Jason Smith, a cafeteria manager in Grayson, Ken., didn't have any formal culinary training, but he had a dream: to be a Food Network star. After 10 weeks of cooking, food demonstrations and exuding plenty of Southern charm, Smith's dream came true.
He beat out more than a dozen competitors in the network's annual Food Network Star competition. And in his own words, he's "happier than possum eating a tater pie." Smith (@lowcarb77) joins Here & Now's Robin Young to talk about how he made it to the top.
On reaction to his victory back home in Kentucky
You know, they are just so thankful. They are just happy to be on the lord honey bandwagon. It's just like a little bitty village and they just love it.
On being bullied as a kid, and losing weight
Oh yes. I was a lot overweight. Honey that wasn't no little bit — I was a lot. I was the biggest hog in the bunch, trust me. But now I loved to eat, so that was kinda my fault.
Actually I lost a whole person about six years ago. I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and I just went low carb for a while and lost the weight. I went like from 258 pounds to 139 — I lost a whole person.
On his colorful wardrobe and personality
It's about a way of life. It's about standing out, from my outfits to my cooking. I mean I've always dressed this way. This has just been a part of me ever since I can remember, and I've always liked to wear bright, colorful clothing, different patterns. And it just makes you stand out in the world, it makes you not blend in to everybody else. I want everybody to be their own personality. Don't stand in the corner and just blend in with the crowd. Honey, come out of the corner and become your own personality. Believe in yourself. And I do that with my clothing and my food: I take what my style is, and the way that my 'Jasonisms,' as most people say 'em, come out and everything, and I put that in my food. We go around this sun only one time, and we might as well have fun while we're doing it. And that's what I do every day.
On his "Jasonisms"
Finer than frog hair split four ways ... I'm happier than a possum eatin' a sweet tater pie, 'cause there ain't nothing better than sweet tater pie, and possums are happy creatures, 'cause they'll eat anything.
On being responsive to fans on social media
I do have a feeling that that's a little bit a part of why I won, because I pay attention to my fans, my friends, my family. It doesn't matter who sends me a question, I'm going to answer it. I may not answer it right away, but I'm eventually gonna get to it. And I feel like that that's just part of me giving back to everybody, that I've got to take them on such a great journey. The least I can do is to help them out in the kitchen on social media if they have a question.
I've had people that say stuff to me that's not about cooking or about food, it's like, 'I'm going to this event. Should I wear a red jacket, or a should I wear a black shirt?' And I'm like, 'Well I need to see what you're trying to put together,' and they'll send me pictures and I'm like, 'No, girl, this ain't gonna work. We've gotta do something different.' So, you know, I just like connecting and staying connected with everybody. And I feel that everybody is family to me, whether it's a fan in Australia, or whether it's a fan in my next-door town. I just feel like we're all family, and I just love taking everybody along and helping people.
This interview aired on Aug. 22 on Here & Now, a public radio show from NPR and WBUR in Boston