The recent season of Next Food Network Star produced many fan favorites. Each contestant brought something different to the show, especially Martie Duncan who stole hearts with her Southern charm and drive for continuous improvement. We loved watching her evolution on the show and wanted to learn more about what drives her passion for parties.
FP: How did you get your start with cooking? What do you enjoy most about throwing parties?
MD: I’ve been cooking since I was a kid. My mom was a fantastic cook and was in the kitchen all day to feed our big family and I’d often help her. I remember that we worked on my Girl Scout merit badge for cooking when I was eight years old. After that, she’d give me a few small projects to tackle each day; making the dressing, mashing the potatoes, etc.
I started throwing parties in high school as a way to be involved in a very clique-ish social culture that was prevalent at my school. To this day, I still like to use parties as a way to be involved or get involved with others. I love to bring people together.
FP: So often, it seems like parties are a means to separate rather than unite so it’s really inspiring that you use them to bring people together!
Name some of your favorite chefs and why.
MD: Chef Frank Stitt and Chef Chris Hastings from my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama and Chef John Besh of New Orleans are three of my favorites. They each use as many locally produced ingredients as they can in their recipes and I really appreciate that. They have not only inspired and spawned many other restaurants through the chefs who have trained under them, but they have also helped to increase the number of local providers and growers in the area, too. These chefs keep the local culture of their food intact while interjecting their own unique spin on it. I am such a fan of their food, their flavors, their successes and of course, their business skills, too. Each has a very successful cookbook or two to their credit and James Beard awards on their wall. They give back to their communities and are doing it right in my book. My favorite TV chef is Emeril even though he’s not on as much these days.
FP: Tell us about your experience on Star from casting to filming. What was it like to compete with the other chefs? What did you learn from the judges?
MD: The casting process was long- from the initial interview through my final audition with Alton Brown in Atlanta, there were many steps in the process that lasted about four months.
I’ve always played a lot of sports and really enjoy competition. I will admit to thinking “I can do this” to “oh, no, what have I gotten myself into” about an hour into the first competition. The leisurely pace I take with cooking at home for pleasure does not work for a competition cooking show like Food Network Star. I had never worked in a restaurant and our first challenge was to open one in 24 hours. What I can do at home without a schedule seemed a lot more difficult when the clock was ticking.
I learned a massive amount about myself during the Food Network Star process… it’s pretty easy to look at yourself and see things when you have people yelling them at you… but I guess, sometimes, that is what it takes to hear them. I certainly admire and respect Bob and Susie. I thought their reviews and critiques were helpful, accurate, and they helped me to evolve week to week.
FP: Sounds like you had a great experience! We definitely noticed how you evolved from episode to episode.
When you are home, what are some of your favorite meals to cook for yourself (If any)? If you go out to eat, name some favorite places in either Birmingham or other cities you’ve visited.
MD: I try to use locally produced ingredients when I can… from local vegetables to the shrimp from Alabama’s Gulf Coast. I tend to make dishes that feature what’s fresh at the moment. The Pickled Citrus Shrimp I made for my pilot on Food Network Star is one of my all-time favorites… it’s perfect for any party!
Favorite restaurants? Hmm… I’ve got quite a list. I travel a lot for my work and always have so I have an extensive list of favorite places to eat. In Alabama, we have an impressive list of James Beard award winning chefs and restaurants. Even when I am home, I am fortunate to have some of the best food in America just minutes away. My favorites include Chef Frank Stitt’s Highland’s Bar & Grill, Chez Fon Fon, Bottega, and Bottega Cafe and Chef Chris Hastings’ Hot and Hot Fish Club but the list is quite long. We have great restaurants in Alabama.
FP: You must be Alabama’s best cheerleader! We’d love to come to Alabama and try some of those places out.
What are some of your guilty pleasures (if any)? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name 🙂
MD: Gosh- almost anything sweet would fit that description. Ice cream. Anything with a pastry crust or both:)
FP: We know you’re all about the parties. Name three individuals you would want to throw a party for and what you would prepare for them.
MD: How about one party with all three there? Since I’ve just completed Food Network Star, I’d like to thank the network for the opportunity they have given me. I’d have a down-home style party for Brooke Johnson, Bob Tuschman, and Susie Fogelson in Fairhope, Alabama, one of my favorite places in the state. I’d plan a menu of what’s fresh and local; perhaps a big shrimp or crab boil out on Mobile Bay. I might serve a little chilled ‘moonshine’ to get the party started made with Chilton County peaches or Blount County apples, depending on the season. We’d have a big bonfire on the beach and most certainly have some sort of luxury s’mores to finish off the evening 🙂
FP: Sounds like a great party to us!
Any tips for novice chefs?
MD: Don’t worry, even the best chefs in the world burn stuff.
FP: In three words, how would your friends describe you?
MD: Fun. Determined. Driven.
FP: You cook, throw parties, and do all sorts of other interesting things. How do you describe what you do to the world? If you weren’t in the culinary business, what would you be doing?
I’m not a chef. I’m a home cook. I’ve never worked in a restaurant and I’ve never been to culinary school. I’ve never even taken a cooking class! I cook for fun for my website and for friends or family. Cooking is my hobby. My passion is polo. I started playing 20 years ago and even though I have not had much time to play in the past couple of years, I’ll certainly get back to it soon. I also love to write. I’m currently working on my first cookbook and I’m writing a novel but have had to put that on the back burner also.
FP: Speaking of non-cooking hobbies, we read that you hiked up a volcano? Tell us about that experience.
MD: I’ve had lots of crazy adventures in my life. I was in Guatemala to write a story on preservation efforts in the Mirador Basin. Pacaya is an active volcano very close to Guatemala City. At the time, there were several slow lava rivers running down the volcano and we were able to hike right beside them. We took a helicopter to the top of the volcano and landed. Then we hiked to the green part of the volcano to photograph the wild horses there with National Geographic photographer Ricardo Mata who has hiked the volcano more times than any other person.
FP: Now that Star is over, what does the future hold for Martie Duncan?
MD: Wow- who knows? I’m doing a road trip of Alabama’s restaurants beginning next week. I’m not sure what happens after that – but I’m looking forward to it all. Food Network Star was a fantastic experience and has opened a lot of doors for me. Stay tuned!
FP: We certainly will! Martie, thanks for sharing your passion with us. We hope to get an invitation to one of your parties someday soon. 😉