Food Network Star Season 11 Winner Eddie Jackson Talks BBQ Blitz, POV Switch and His MasterChef Past

If you watched the first few episodes of Food Network Star‘s 11th season and thought, “They might as well advance this Eddie Jackson fella directly to the finale,” you were not alone.

Jackson himself admits that his strong start — the judges loved his food almost as much as his on-camera charisma — had him thinking, “I could actually win this thing.” But after the former NFL pro and MasterChef vet made a few stumbles midway through the season, he realized the competition was “so much harder than I thought it would be. Food Network Star is all about you — your personality and your cooking skills. It’s not about a team effort. You win or lose based entirely on your own performance.”

TVLine caught up with Jackson the morning after he was named the Season 11 champ — a win that’ll lead to his road-tripping series BBQ Blitz premiering in October — to discuss his pre-Food Network life, his sudden shift from Caribbean fare to barbecue and any hot water he might’ve gotten into with his girlfriend over the season-long discussion of his toned physique.

Your NFL career was cut short by an injury. Had you always planned on exploring food as your post-football field?
I’ve been cooking my whole life — but I had to do some soul searching [after my injury]. I retired at only 28 years old. I had my whole life ahead of me, and there was this question, “What am I gonna do now?” My dad was like, “What do you love to do?” And I said “I love to cook.” “Well do something with that!” That made all the sense in the world. I practiced and worked on my skills, and it led to where I am today.

You owned and operated a food truck before your stint on Food Network Star. That sounds fun, but also grueling.
I started to cater events in people’s homes and ended up getting a food truck, Caribbean Grill. We specialized in doing events — big barbecue grilling on people’s porches — as opposed to a traditional food truck you see on the streets. I’m a personal trainer and have a gym as well — it would’ve been hard to go out every day with a food truck, too.

Why audition for Food Network Star now?
I watched Food Network Star from way back in the day — from Guy Fieri all the way through Aarti [Sequeira], Jeff Mauro and Damaris [Phillips] — but I never thought I’d do anything like that. A couple of years ago, though, I did MasterChef — I went on as a prank. It made me realize I liked doing TV, but I didn’t think I was built for the stress of doing reality TV again. Once I moved to Houston, I was sitting there watching Food Network and the teaser came on, “If you think you have what it takes…” I looked at my girlfriend and said, “I think I can do that.” And she said, “Then do it!” So I went to the auditions in Austin, TX, and the rest is history.

eddie-jackson-062315-getty-ftrjpg_s1uygvf3va3e1tlnm2cpbq891Your point of view changed quite a bit over the season. You started with the concept of Cheat Day, then gave that up and focused more on healthy eating and Caribbean flavors. How hard is it to narrow down one style of cooking?
I’m a personal trainer, but I just love food. So I was trying to figure out a way to combine the two things I love — food and fitness — which is where the “Cheat Day” concept came from. That said, I’m such a competitor and I don’t do anything half-assed, and Bobby Flay said something to me the second week: “Don’t worry about this Cheat Day — just worry about cooking good food every week.” And I decided that’s what I was going to try to do — along with having the best on-camera personality possible. Bobby opened my eyes. I threw the Cheat Day concept away. I still love the concept and I’m still very much about it on my daily walk, but I was trying to win. [Laughs] When Bobby freakin’ Flay tells me to do something, I’m gonna do it!

What’s the best meal you made during the season?
My first meal that I made – the chipotle shrimp with the avocado cream. We were all so anxious to cook, so excited and thrilled, and my focus was unbelievable. That dish came out amazing.

And if you had a chance for a do-over, which…
You don’t even have to finish the question: My Fourth of July meal, when we had the ingredient swap. I got all of Jay’s ingredients. I knew he was going to do barbecue, but he didn’t have all the ingredients I needed. So I tried to wing it with what he had, and it just didn’t come out like I wanted it to. And I’m a barbecue fanatic, and that’s why I was so disappointed [with the end result].

I have to ask: I really expected you to shoot a pilot where you’d be in the kitchen cooking Caribbean food — but you wound up with a culinary travel show called BBQ Blitz. Was there a lot of discussion with Food Network execs about that change? How did it come about?
We had nothing to do with that. It was one of those things, “This is what you’re gonna do.” Once I figured out what my pilot was going to be about, I thought, “Barbecue, holy crap, this is what I love.” When I auditioned initially, they asked me what I was into, and that was the first thing I said, “Barbecue.” And one of the very first memories I have of cooking was me and my dad on our patio out in our apartment, dealing with a small Weber grill, teaching me how to do steaks and how to smoke ribs, cover them in foil and baste. When I found out they gave me a pilot highlighting barbecue, I jumped through the roof. I was ecstatic.

Were you at all disappointed to not be in the kitchen cooking your own food, but rather talking to BBQ experts about their recipes and techniques?
I was excited, actually. I feel like one of my assets is being able to talk with anybody. Put me at a table filled with children or sit me down to play bingo with old folks. I’ve always been like that. I got it from my mom and dad — they’re the exact same way. Me being in a situation where I can highlight my attributes — talk to people, be social, get out, move around, be free, have fun — that really benefits me.

Have you started filming BBQ Blitz yet?
In a few weeks we’ll get everything going. But the finale just aired last night — I’m still getting my head around it.

You told an anecdote early in the season about falling for a Jamaican woman who introduced you to all these new flavors — I thought you said she was your wife but I wasn’t sure…
No, I’m not married! [Laughs] When I was in Miami, I used to go to PF Chang’s every day — there was a hostess there, she was Jamaican and I ended up dating her. She took me to Jamaica and that’s where I fell in love with Caribbean flavor. “Where has jerk chicken been all my life? Oh my gosh!” [Laughs] In Miami, sometimes it feels like you’re not in the U.S. I’d never experienced those flavors like that in my life — I took it and ran with it.

But you have a girlfriend now?
Yes.

Did she give you any grief for all the comments on the show from female judges and diners about your looks and your physique?
Absolutely not! She’s very laid back. [Laughs]

You also won a CiCi’s Pizza challenge where your jalapeño fruit dessert pie wound up on the menu. Did you get a chance to try it?
I went the very first day it was availabke. There’s a CiCi’s right around the corner from me — I walked in, “Excuse me, sir. Can I get the Eddie Jackson special?”

We’ve seen some real success stories from Food Network Star — and some winners who fade into obscurity. How do you plan to ensure you’re one of the winners with staying power?
If I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna do it all-out. I fully intend to take this opportunity and run with it. You only get this type of opportunity once in your life.

Any chance you’ll take your barbecue POV to the Caribbean?
In a perfect world, yes! Look at you, coming up with a new program! [Laughs]

Well, if not a series, then at least an episode of BBQ Blitz, right?
I think you might be on to something, brother!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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52 Comments
  1. Joe says:

    I was really interested in a show like Cheat Day, don’t like that food network basically told them what there pilots are going to be.

    • JC says:

      Agreed. He wanted to do a healthy cooking show with an occasional “cheat day,” but instead, the network forced him into the box they’ve been forcing everyone else into. They wonder why these new chefs don’t take off. Guy Fieri has done the best because his show is different. If they got a bit more creative and thought out of the box, they’d do much better in the ratings. Instead, they had him do a barbecue pilot even though Bobby Flay and a ton of other chefs on their network do that type of cooking.

      • Dot says:

        TNFNS spent the entire season sampling dishes made by someone who will never be able to show his cooking talents on a show. More and more shows on the food network are about other people’s food or cooking competitions. I will not watch his show.

    • texasmom55 says:

      At least I got an explanation for the huge switch to BBQ. I was wondering where that came from.

  2. Brian says:

    Glad he won.

  3. jen says:

    I thought that Eddie had charisma. But I loved Dom the best and thought that Jay was amazing. I thought that the other two pilots were more interesting. And i thought that they were better chefs all season. I want to have an amazing chef win not just a decent chef. Also the change of POV did not impress me. They spend all season showing one thing and now it is BBQ Blitz? They should work on the show ideas before so that we don’t get thrown for a loop like that. And why didn’t the viewers get to vote this year?

    • dan says:

      The viewers didn’t vote because just about every time that happens TFN has a problem with the winner. I think viewers voted for Amy Finley in the second year of the series and she did her six episodes then quit; viewers voted for Justin Warner and he wound up with a one-time special and has had very little on-air presence with TFN since then; viewers voted for Lenny last year and he was gone instantly (due to online comments and videos of him being all sorts of politically incorrect). I think TFN wanted a “clean” winner that they could control throughout the process. That explains why all three finalists had very similar pilots that had nothing to do with their points of view or cooking skills. I predicted Eddie as the winner from the beginning. For various reasons I figured he was exactly what TFN was looking for this year: a good looking, charismatic, fit, semi-celebrity (from previous TV appearance and football career) who can cook. I think Jay and Dom may have better cooking skills, and Jay was certainly comfortable on camera, but in terms of long-term growth with the network I think they were betting on Eddie the whole time.

      • texasmom55 says:

        The viewers voted in Season 2 which gave us Guy and endless nights of DDD.

      • Eric Chism says:

        Anyone can do one of those travel shows. They are all over the place. The person hosting them doesn’t have to be able to cook one bit. It was all about his look and his charisma, of which is has a ton, but it will be the same show we already see on the network over and over. Watch this guy eat a hamburger and then watch this guy eat some BBQ. I won’t be watching it.

    • Dot says:

      Food network recycles personalities. Dom was on an episode of Rewrapped. One of Damaris’ friends was on a baking competition. The fat cajun cook on TNFNS was on an episode of Cutthroat Kitchen.

  4. Ames says:

    YEP. Hadn’t watched it yet. Did you have to put this in the headline??

  5. Clandestine Green says:

    It doesn’t matter…Food Network is too busy pimping Guy Fieri, Alton Brown and Bobby Flay to make anyone else a success.

  6. Cookie says:

    you are so right, did not realize that the viewers did not get to vote at all. that being said i don’t vote, which is probably why i didn’t realize until reading all the comments. i did sit watching and i had no clear winner since all the guys seemed like nice guys, not back stabbers, like in some shows. but honestly, do i want to watch a show about a ‘chef’ going around the world going to other restaurants eating or talking about the restaurants foods? seems that’s all that they are doing lately and that’s what they were going to do with last year’s winner ‘Lenny’ who screwed up. wasn’t going to watch him. as i said before, i’m down to watching for entertainment value alone. master chef and top chef seem to interest me more. i’d love to see more ‘blind tastings’ so as to avoid this judge favoring bit, if that’s ever possible. master chef kids is amazing.

  7. Linda says:

    My pick from the 1st episode, glad he won. Such a charmer!

  8. Jean Eshliman says:

    I was so happy you won Eddie, I felt you were the best of all contestants! Looking forward to your new show. Peace Out Jean

  9. heimsey says:

    WRONG. Another BBQ?? what a waste.. Will not be watching this show. Jay was the clear winner and had such an interesting food POV.

  10. Ter says:

    Jay was much better. Eddie is pleasant, but I never want to see him clapping his hands while speaking again. Also, why was his pilot called “Barbecue” when all he talked about was “Southern” food?

  11. Dukewife says:

    Nice guy boring sounding show. Sorry but will not watch.

  12. Beck Gravy says:

    Giada’s cleavage is not the star of the show. It’s unprofessional and a distraction and disservice to the contestants. They are what the show is about, not Giada’s cleavage. Very poor professional marketing. Can’t believe it’s allowed, but sex sells, right? Again, it’s not about the judges, it’s about the contestants. Clean it up or you have one less viewer.

    • Dot says:

      I agree. She is not in her twenties. I think she was trying to show bobby flay what he would be getting after the shoot. I lost respect for both after both filed for divorce. Giada is full of herself. Bobby has had previous unsuccessful marriages. There is much to be said about character.

  13. Gotta say, great journalism here. Since day one I really liked Eddie’s personality and style of cooking, especially the whole “healthy eating” cooking, which always looked great. So thank you for drilling it out of him…WHY BBQ? Oh. TFN. It’s really disappointing. He has a ton of potential but with such a premise (really for all three pilots) were very average and bla. Here’s to hoping he can get a following me do more of a personalized show.

  14. AngieD says:

    While Dom and Jay might have better cooking skills, Eddie had more electric charisma while the other 2 were more laid back. Eddie was almost always fun to watch and he took tips/advice seriously. This was probably the ‘tightest’ finale for NFNS. Note: I wouldn’t be surprised if Dom and Jay got offers to do shows for The Cooking Channel

  15. db says:

    Eddie was my favorite from the start he should of won. However, I liked his orginal concept better. A healthy food show is what the food network needs.

  16. Tanya Campbell says:

    Yay! Congrats Eddie. Very happy for you. You exude confidence and charisma. Just love you. Yes, there were other competitors that did great job. They were more of the same. You’re thr BEST! Such and amazing smile. Wishing you good success. Will be watching.

  17. Bob says:

    I honestly feel like they set Dom and Jay up to fail.

    Dom;’s pilot really had nowhere to go. They already have Giada for Italian food. It was the only pilot that fit the finalist’s POV. It came off as a commercial for the restaurant. It was filled with too many “botta-bing” and Mafia references. It was a stereotype.

    Jay got stuck with something we’ve all seen a billion times…something dropping in the fryer. Why not fry something we don’t see all the time. Chicken and waffles? Just a passing craze. Who hasn’t seen chicken fry, not to mention how to do it, a billion times. They could’ve spent some time on the waffles. How about frying a Snickers bar or a Twinkie? I will say that his pilot flowed the best and focused on the food.

    Eddie gets BBQ, which no matter how often we see it, we all love to watch it. There is just something universal and delicious. Maybe people can see themselves in the back yard with big pit, making that big slab of meat delicious. I don’t what it is, but BBQ gets folks every time. The subject matter was easy. I don’t think there was anything learned from the show, just watching Eddie and some guy hang out and drink beer. But it was sure tasty to watch.

    I think all three had great capabilities and presence, but as Tuschman said, Jay was ready the first day. He should have won.

  18. Janlynn says:

    Glad to see any male win. I am sick too death of Giada dressing like a street walker in teeny bopper minis poking her boobs out. Obviously her affair with bobby flay has boosted her over inflated ego and now she thinks she is a spice girl. I will watch nothing more with her if she can’t put some clothes on dress professionally and clean up her act. Really slutty. Guess she will be hitting on Eddie when flay moves on to his next conquest. Please get back to the food. Eddie will be a breath of fresh air

  19. EM says:

    Congrats Eddie. I liked your original POV better than BBQ visits as does the majority. Hope FN is looking at comments, Facebook and Twitter. We wanted to watch the final three COOK as you all really could! Anybody can visit a restaurant and chat up the owner in the kitchen. So many strong cooks this season and what they wanted was another DDD?

  20. LORDY says:

    ii AM HAPPY WON, THE OTHER TWO CHEFS WILL BE PICKED UP BY FOODNETWORK INTHE NEAR FUTURE. SO PEOPLE STOP HATING ON EDDIE JACKSON FOR HIS WIN.

  21. Rhonda says:

    So happy for you Eddie. I was pulling for you the whole show. You will be great on TV. It’s good to see good things happen to people who don’t give up! “U R The Next Food Network HOT STAR”. STAY BLESSED.

  22. Kathleen Sharon says:

    Why are there so few COOKING shows on FN? Just what we need another show with the host stuffing his face with food. I like Eddie and would have liked to watch HIS concept of a show I like Dom too, hope they do something with him. I have not been thrilled with the last few winners,can’t stand Demaris,Jeff Mauro is a clown and Lenny? Well,don’t they do backround checks?

  23. Lisa Wilson says:

    Hey Eddie Jackson I knew that you were going to be the next food star winner. I’m so very happy and proud of your accomplishments. Looking forward to your new BBQ blitz show. Here’s to good cooking! !!!

  24. Marlene says:

    I’m so excited you won Eddie, I could tell from your energy you had this win in the bag. May you have continued blessing on this new endevour.

  25. joann says:

    Good job. U really deserve it, coming from a true heart Razorback.

  26. joann says:

    I didn’t actually see the win, but I knew u were going to win.

  27. Eric Chism says:

    There are so many culinary travel shows. His show doesn’t interest me at all. None of those types of shows do. I know he won because of his charisma and whatnot, but I think the other guy would have had an actual cooking show.

    • Cookie says:

      Actually and the remaining contestants POV were changed by Food Network. As Eddie himself said in the recent article, they had nothing to say about the POV, it was decided for them and Eddie’s take was ‘ok, if that’s what they want.’ They all wanted their own show. The 3 finalists were thoughtful and watchable.

      • Dot says:

        SO WHY DOES FOOD NETWORK PUT SUCH A BIG EMPHASIS ON POV IF THEY ARE JUST GOING TO CHANGE IT. THEY SHOULD SAY, WE WANT A PERSON WHO KNOWS BARBEQUE OR PASTRY OR MEXICAN FOOD (NOT REPRESENTED ON FOOD NETWORK, BTW). tHESE contestants get so flustered with POV when it doesn’t even matter

    • The other guys would have had the same shows as shown in the final and none of them were actual cookingshows. The Food Network gave all three the concept to shot for a pilot, the contestants had no say in the matter.

      • Joan says:

        So true Sonya…we can sit here and comment all we want…those guys had guts to get up on national TV and stress out as they did! At least they got an opportunity.

  28. rosettariley says:

    How I met you while you was in Kansas City I was with my grand daughter Ava ,I’d still like to say good luck to you stay grounded keep God first know the people at the top and good luck to you .Sincerely Yours, Rosetta Riley

  29. Bea Long says:

    I was so happy you asked how the show come about. I have always been puzzled about that. We watch and then the show comes out and you wonder what happened to the POV? So thank you for a really informative interview! I really wanted Jay to win to be honest because of the Louisiana connection. That would have been great but then again that may not have been their purpose for the show either?

  30. nicole says:

    Whould love to make my barbecue chicken on your show

  31. Peggy says:

    Very disappointed in this show. He’s not cooking at all….wasent it a cooking contest he won? Only watched half the show….he’s basically just an announcer. Got really bored. Dom must be scratching his head wondering what the heck. Judges made a huge mistake.

    • Kim says:

      So was I! Another cooking contest show? Really? Already have Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen. I was looking forward to watching him cook.

      • Joan says:

        Let’s wish Eddie the very best, who knows what else there is in the pipeline? Live in the moment…live your dream now! How many of us get to live just a fraction of our dreams? Uh? I am sure some cooking is in the pipeline, they cannot be so silly to overlook the talent!

        • Joan says:

          Keeping up with Eddie! Followed him on NYC Food & Wine this weekend…he was a blast. Presented his signature shrimp chipotle and was headliner with Robert Irvine, Giada, Valerie Bertinelli and Roger Mookng! Love his spirit…wishing him all that’s good!

  32. JAMES DELORN HOWLAND JR says:

    Bring Bqq Blitz back. Eddie Johnson Is the Man of barbecue. How can I make barbecue sauce less spicy?