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Justin Warner is Bed-Stuy’s Food Network Star

His “winging it” approach to cooking is working. But will it win?

You know those famous food mashups you’ve come to love so much, such as the lavender shark salad, the and the banana split-pea soup?

Well, if you assumed those dishes were conceived and designed by veteran chefs with precise, refined palates, you’re wrong: They’re winging it.

Take Justin Warner, for example, one of the restaurant’s three owners and a lead cook. After leaving home at age 17, the now 27-year-old Warner said he worked the better half of his life (14 years) in a restaurant as a waiter (not a chef), and experimenting in his own kitchen, before opening Do or Dine on Bedford Ave. last year.

“We don’t have years of training, an aspiration of culinary excellence, or an insane drive to be the next big chef thing,” said Warner. “We just want to make good food for good people.”

It turns out, Warner’s extemporaneous approach to cooking is not for naught. In fact, it landed him a coveted spot on season 8 of the Food Network’s reality TV competition “Food Network Star,” which began airing last Sunday, May 13.

Someone—maybe a few Bed-Stuy diners—nominated him and his business partner George McNeese for the show. Warner and McNeese went in for an audition and Warner was casted.

In season 8 of Food Network Star, three 5-member teams, each coached by a Food Network host, compete for the chance to win their ultimate dream job: to host their own show on Food Network.

In each episode, the teams are presented a different challenge that puts their culinary skills to the test under extreme time constraints and on a limited budget.

Warner is on Team Alton, led by Alton Brown, the host of Good Eats and Iron Chef America.

Warner is bound by a non-disclosure agreement that forbids him to talk about the show’s details while it is airing, but he said what he loved best about filming the show was the chance to go into people’s homes, help them cook and show them how to think differently about food.

“I cook, because I like to please people; I’m in the business of making people happy,” he said. “And I used to confuse happiness with impressing people. But there’s a big difference: I can impress you, but I might not leave you happy.

“On the show, you’re trying to impress the judges and also trying to make the viewer happy. Now I know the difference between who I want to make happy, and who I want to impress in my life…But the best thing is when you impress people with your ability to make people happy.

“That being said, I still don’t really know how to cook,” Warner proclaimed.

“I mean, I know what I want 60 percent of the time, and I can make it there. But the other 40 percent of the time, I fail.

“But it’s okay to fail, and it’s okay to riff and do what you want. Cooking is your art, and the kitchen is your studio, and you can’t always get it perfect—otherwise we’d all be Rothko or Van Gogh.

“And you know, if you get some weird idea, run with it, eat it,” said Warner. “Yes! Eat your ideas.”

Catch Justin Warner on Food Network Star on Sundays, at 9:00 p.m. EST. Also, you can follow Team Alton on twitter (#TeamAlton).

Christina July 16, 2012 at 11:39 AM
My whole family is rooting for Justin. He is the best thing to happen to Food Network in years! How many episodes of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives can one watch?! I'm grilling my lettuce and making his crazy Caesar salad tonight. My kids may actually eat salad!

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