By RODNEY HO/ email@example.com, originally filed Monday, August 1, 2016
On Sunday night's season finale, Lithonia's Tregaye Fraser became the first metro Atlantan to win "Food Network Star," piling on oodles of personality "on fleek," as she said frequently on the show.
On a network featuring the brashness of Guy Fieri (the biggest "Food Network Star" to date), the glamour of Giada de Laurentiis and the wonkiness of Marietta's own Alton Brown, Tregaye offers the potential of something new.
"I think I bring a different kind of spunk, a different kind of energy, a different kind of vibe," Tregaye said in an interview Monday. "I have a totally different aura."
Tregaye said her love for people came out on the show. "I've been catering for years," she said. "I've been in hospitality for years. I'm used to dealing with all different kinds of people. I'm just laid back. I love good vibes, good energy."
She said the competition was a lot tougher than she had anticipated.
It was a challenge to get her message out without seeming rehearsed. And being relatable on TV not only means imparting knowledge but also conveying likability, tying stories of their own lives to the food. "I had to learn time management and to provide information without being long winded," she said. During a couple of challenges, she ran out of time, focusing too much on goofing around.
"At some point," Tregaye said, "you've got to reel it back in. It's strange but you can't pay too close attention to what you're saying or it won't sound natural but at the same time, you still have to pay attention to what you're saying."
While some viewers found her upbeat mannerisms annoying, the judges largely embraced her natural comfort in front of the camera, her crunk sayings ("poppin'!") and her solid "fusion" food offerings.
Partway through the competition, judge Bobby Flay told her straight out she was the one to beat, that she could only beat herself. This didn't scare her. "I felt motivated," she said. "He gave it to me straight, telling me I'm doing a good job. That told me not to change a thing and keep doing what I was doing. That gave me confidence."
She was a bit worried when she slipped up in the final four challenge. She had won plenty of challenges before then, more than any other contestant. Still, she said, "it was the wrong day to have a bad day." But she prevailed and her test pilot went so well, the other two contestants couldn't touch her.
Even fellow contestant Ana Quincoces, who wasn't always kind to Tregaye or anybody else on the show, said on the season finale she liked Tregaye's pilot and would watch it. "That was big of her," Tregaye said. "You may not like me but you will like me!"
Tregaye had nothing but respect for the other two finalists, Grayson's Jernard Wells and Italian pastry chef Damiano Carrara.
Damiano was "more than his looks. That man could cook. The food he made tasted amazing. And he had a different concept. They don't have a pastry show like that."
Jernard, she said, was her buddy. "He's a cool dude. I see him. We take our kids out. He's a great guy. So happy he made it that far."
In fact, Tregaye always conveyed confidence on the show but her attitude never curdled into arrogance. Her philosophy: "If you help another person shine, it won't dim you. It will make the entire room brighter. I'm never threatened. I know there are people better than me but I have great talent as well. I never felt the need to pull someone else down."
For now, she's doing product placement at the Blue Basket Cafe at the Rental Car Center at Hartsfield Jackson. She is also working on her non-profit Playing the Game, a three-day site visit to a school to impart wisdom about healthy eating. She is holding a fundraiser at the Applebee's on Memorial Drive August 20.
As for her new show on Food Network, she said she doesn't know much about what it will be yet. She doesn't even know her co host. We'll have to wait and see what 'The Kitchen Sink" is like and whether it will have any staying power.
And in case you want to know where the phrase "on fleek" came from, here's the supposed origin story: