When Food Network Star returned for its eleventh season on June 7, 2015, Nashville viewers probably recognized some familiar faces, other than Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay, of course. Most notably, one of the shows contestants is none other than Chef Arnold Myint of Suzy Wong’s, PM, and BLVD Bistro.
At only thirty-two, Myint is already one of the Nashville food scene’s most well-known personalities. He’s been a fixture of that scene practically since he was born. He grew up in a restaurant that was part of Nashville’s early food revolution, his mother’s International Market.
“The food movement in Nashville that motivated me as a child, that inspired me, was really strong, and independent and hip,” Myint recalled. “My mother opening the international market in the late 1970s was pretty bad-ass! Having Randy Rayburn and Tin Angel and the old Virago, that stuff was so cool back in the day.” When you combine the passion that instilled with his talents as a chef and his flamboyant alter-ego, Suzy Wong, Myint was almost destined to a larger-than-life role in the food scene.
That destiny was almost, and partially, realized in 2010, when Myint appeared on season seven of Bravo’s reality cooking show, Top Chef. While he started in the middle of the pack in the first episode, he received high marks the following episode, and won the elimination challenge in his third episode. His fans were thus shocked when he was eliminated in only the fourth round.
The boost Myint received from his first run left him hungry for another chance. “I didn’t feel like I got my full time there, which I don’t like to relive that often, but it definitely motivated me to push for something else. Ultimately, Food Network Star presented itself as his best opportunity for another bite at the apple.
“I was sitting with my talent manager out in L.A. trying to figure out what my strategy would be,” Myint explained, “and Food Network Star came up. However they were in the last week of their audition process, and there was only one more open casting, in New York the following day!” The next day, on the other side of the country, Myint was in line for a cattle call audition. “You get thirty seconds, so I went in, spit everything out, and was bright and lively, and then just had to wait for the call.” Myint, it turned out, had what the show’s producers were looking for.
Food Network Star follows a well-worn template for reality competitions. Each week, a contestant gets eliminated based on challenges. Contestants are primarily vying for a shot at hosting their own show. “Basically,” explained Myint, “Food Network Star is looking for the network’s next new TV show and host, their next star chef.
The nature of the prize gives the game a different feel too. “They are looking for somebody with a brand that best represents their company,” Myint said. “So I love the show in that it’s not like the nitty gritty shows, where they want to hear cussing and fighting and people stabbing each other behind their backs. That doesn’t really happen here with this format, because of the nature of the job they’re trying to fill.” Backstabbing makes for great drama, but the network doesn’t want its hosts to have that kind of reputation.
In addition to highlighting cooking and presentation skills, the contestants are also promoting their own brand and show, so it’s not necessarily enough for the food to be delicious if it isn’t coherent with the concept. “So,” according to Myint, “the challenges also strongly incorporate presentation both on the plate and as a host. In the past, they have had a challenge where they had to launch a product line and try to sell it on HSN, for example. In our first episode, we had to present in front of a whole party, who judged whether our food matched our brand. My platform is that I want to bring that element of fine dining and effortless entertaining into your house—that’s what I’m trying to sell.”
It makes since that Myint would try to market himself as, forgive me, Suzy Homemaker. While it’s Arnold competing so far, Suzy is never far behind. “Right out of the gate Giada mentioned that she was intrigued by Suzy, within the first five seconds of episode one you see a picture of Suzy, and she’s definitely part of my brand and part of what I want to include in my brand,” Myint said.
“Suzy ties into this as a homemaker who is into design and décor,” Myint explained. “Look at the savory baking challenge, where we paid homage to bakeries but with savory dishes. I made meatloaf cupcakes with whipped potato icing and pickled cherry tomatoes on top, a three layer meatloaf princess cake, and cake pops… I did a full table display, bigger than everyone else’s, like a window display. Hopefully it shows the judges that I mean business, that I’m ready to have my own show, that I’m thought out technically and aesthetically.”
One personally meaningful moment for Myint came when Alex Guarnaschelli was a visiting judge/mentor. “She was my teacher in culinary school and she’s had such amazing success since then, becoming a Food Network celebrity chef, an award-winning restauranteur…. I’m a very emotional person and I wear it on my sleeve: for her to be there made me feel that I’d come full circle and for her to recognize and remember be was so awesome. It was also nice to have a familiar face there.”
So far, Myint says he’s already got a lot of value out of the show: “It’s not very often you get a second chance to do something like this. I’m also excited to push myself and learn from all the people who are there to help. They are industry experts and to gain that immediate feedback in invaluable. You don’t get this many heavy hitters in a room at once to help you mold you future; it’s been like a crash course in what I hope will be my next career.”
No matter what happens, Myint has his eyes on the prize. “My main focus is to make an impression on the network and executives, and hopefully what will come of that is an interest in working with me more in the future. I didn’t get far on Top Chef at all but it got me sucked into L.A. to the point that I can’t think of any other job but this now. I don’t think you necessarily have to win the show to continue life in this field.”
However, Myint does want to win the show! “The show isn’t only in our hand, so I want to encourage everyone to vote for fan favorite, a couple of times a day if not more, and make sure that fan favorite is me! People can follow my social media, which you can find on ArnoldMyint.com.” So tune in to Food Network Star, check out your hometown chef, and see what it’s all about!
FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Food Star Food Festival" (season 11 episode 1)
FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Savory Baking" (season 11 episode 2)
FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Trendy Dinner" (season 11 episode 3)
Raja doing Suzy's face
Top Photo: Brett Warren
Lower Photo: Margaret Ellis