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Tom Pizzica

SF's Next Star Chef?

The Next Food Network Star isn’t your average reality show. In fact, you could even say that the show’s prize is the gift that keeps on giving. Not only do the program’s contestants get weekly television exposure, but also the show’s winner gets his or her own cooking show on the cable network. We recently sat down with San Francisco resident Tom Pizzica, who worked as a chef in Maryland before he was named one of the show’s 12 finalists shortly after moving to the City. Catch him on the Next Food Network Star season premiere on June 6th at 9pm.

SF Station (SFS): Are you already done filming for the Next Food Network Star?

Tom Pizzica: Yes, it premiers June 6th. We’ll see what happens!

SFS: You probably already know what happens, right?

TP: No, not really! I’m going to watch it the same time you watch it.

SFS: So you don’t know who wins yet?

TP: Nope.

SFS: Wow. How would you describe the show to someone who’s never heard of it?

TP: It’s a really interesting show because it’s a lot harder than a lot of other cooking competition shows. Take a show like Top Chef — basically, they just cook, and then if they win they go back in the kitchen, never to be seen again. On The Next Food Network Star, you kind of have to walk and chew gum at the same time. You have to be able to cook, and you also have to describe the food to the people because they’re not eating. It’s a real challenge to get these people motivated to make your dish. You have to be a personality on TV as well as a good cook. It was really, really challenging but it was really fun to do.

SFS: How would you describe being a TV personality? Were you ever worried that the producers would ascribe a “character” to you, like in so many other reality shows?

TP: Well, you know there’s always going to be storylines in every show. It would be kind of boring if there weren’t storylines. I think it’ll be interesting to see how they portray everybody, but the Food Network is a pretty family-oriented place, so it’s not like they’re going to make anybody look terrible when they weren’t.

SFS: So nobody walked in saying, “I’m not here to make friends! I’m here to win!”?

TP: [Laughs] All of us were really grounded, well-adjusted people. I made a lot of friends because of it, and it was a really great experience because of that.

SFS: Was there any trading of recipes, trading of tips, etc? Did you feel like you learned anything new from your fellow contestants?

TP: Oh yeah, absolutely. Everybody there had such a wealth of information. That was one of the greatest aspects of it, you know? Just getting together with 12 cooks — you always had something to talk about. It was kind of like being a kid in a candy store.

SFS: What was the audition process like?

TP: It was pretty cool because when I got there I had a lot to talk about. I had just bought a $700 van, driven across the country with all my worldly possessions, and I’d just proposed to my girlfriend. As soon as I got in there, I had a lot of stories and energy, and that really translated well.

I had to come back the next day to do a 3-minute food demo in the hotel room. There weren’t any utensils or anything, so I had to provide all of that. Then they put me in front of the camera and asked me a bunch of questions. They got me to sing a little bit because I said I was a singer. They just wanted to see how I would be on camera.

SFS: What did you prepare for them?

TP: They wanted me to cook my signature dish and bring that in, and obviously describe why it’s my signature dish. Then I had to come up with a three-minute demo to do in the hotel room. I did cured pork belly for bacon, because it was the easiest thing I could think to do in a hotel room in three minutes.

SFS: What other dishes do you specialize in?

TP: I’ve always wanted to learn and expand my knowledge of different cultures and different foods. I don’t know if I can say that I have just one specialty. I kind of like to dabble in all of it because I’m the kind of guy that gets bored easily. I always want things changing and constantly evolving to keep myself interested, and to challenge myself ever day.

SFS: Have you traveled much to achieve that goal?

TP: I’ve been to Europe a few times — France, Italy, and stuff like that. I pretty much ate the entire time I was there [laughs]. I got a lot of ideas because I was a chef at the time, and I kind of had writer’s block or “menu block.” Europe is such a great place to go because you get so many different, fresh ideas.