Restaurant-consultant Debbie Lee will not be in the final two for this season’s The Next Food Network Star—perhaps from her idea that ribs are meant to be gnawed on—but the controversial finalist has no regrets, and big plans for life after the show: including opening a restaurant in her West Hollywood neighborhood.
All right, so what happened?
I just think it was a tough decision overall to be honest. It was sort of a toss-up over which one of us was going to go. I think that there has been such an incredible journey for each and every one of us. [In terms of] the reason for why I went home—I don’t know if I necessarily have an answer. I do think obviously, for whatever reason, [the judges] do see the relatability of Melissa. And Jeffrey’s been very confident and steady. But, it’s really hard to say what the judges were thinking. I wish I could get inside their heads as well.
What will you take from being on the show?
I take being the first Korean-American woman to be on a national culinary competition. I take the fact that I made it into the top three. I think I broke the mold of a lot of our stereotypes that [remain] in modern times and I feel that I truly, truly found myself when I left this show. I’m prouder than ever to be able to have shared two incredible cultures. I think a lot of it has embraced me to stand very proud and tall and to keep fighting for what I believe in and never have any regrets.
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Do you have a favorite moment or challenge?
Ironically, my last meal was my favorite meal I made, for a number of reasons. One, it was my style—it was Debbie on a plate—it was a big part of my story and of my life. Most importantly, I got to cook for everybody from Emeril to some of the finest [chefs]. I don’t think it could have been any more pivotal for me at that point.
Is there anything we should know about you that wasn’t portrayed on the show?
You have to keep in mind that we got 40-some minutes out of the show and there’s a lot of hours and time that go into that. There are a lot of little points that everybody probably missed and the ten of us will always know at the end of the day. I think a lot times people just have to read between the lenses.
What are you doing now?
I’m in the process of opening a new restaurant, called Hot Dog Debbie’s. It’s a southern-inspired restaurant with a Korean twist. We’re hoping to open in the next couple of months and we’re really excited about it. I will definitely be sharing a lot of my Seoul-to-soul concepts with everyone in that restaurant. It will be in West Hollywood and we’ll be announcing the actual location shortly.
Who do you think is going to win the show, Melissa or Jeffrey?
Good thing I’m not a judge—they have a tough job coming up! It’s hard to say. Of course the chef in me always likes to support my colleagues: Jeffrey is a fantastic chef and a world of information when it comes to food and knowledge and cooking. On the other hand, Melissa keeps knocking it out of the park, surprising us all. She’s a stay-at-home mom and there’s something very powerful to say about that. She has a very relatable quality to all of us at some. So I don’t know…I think I’m going to be surprised as well!