Orlando-native and French Culinary Institute grad Jen Isham was the first contestant to leave this season’s The Next Food Network Star after her misguided green bean dish didn’t quite live up to Bobby Flay and his team of judges’ expectations. Yet, while we won’t see Jen win the coveted prize, the 30-year-old self-proclaimed modern housewife’s real cooking journey is just beginning.
So, first one kicked off. How are you doing?
I wasn’t happy because that’s totally the one thing that I didn’t want to happen, but in the whole scheme of things, I wanted to be on this show for five years, and the fact that I got to be on the show—I was just very grateful for the entire experience. Even though it was short, I had the time of my life. I have no regrets.
What was the best part of being on the show for you? Favorite moment?
There really wasn’t anything to look forward to, because everything is a secret. When they asked us if we were nervous up there, we were like ‘no’ because we didn’t know what to be nervous for. But just the opportunity and the feeling of suspense—that little feeling inside of omigosh-this-could-actually-happen-for-me, that I could win my own show—that whole feeling was just fantastic. I really enjoyed the competition. And the opportunity was a dream—it was so cool.
In terms of the overall experience, what did you learn?
In high school, I couldn’t even go to the bathroom by myself. I had to have someone go with me. [But] I did this. I went for it and there was no looking back. I think you only get one life to live and I can walk away from this without wondering, ‘oh I wonder what would have happened if I ever tried out…’ I’m just glad that I even went after it.
It’s a big accomplishment.
Even when I flew up there [for filming] I couldn’t really believe it. I watched [the show] with 200 of my friends and family last night.
What was that like?
It was okay seeing myself on TV, but pretending all the way up to the very last minute was hard for sure. My poor dad has been trying to get everything out of me since I came back home. I committed to my character, though. I was a big secret keeper until the very end.
And now what are you doing?
Honestly, [since] I knew I was the first to go I’ve been working really hard to put up my website and starting a blog and I had a really cute logo made up, so it’s definitely not the end. This whole experience has really brought me back to food and I know that’s what I want to be doing. I still have to work everyday because, you know, I’m not independently wealthy, so when I go home every night I’m working really hard to brand myself and take those fifteen minutes of fame or whatever to the max. I’m all about milking it.
Who are you rooting for now?
There are a whole bunch of challenges coming up. The final nine have a competition with Esquire and Good Housekeeping so I think that’s going to be a really interesting challenge. All of [the contestants] have really great personalities and cooking jobs…[but] my favorite is Michael. He’s fantastic and his personality is so over-the-top. I’m really excited to see everything he brings to this season.