Perhaps what they say about Washingtonians is true: We take ourselves way too seriously. The two D.C. chefs who made their debuts Sunday on "Food Network Star" didn't — at least initially — do much to alter viewers' opinions of those who inhabit Wonk City.
Former Duke's Grocery chef Alex McCoy and former Washington Redskins pastry chef Emilia Cirker were about as stiff as the Washington Monument when hosts Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis asked the contestants to give a spontaneous 30-second pitch about themselves and their culinary approach. After each presentation, the other wannabe Food Network stars could provide one-word feedback.
Emilia, a former beauty pageant contestant who now lives in Reston, was first. Dressed in a blue-and-white print sun dress with a modest string of pearls around her neck — sort of a Power-Washington-Hits-the-Cape look — Emilia described herself as a "culinary instructor and an edgy food blogger from Washington, D.C." and then proceeded to tell Bobby and Giada that, "I'm Irish-Italian and I went to French culinary school, but you only see hints of that in my food."
The program then cut to a backstage interview with Matthew Grunwald, a 22-year-old game show host in waiting. "Emilia is an ice queen," he snickered. "There's really no warmth."
Cirker continued her pitch with Bobby and Giada: "I've been raised on everything from Moroccan couscous and tagine to Thai tom kha gai."
Cut to Matthew again: "It's almost robotic."
Back to Cirker's pitch: "It's not necessarily..."
"Time," interjected Giada, who then asked Matthew for his one-word summation.
"Stepford," he said with too much pleasure.
Cut back to Emilia, whose face finally showed genuine emotion, mostly shock. "Holy sh--," she said, cringing visibly.
Added Giada: "He's kind of being honest."
Cut to a backstage shot of Emilia, puzzling over Matthew's remark: "The only thing I know about Stepford Wives is that one movie where they're robots."
Bobby chimed in: "You never smiled. You need to fill the room with your personality."
Afterward, Emilia promised this introduction was not the real her. "People are going to be really surprised," she said. "I am lovable and funny as hell. I need to just be me."
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Alex didn't fare much better with his 30-second introduction. "I'm D.C. born and raised," Alex told the hosts, looking a little farm boyish in his red gingham shirt. "I'm a chef. I'm a restaurant owner, and I love sandwiches."
Cut backstage to contestant Jay Ducote, a self-proclaimed Cajun boy who deep-fried Alex in a few succinct words. "The dude is not smiling, and he's talking about his favorite thing — sandwiches!" Ducote said.
Back to Alex: "When I'm not in the kitchen, you'll find me traveling the world, looking for new inspiration. Black pudding from Ireland or alimento completo from South America. These are some of the things I'd love to incorporate into the menu of my restaurant back home."
Bobby turned to Michelle Karam for her one-word description: "Interesting?" she shrugged.
"You said it like a question," Bobby responded.
"I'm processing it," Michelle added.
Bobby explained Michelle's comments for the audience. "In TV-speak, you know what that means? She went like this, click." Bobby explained, imitating the sound of someone turning off the TV in 1972.
"Boring!" Giada added, as if Bobby's words couldn't be interpreted on their face.
Added Giada: "You weren't smiling. You were just sort of talking. That's what a lot of chefs do. You probably can cook, but I need that. That smile right there? That's what I would have loved to have seen."
Summarized Alex backstage: "I just failed miserably at the first impression to Giada and Bobby. I just went straight to the bottom."
One of the D.C. contestants made a serious comeback in the second half of the show. If you missed it, you'll have to catch the first episode on repeat this week. You can also watch it online for a limited time.