Aiona ready for ‘Food Network Star’
When Philip “Ippy” Aiona makes his debut on "Food Network Star" tomorrow night, viewers should have no problem figuring out where he's from or what he stands for.
"The whole show, I was very into promoting Hawaii," the 23-year-old Hawaii Prepatory Academy and Le Cordon Bleu graduate said by phone from Hawaii island earlier this month. "That was my whole angle, showcasing Hawaii and taking people on a voyage to paradise.
"Everybody's there for the same reason, to cook. Still, I think I have a good chance. I'm going to surprise a lot of people. … On the first episode, I said I wasn't there to win. I want to make my family and my state proud, and I'll be content."
'Food Network Star'
Premieres Sunday, May 13
Airs at 6 p.m. Sundays on Food Network
» Philip "Ippy" Aiona (Kamuela, HI)
» Judson Allen (Chicago, IL)
» Martie Duncan (Birmingham, AL)
» Emily Ellyn (Orlando, FL)
» Martita Jara (San Diego, CA)
» Eric Lee (Petaluma, CA)
» Yvan Lemoine (Maspeth, NY)
» Josh Lyons (Jupiter, FL)
» Linkie Marais (North Attleborough, MA)
» Nikki Martin (West Hollywood, CA)
» Malcolm Mitchell (Washington, DC)
» Michele Ragussis (Brooklyn, NY)
» Cristie Schoen (New Orleans, LA)
» Kara Sigle (Chicago, IL)
» Justin Warner (Brooklyn, NY)
Now in its eighth season, "Food Network Star" got its start on the cable network in 2005 and was responsible for discovering "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" host Guy Fieri in its second season. Led by coaches Alton Brown, Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis, 15 finalists are split into three teams — a new format introduced this season — with one winner selected to host his or her own cooking show on Food Network.
The prospect of sharing his cooking skills on camera is something that goes back to Aiona's small kid time in Kamuela, where his father ran the now-closed Kamuela Deli.
"I made a series of cooking videos when I was in the third grade," he admitted. "They were called 'The Little Italian.' … I would put on my apron and tie it up to my belly, I would have the towel over my shoulder and I'd be cooking."
Aiona, who said his biggest culinary hero back then was Emeril Lagasse, ended up including some of that footage in his application to the Food Network. While being on television "wasn't necessarily a goal," he said the videos he made were an early sign of how passionate he was about cooking. After watching "Food Network Star" at home the last few years, he was encouraged by a friend to finally give it a try himself.
"I knew I could do it," said Aiona. "I wanted to show people the … idea of Hawaiian food isn't just luau stuff. It is traditional Hawaiian food, but (outsiders) don't understand the plate lunch and other local foods.
"On the show, I said I had a style of cooking that I call 'Euro-Pacific,' taking traditional European techniques and including Pacific ingredients, like pasta with furikake and a pink miso sauce made with tomatoes, miso and sake. I did a lot of fusion up there."
WITH A PORTION of the season's filming already completed (Aiona will return to the mainland to participate in the show's live finale later this summer), some details about the show can be revealed.
Aiona was picked to be on the team coached by De Laurentiis, who shares his Italian background. He didn't know if she was aware of his current role as executive chef at Solimene's, his mother's Italian restaurant in Waimea, when casting was completed, but he's happy with who ended up choosing him.
"I'm very happy to be on her team," Aiona said. "They got the opportunity to hand-pick five people for their team, and she picked me. … She's tough, man. She's not what I expected, but it was a lot better than I expected.
"(De Laurentiis) looks really dainty, but when she wants to get something done, she gets it done. She'd go to bat for me all the time. She's great."
Aiona also makes his presence felt in the very first episode.
"I'm one of the youngest to ever be on the show, and obviously the first ever from Hawaii," he said. "But I've been doing this my whole life. For some of the others, cooking wasn't their first job. I was born into this, so it's all I know. I've been working in a kitchen my whole life. I've always been trying to master this."
The two-hour season premiere of "Food Network Star" will air on Food Network at 6 p.m. tomorrow, May 13, following a 30-minute casting special tonight at 6 p.m.
Jason Genegabus is Entertainment Editor/Online at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and has covered the local nightlife, music, bar and entertainment scenes since 2001. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.