I’m not going to lie: I was rooting for Do or Dine’s Justin Warner the whole time during the run of the eighth season of Food Network Star. As a member of the nerdy Team Alton (Brown), Warner proved the perfect fit, and it was awesome watching him win over the judges, his teammates, and big name chefs like Paula Deen, who, though she choked on his soup, was so delighted by his persona and hair that she continually referred to him as Elvis.
Now, the wine-rapping chef has won. “I am honored and I am excited about turning things upside down,” he said in an interview on the Food Network. On the finale episode last night, they unveiled a large portrait of the winner, and as soon as Warner saw it, his eyes welled up and he covered his face. “I never thought I would be accepted by America,” he said on the show. Given the 4.6 million votes that came in, obviously he has.
Through the season, Warner’s point of view was “rebel with a culinary cause,” which will probably be the name of his show. But for the 27-year-old chef, the concept he illustrated for the judges wasn’t a gimmick; he had already been a culinary radical at his Brooklyn restaurant, Do or Dine. There he has created, along with his partners Luke Jackson, Perry Gargano, and fellow chef George McNeese, a world where steak tartar comes shaped like a cow, fish get fried whole, and nachos are actually dumplings coated in cheese and sour cream. The later, by the way, was the dish Warner demonstrated in front of a live crowd during one of the show’s competitions.
For obvious reasons, Warner can’t filter interviews at the moment, so we couldn’t find out what exactly he is thinking now that he has won. Something tells me he would say something along of the lines of whathe told us when the show first aired: “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.”The first time I met Warner was when Do or Dine opened last summer, and, just as I was surprised the restaurant has become so successful, I was stunned when I found out Warner was going to be on a food show. In the end, both make sense. Do or Dine serves up an unpretentious food adventure eaters have been craving, in an area that has almost nothing beyond cheap Chinese food places; and Warner is always pushing both the restaurant and himself to new levels.
In his first post-winning interview with the Food Network, he said, “I realized I have a strong desire to teach people. I never knew that until I saw the reaction of fans in the audience and on Twitter. I say to myself, ‘Wow! They trust me with that?’ Because a year and a half ago, I didn’t even know how to cook. To now be an authority on these things, at least in some people’s eyes, it’s amazing and I’ll never forget that.”
I don’t expect viewers will quickly forget Warner either. So, until I can toast his victory proper, I say cook on young man, I can’t wait to see what mischief you will be getting into next. Neither can his partners. I got Luke Jackson on the phone and he said he is overjoyed Warner won. “It’s great to see someone you worked with in the trenches so long achieve some notoriety. We are very excited also to see what it means for Do or Dine.”