and presentation. Warner and partner George McNeesedreamed up interesting dishes like marshmallow fluff with wasabi on pork, deviled eggs with red wine-soaked octopus, or their famous foie gras and jelly doughnuts. Now, Warner is making his debut on the Food Network as part of Team Alton (Brown) in the show Food Network Star. The first episode aired last Sunday, and, spoiler alert—Warner was not eliminated. I caught up with him to dish the dirt, find out if it’s changed his restaurant, and got a little sneak peek at the rest of the show.
What made you decide to try out for Food Network Star?
As a waiter, I made sure my guests were happy. As a restaurateur, I made sure my guests, my employees, and my partners were happy. Being a Food Network Star means I get to make even more people happy. I like people to have a good time, and sometimes I’m good at it.
Were you surprised you got in?
Extremely. I’m very far from culinary perfect, and I’m also kind of weird looking. I think these imperfections work in my favor, generally, but in Brooklyn, not on national TV.
How do you think it will affect business at Do or Dine?
So far the mail lady and the fish guy have given me high fives.
After the first aired episode aired, has it?
A few congratulatory remarks from customers have been very nice and pleasant. I can’t talk about it, which is hard, but I want there to be as much suspense as possible. I always say suspense is the most important ingredient. The moment when a cloche is removed from a plate is sometimes more important than what’s under it.
Alton’s first assessment of you as a creative chef lacking the skill to execute your ideas is kind of a theme in the history and reviews of your restaurant. What do you think about that statement?
In the case of the restaurant, and hopefully the show, I get by with a little help from my friends. I think a deaf guy invented the phonograph, no?
Can you share the dish you made on the show that you dug the most?
You’ll know it when you see it. No bones about it.
Now that it’s done, would you do it again?
If competitive cooking was my job, I would do it. It’s a very satisfying stress. When it’s over, it feels like you are 50 pounds lighter. It’s kind of addictive actually, but I can’t stand to be away from my girlfriend for more than a day, so maybe not.
Anything we should get excited about on the show?
Can you please perfect the crab cake croutons and serve them at Do or Dine?
Maybe. This dish was a riff on our Maryland Style Jellyfish salad, which we served last summer. But in general, I don’t prefer to dwell on my failures too much. In the words of Swizz Beats, “On to the next one.”